By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
Simmering in its multicultural gumbo, South Florida is a piquant paradise. And perhaps the person most responsible for pinning the region onto the culinary map — particularly that portion south of the Broward County line — is Michelle Bernstein.
Since winning the prestigious James Beard Award as the South’s best chef over a decade ago, Bernstein, 48, has graced the menus of several upscale Miami restaurants, cafes and bars, including her most recent collaboration, Cafe La Trova on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. Now, however, the veteran of 20 years in fine-dining kitchens perhaps spends more time in the kitchen of her Miami home.
“When I’m in town, I’m at home to cook dinner for my son six nights a week,” she told Michael Mayo, the Sun Sentinel’s dining critic. “What I’m doing now, it allows me to be a better mother and a better wife.”
What she’s doing now has also earned her this year’s regional Emmy Award for SoFlo Taste on WPLG-Ch.10, one of two local programs she hosts — the other being Check Please, South Florida, a restaurant review show that’s aired on WPBT-Ch. 2 for 10 years. Then there’s her catering company, MBC, which has been the official caterer for the Art Basel extravaganza. And for the funky, Cuban-flavored Cafe La Trova, which opened in January, she’s come up with an imaginative menu of sandwiches and appetizers.
And it all might have worked out much differently — she was a teen-age student at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater when an injury cut short her career as a dancer.
“I feel like I can reach and touch more people with my food the way I’m doing it now,” Bernstein says. “I love having all these different avenues….”
And now she’s added one more — answering our standard set of Quote Unquote questions.
Aside from the weather, what do you enjoy most about South Florida?
The cultural ethnicity, the vibe, its people’s passion for music, food, arts and vibrancy.
Aside from the weather, what do you dislike most about South Florida?
The aggressive way that people drive and the fact that people put on their hazard lights when it’s raining.
Are you a beach person or a pool person?
When in your life are you or have you been the happiest?
When I was in my 20s I didn’t think anything could compare. In my 30s I had the best abs, my career was just sprouting and my family was around me every step of the way. In my 40s, I had lost too many people that I love, however I have gained the greatest love of my life in my son Zachary. My marriage [to business partner David Martinez] is the strongest it’s ever been and my career is still going strong.
What do you do when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on I-95?
Turn on my favorite podcast (Gastropod and The David Chang Show are a couple of my favorites.)
What music are you listening to now?
My son is regretfully into reggaeton right now, which, for the first time, I am actually starting to like.
Are you a fan, and if so, of what?
What are your social media handles?
Instagram @chefmichy, Twitter @chefmichy, Facebook /chefmichy
Who is your real-life hero or heroine?
Madeleine Albright. She was a pioneer, her parents fled Nazi Germany, she became the first female Secretary of State and she fought for human rights.
If you had to choose: Rocky or Raging Bull?
Raging Bull (although I do love Rocky).
What car are you driving now?
What do you like most about yourself?
The ability to laugh at myself constantly.
What places in South Florida do you recommend to guests visiting from out-of-town?
Calle Ocho, beginning at Cafe La Trova and working your way west to Domino Park — but I always have to take people a little off to La Camaronera [Seafood Joint & Fish Market] off of East Flagler. Take a walk on the boardwalk on Miami Beach, and finish by driving up to Athens Juice Bar to refresh with fresh fruit punch.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I never would’ve stopped dancing and I would’ve studied harder in school.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?