Q&A with Chef Matt Kern of Heirloom in Lewes
Kern chats with us about his kitchen obsessions, which food he considers an "atrocity," and why he reveres locally sourced ingredients.
Heirloom chef Matt Kern//Photo by Maria DeForrest
Food trend I love:
There is no glory or respect in serving a laminated menu of pre-packaged, easy-to-serve slop, all to make a quick profit. But to go forth and seek out the local heroes that farm and fish and follow their passion of providing the best of what they can cultivate or catch or create—that is an adventure in culinary benevolence. Not only are you supporting your local economy, but you are encouraged to make friends with the best kinds of people, the ones who truly love what they are doing. It is so rewarding to create dishes out of ingredients that were sourced in your backyard. After 20 years of preparing food for people, I feel a certain responsibility to take a second look at what I am serving. Delaware is home to a ton of talented people that fill our stomachs with love and hard work— farmers and artisans and watermen, who take pride in what they do—and all of that hard work tastes damn delicious.
Food trend that should go away:
Instant grits. It’s an atrocity and should be abolished. Stop it. Bad chef.
Ingredient I love:
Ramps. I grew up in Pennsylvania, not far from the Appalachian Trail. Back home, the first sign of spring, or at least the first edible sign, is ramps. Half the fun is foraging for them. They are wild onions that taste of garlicky goodness and make your breath stink in the best way. I can’t fully explain my adoration for these wild treasures, but I love them enough to tattoo their silhouette on my skin. Remember to take not too many, and always leave the roots.
Tool I can’t live without:
The spoon. One cannot cook without tasting. It is my favorite tool because it embraces food with effortless grace, enters and exits the mouth with a ninja-like stealth, expels sauce on the plate like a brush to canvas. What would life be like without the spoon? Such a world I hope to never know.
My favorite cookbook:
“Manresa: An Edible Reflection.” The book was given to me by a friend as a gift. I would stare at the pages for months, wiping the drool away with my sleeve. David Kinch is a chef I would chew my own arm off to work under, period. I can’t quite illustrate my fascination for his cuisine other than by comparing it to soft porn. The book is so visually stimulating you cannot look away, yet the written content is filled with dark secrets that surely promise an edible orgasm. Go ahead and judge me. I’m weird.
My favorite restaurant:
Bolete, a quaint farm-to-table inn located in Bethlehem, Pa. Now, I love this place for several reasons. First, I had the privilege of working within its stone walls, and let me tell you, it was inspiring, to say the least. I learned the importance of quality ingredients and how to utilize them respectfully. Second, Bolete taught me the importance of a restaurant family. Nothing makes for a better environment to work in than the love and respect of your fellow front- and back-of-house employees. Third, chef Lee and his wife and partner, Arin Shea, are inspiring mentors that turned my love of food into an obsession that I could never look away from. This is what makes a great restaurant.
My final meal:
I would begin with a bottle of Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu, then dive on into at least two-dozen Island Creek oysters perfectly shucked with fresh lemon and mignonette. I would then request a hot, steaming bowl of Mazemen ramen filled with pork belly, fish cake, 60-minute egg, pork shoulder and a mound of thinly sliced scallion. I will need a bib for this. I’d finish up with a well ripened chunk of Camembert cheese with crusty sourdough bread and fresh jam, directly followed by a three-hour nap. I believe spiritual enlightenment will soon follow.