Culinary Power Players

Chef Michelle Bernstein

Michelle Bernstein began her career as a professional ballerina, but after just one class in nutrition, she tossed her slippers and hit the kitchen, where she found her true calling. This Miami native is celebrated for her innovative dishes, which are spiced with her brand of Latin flair. Her vibrant personality and divine cuisine have put her on the national map, and earned her the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, in 2007, for her work at her signature restaurant Michy’s. She is the author of Cuisine a Latina and has co-hosted The Melting Pot on the Food Network. Last year, she opened a second establishment in Miami, Sra. Martinez, where she puts her signature Latin spin on traditional Spanish tapas. The innovative establishment, located in a former post office in the Design District, was named one of the best new restaurants in 2009 by Esquire. She also operates Michelle Bernstein at the Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach.

Haute Living: Who taught you the tricks of the trade in this industry? What are some of the lessons that have stuck with you?
Michelle Bernstein: Every chef I have worked for or with has taught me something. Of course my mother taught me how to use spices and add flavor to food. Some tricks: using a spoon to peel ginger instead of a knife or peeler; softly blow polenta into a pot of warm liquid rather than just pouring it in for a creamy polenta without lumps; economy of movement is the most important part of being a quick, efficient line cook. And always believe in what you’re doing; if not the customers will taste it!

HL: What type of crowd do your restaurants and cuisine appeal to?
MB: Hopefully everyone!

HL: Miami is quickly becoming recognized as a culinary force to be taken seriously. Why should an Haute Living reader choose to dine at your restaurants?
MB: Because I LOVE what I do, search out the absolute best products to cook, love to take care of people, and have the most wonderful husband and partner that runs the front side of our businesses.

HL: Who is behind the designs of your establishments?
MB: My sister, Nicky Bernstein; she’s amazing.

HL: Other than your own, what is your favorite place to dine in Miami? And around the world?
MB: In Miami: La Camaronera, Hy Vong, Japanese Market on 79th Street, Garcia’s Seafood Grille, and Cote Gourmet. Around the world: Cal Pep in Barcelona; Arzak in San Sebastian; hot dogs in Central Park;  Aburiya Raku and Bartolotta in Las Vegas, Restaurant Daniel and Sushi of Gari in New York; Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix; street food in Malaysia, the fish market in Tokyo…

HL: Describe your dream restaurant.
MB: Ten seats all sitting around an open kitchen. My husband serving, me cooking, and that’s it!

HL: What is the most elaborate meal that you have prepared for a guest in one of your restaurants?
MB: A 10-course tasting menu to a group of men that had an evening called “Boys Night Out.” They wanted the best, so I went all out. It was at Michy’s, and I spared no expense.

HL: What are some of the strangest requests/special orders that you recall?
MB: French Dressing? What exactly is that? Also, a man I highly respect was on a special diet recently and asked me to puree all of his food; no, he didn’t have a tooth problem.

HL: What has been the impact of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on the local culinary scene?
MB: It’s made us better as chefs and restaurateurs. It teaches us about new trends and allows us to feed the best chefs, cooks, and eaters in the world.

HL: Where was the last place in Miami that you went for fine dining?
MB: Palme d’Or at the Biltmore Hotel.

HL: When not in your kitchen, where would we find you on a Friday night?
MB: You wouldn’t. If I’m not in the kitchen, I’m near it!

HL: Tell us something about you that no one knows.
MB: My ears move when I smile.

HL: You never leave home without…
MB: An apron.

HL: Describe Miami in three words:
MB: Colorful, sexy, and spicy.

HL: What’s your favorite pastime?
MB: Dancing.

HL: What are your predictions for Miami’s restaurant scene and culinary trends in 2010?
MB: More locally owned, small specialty restaurants, more Korean and/or Vietnamese restaurants, and more food trucks.

HL: The restaurant industry is always changing. How do you continually attract the attention of elite diners in Miami?
MB: We are always growing, always changing, always learning. Never, ever be trendy but keep up with trends.