Earlier this year, two Delaware restaurants were nominated for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards. In downtown Wilmington, Bardea Food + Drink was a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category. In Lewes, Heirloom’s Matthew Kern was a semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, pitting him against leading chefs from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia.
Although neither restaurant won the ultimate prize, getting recognized by the James Beard Foundation is a monumental accomplishment, similar to a musician being nominated for a Grammy or an actor or director for an Oscar.
Both restaurants credit the quality of their ingredients and the talent and dedication of their teams, not only for the nomination but also for handling the rush of interest and diners that followed the announcement.
A dish at Heirloom.//photo by Moonloop Photography
“It was a lot of pressure, and it’s the people behind the scenes—the hosts, the dishwashers, the line cooks, the people who help clean the restaurant—that make this experience happen,” says Scott Stein, co-owner with Chef Antimo DiMeo of the 120-seat Italian-themed Bardea. “It was a new restaurant. We had just opened and had to focus on the ins and outs of trying to be a make it the best the best restaurant could be.”
Heirloom owner Meghan Lee had long wanted to open a farm-to-table fine dining restaurant in Lewes, where her family had vacationed for years when she was a child. When it finally happened, her head chef left for the West Coast after just three months. A mutual friend informed Kern of the opening, and the rest is history.
“Meghan Lee is an amazing human being,” says Kern. “She did everything in her power to [open the restaurant], and she did it by herself. It’s a true testament to her will in the restaurant industry.”
Heirloom has built a loyal clientele around its farm-to-table dining concept, which Kern admits can sometimes be a challenge.
“It makes you take a step back when planning a menu because you can’t get all these things whenever you want. Asparagus doesn’t grow in January,” says Kern. “I feel like having the discipline to only cook what’s in season, and what you can source locally, all while keeping your hard-earned dollars at home and supporting an economy and an ecosystem, is a healthier way of living.”