James Beard Award-winning Miami chef Michelle Bernstein is days away from opening Seagrape, a new Florida brasserie at the Thompson Hotel on Miami Beach. If that doesn’t keep her busy enough this fall, she’s also the Official Caterer of Art Basel this year. Then, when she’s finally able to come up for air, the chef—who once clobbered Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America—will tend to the reopening of her beloved Michy’s. The opening can’t happen fast enough for her fans, who have been heading to her Design District bakery, Crumb on Parchment, to get their Bernstein fix.
HL: What defines a brasserie for you?
MB: For me a brasserie is a restaurant that is not too formal and has no tablecloths, but has a great menu that changes every day. It’s always buzzing, breakfast, lunch and dinner—there is usually a sort of organized chaos about it.
HL: And this is a “Florida Brasserie”?
MB: Yes—80 percent of the produce we serve during Florida’s growing season will be harvested within an hour-and-a-half’s drive from here. We have local farmers growing just for us. We even use ocean water to cook one of our dishes.
HL: How is the design of the Thompson Hotel and Seagrape a throwback?
MB: You feel like your standing in a 1950s Miami hotel. We’re not trying to recreate it per se—it just is. You’ll know where in the world you are, that you’re in Florida.
HL: What is the most important thing in the kitchen?
MB: Humility. If you realize that you’ll never know everything, then you’ll always learn and keep getting better. It’s not a trait you’ll find in a lot of chefs.
HL: What have you learned?
MB: [The importance of] restraint, dialing back. I’ve learned how to stop manipulating food so much and just let the taste of the high quality products come through. I don’t need to marinate or season so much anymore.
HL: What’s happening with Michy’s?
MB: It’s taking a while because I’m dedicating myself fully to the opening of Seagrape, but once it’s up and running, we will reopen in the Michy’s space with a new concept. I will have an open kitchen for the first time in years, so that will be nice.