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This Delaware ‘strip mall eatery’ is one of the best in the Mid-Atlantic, says James Beard

In World
January 25, 2024

A Delaware chef was just named one of the best in the mid-Atlantic.

After a statewide snub of Delaware last year, the James Beard Foundation Awards — often called the Oscars of the food world — announced Wednesday morning that chef Matthew Kern of Fenwick Island’s One Coastal had been nominated as one of the best chefs in the five-state region that also includes New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

“THIS HITS DIFFERENTLY!” Kern wrote on his personal Facebook account after the nomination was announced. “I have officially owned my own restaurant for two years now, a restaurant filled with the best humans a chef could ask for. I believed in my tiny little 50 seat ‘strip mall’ eatery so I have spent god knows how many hours in this place…fixing , failing, winning, struggling, vibing & learning.”

Flank steak served with creamed kale and potato is on the menu at One Coastal restaurant in Fenwick Island. It's owned by chef Matthew Kern. 7/31/2023

Flank steak served with creamed kale and potato is on the menu at One Coastal restaurant in Fenwick Island. It’s owned by chef Matthew Kern. 7/31/2023

Reached by phone a little later, Kern was still overwhelmed.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I didn’t even think we were on the radar this year. I have an incredible team, we pushed, and— oh, man! I couldn’t have done it without them … To be recognized on that list as one of the top players in the Mid-Atlantic, it hits so close to home.”

Kern is the only Delaware chef to receive a nomination for the 2024 James Beard awards, his third such nomination in four years.

Far from the first James Beard nomination for Delaware chef Matthew Kern

Matthew Kern in 2020, at Heirloom in Lewes.
(Credit: Hannah Carroll, The Daily Salisbury Times)

Matthew Kern in 2020, at Heirloom in Lewes. (Credit: Hannah Carroll, The Daily Salisbury Times)

As chef for Lewes restaurant Heirloom, Kern also was nominated as one of the region’s best chefs in 2019 and 2020 (though those 2020 prizes were eventually canceled during a pandemic-era reckoning that tanked the awards for two years.).

In 2018, News Journal food writer Patricia Talorico wondered whether Heirloom was the best restaurant in the state with Kern wearing the toque, praising house-stretched burrata with “swirls of green from torn basil and dots of red from Calabrian chili” and “refreshingly modern” take on foie gras, spiked with pickled rhubarb and served on a Johnny cake. Even Kern’s competitors couldn’t help but sing his praises, she wrote then.

But this was just the beginning for Kern, it would turn out.

By the time he and his wife Karen took over One Coastal, Talorico didn’t hesitate to call Kern “easily one of the state’s most talented chefs,” whether on a dry-aged flank steak with creamed kale and latkes or an inventive beet and blueberry salad topped with pecan crumble and whipped mascarpone.

One Coastal was founded in 2016 by Scott and Carlie Carey as a farm-to-table restaurant, a tradition the Kerns have continued since buying the restaurant in 2022.

A cucumber-lime martini is a refreshing starter cocktail at One Coastal restaurant in Fenwick Island. It's owned by chef Matthew Kern. 7/31/2023

A cucumber-lime martini is a refreshing starter cocktail at One Coastal restaurant in Fenwick Island. It’s owned by chef Matthew Kern. 7/31/2023

“The idea is to support responsible local agriculture, get more restaurants buying from local forms, and to showcase the seasons,” Kern told us.

“That’s always been my mission, to do this with grace and humility and treat my staff well and pay a living wage. I didn’t want to have regrets.”

The farms Kern showcases fan out much broader than just the immediate area. Kern seeks out “the best ingredients grown by American farmers on the East Coast,” he said, and is intimately familiar with the farm, the mill or the fishery where each ingredient was sourced.

And so he and his team might whip ricotta from nearby Nice Farms into a salad of with blood oranges from Georgia. The Gullah farms of South Carolina might be tapped for red peas, served with gold rice from North Carolina’s famed Anson Mills. Rockfish from Jersey’s side of the Bay might rest alongside lion’s mane mushrooms plucked just up the road in Frankford, Delaware.

Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., dominate James Beard nominations in the Mid-Atlantic

But if Kern has become nearly a regular amid the nominations in recent years, Delaware hasn’t always been so lucky.

The 2023 awards left out the state entirely, in all categories — one of only two states to be utterly snubbed that year. No Delaware chef has ever won the national restaurant prize, nor the regional prize as best chef in the Mid-Atlantic.

By contrast, chefs in Philadelphia have won the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic prize both of the last two years: first chef Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa, then chef Nok Suntaranon from Thai restaurant Kalaya. Center City Philly spot Friday Saturday Sunday also was named the best restaurant in the country in 2023.

More: A Philadelphia restaurant was named best in the country at the James Beard Awards

Four Philly chefs also received nominations in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic this year.

These include Carlos Aparicio of much-hailed South Philly Mexican spot El Chingon — a fast-casual powerhouse best known for cemita sandwiches with springy and seeded house-made bread, pork al pastor or arrachera beef sliced fresh off the spit, or even the occasional pizza.

El Chingon, a small and casual South Philly Mexican taqueria and sandwich shop, was named among the 50 most exciting restaurants in America by the New York Times in 2023. The restaurant, which opened November 2022, is helmed by Puebla-born chef Carlos Aparicio.

El Chingon, a small and casual South Philly Mexican taqueria and sandwich shop, was named among the 50 most exciting restaurants in America by the New York Times in 2023. The restaurant, which opened November 2022, is helmed by Puebla-born chef Carlos Aparicio.

Texas-bred Randy Rucker, of inventive and meat-filled modern American spot River Twice — located about a block from El Chingon in South Philly — also received a nomination. So did Omar Tate of West Philly’s Honeysuckle Provisions, well-known for putting the foods of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora winkingly front and center, whether on a “dolla hoagie” plucked from Tate’s childhood memories or a Haitian take on Cubano with griyo pork and fiery pikliz pickles. Chef Jesse Ito received a repeat nod for Queen Village’s Royal Sushi & Izakaya, whose back-room omakase is famously one of the hardest reservations to score in Philly.

The pla pad prik king at Kalaya in Philadelphia, June 2022.

The pla pad prik king at Kalaya in Philadelphia, June 2022.

In South Jersey, chef Dane Demarco of Haddenfield BYOB Gass and Main was nominated for its local and sustainable takes on comfort classics. Elsewhere in New Jersey, Lita in Aberdeen was nominated as best new restaurant, and chef Nur-E Gulshan Rahman of Korai Kitchen, Jersey City, was nominated as best chef along with Demarco.

But in all, nominations in the region were dominated by Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Washington received a whopping 15 nominations this year, while Philly scored nine overall.

In addition to the four Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic nominees in Philly, Philly was nominated for five national prizes. These include My Loup (best new restaurant), Isgro Pastries (best bakery) and a.kitchen+bar (best drinks program). Yun Fuentes of Latin-American rum bar Bolo was nominated for the “Emerging Chef” category, while chef Dionicio Jiménez of aguachile-happy Mexican spot Cantina La Martina was nominated for the coveted “Outstanding Chef” award.

Full list of 2024 nominees, Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA).

DelawareMatt Kern, One Coastal, Fenwick Island

PennsylvaniaJesse Ito, Royal Sushi & Izakaya, PhiladelphiaCarlos Aparicio, El Chingon, PhiladelphiaRandy Rucker, River Twice, PhiladelphiaOmar Tate, Honeysuckle Provisions, PhiladelphiaBootsaba Tongdee, Pusadee’s Garden, PittsburghKate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, Apteka, PittsburghNew JerseyDane DeMarco, Gass & Main, HaddonfieldNur-E Gulshan Rahman, Korai Kitchen, Jersey City

MarylandTony Conte, Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana, Darnestown,David Zamudio, Alma Cocina Latina, Baltimore

VirginiaTravis Milton, Hickory at Nicewonder Farm and Vineyards, BristolNajmieh Batmanglij and Christopher Morgan, Joon, ViennaWashington, D.C.Angel Barreto, AnjuAmy Brandwein, CentrolinaKeem Hughley, BronzeEsther Lee, ObeliskYuan Tang, Rooster & OwlKevin Tien, Moon Rabbit

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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Fenwick Island chef named among best in Mid-Atlantic: James Beards

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