Stories / Awards, Beard House

Our Beard House Fellow is Ready for His Next Challenge

Learn more about Kencito Vernon

Morgan Carter

September 09, 2021


Kencito Coleman holds a salmon-colored drink as he points and speaks at an event.
Photo: Clay Williams

For decades, cooking at the James Beard House has been an aspiration for many chefs and is considered a career milestone. In May, we launched the Beard House Fellows program, presented by Capital One, which re-envisions the potential of this historic space into a hub of training and professional development for talented emerging chefs.

The program’s pilot, beginning in May and running through November 2021, launched in partnership with the Food Education Fund (FEF). Our initial class of seven Fellows will all be alumni of FEF’s New York-based partner high schools.

Each Fellow will have a one-month residency at the Beard House, and will receive training in financial and legal matters, public relations, policy and advocacy, social media, and more. Fellows will also develop a Beard Box meal kit in collaboration with Great Performances, available for purchasing and shipping across the continental U.S., with special perks for Capital One cardholders. Sign up for the waitlist to get your Beard Box.

Meet our newest Fellow: Kencito Vernon. Instead of playing outside as a kid, Kencito often found himself in the kitchen cooking alongside his mother. Noticing his passion, his mother enrolled him in different cooking programs for kids, and as a high schooler, Kencito attended Food and Finance High School in New York, where he graduated as the top culinary student in school. During high school, he received scholarships from Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and ProStart Program, and America’s Best High School Chef. While attending Monroe College on full scholarship, Kencito joined the American Culinary Federation. Through the culinary society, he has continued to compete throughout the East Coast. Currently, Kencito provides consulting services, works as a private chef in Greenwich, and also teaches financial literacy. 

We’ve asked each Fellow a few questions about their culinary dreams and signature dishes. Read on to learn more about Kencito’s favorite ingredients and how he builds flavor in the kitchen. 

James Beard Foundation: Do you have a signature dish?

Kencito Vernon: My signature dish is my jerk lamb shank with wilted amaranth [greens] and creamy thyme-infused polenta. 

JBF: What is your earliest food memory?

KV: My earliest food memory is being in the kitchen every Sunday with my mom. She would put me on the counter while I watched her and my aunt prepare dinner after church.

JBF: What is an item you think everyone should have in their pantry?

KV: Different oils! I believe in building layers of flavor when cooking, and certain oils make dishes shine. I believe you should pair your oils as you pair your wine to what you eat. That’s how you build flavor. 

JBF: What is one culinary destination you hope to go to one day?

KV: Peru! I believe Peruvian food is one of the most highly underrated cuisines. The history of their cuisine is so fascinating. The way they fused together so many cultures such as African, European, and Asian cuisine into their style of cooking is a complex skill.

JBF: What is your favorite or least favorite current food trend?

KV: I find myself driving to Brooklyn every week for birria tacos with consommé. 

Sign up for the waitlist to get Kencito’s Beard Box, on sale Tuesday, September 21. 

Learn more about the Beard House Fellows program, presented by Capital One.


Morgan Carter is the content manager at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.