Monday, June 10, 2013

Interview with Celebrity Chef Michelle Bernstein

A few weeks ago I shared with you that Macy's Culinary Council was holding a cooking demonstration  on May 23rd at the Macy's Home Store in Aventura Mall, featuring award-winning Chef Michelle Bernstein. Miami's pride and joy, Bernstein's eateries include Michy's and Crumb on Parchment, and because she's a woman of many talents (Girl Power!), she is also the host of Check, Please (which I've been dying to go on) on WPBT.  I hope many of you got the opportunity to attend and interact with the charismatic, talented chef as she cooked up All-American dishes for Macy's American Icons campaign. But if you didn't, here is a mouthwatering recap of the event, along with my interview with Bernstein prior to the demo.

With James Beard Award Winning Chef Michelle Bernstein

I'll start by saying that Bernstein has such a witty personality, she makes you feel like you're talking to an old friend. Funny and vivacious, it was a pleasure to chat with her before her demonstration about everything from her two-year old son, to her charity work.

The Foodaholic: The last time we talked, your son was just a few months old. I remember thinking, how does she do it all: running the restaurants, hosting a T.V. show, writing books, working on a number of projects and being a new mom? I would be pulling my hair out!

Michelle Bernstein: (Laughing) It is tiring but so much fun. And now that Zachary's entering his terrible two's in a few months, it is even more exciting. Making meals and getting him to eat them is an adventure to say the least. Despite being so busy, though, I always make sure to spend time with my family, and enjoy my son. They grow up so fast. 

The F: You're a Miami native raised in a Jewish/Latino home. How do you combine those Latin and Jewish roots in your cooking?

MB: I grew up where the dishes in my home were a combination of cultures all in one dish. My mom cooked the Latin favorites but always added a Jewish and Italian touch to it. Naturally, it stayed with me. I developed my own style drawing from my childhood memories.

The Foodaholic: What ingredient will we always find in your kitchen?

Michelle Bernstein.: I would say it is definitely fennel. You can use it in more ways than people realize. I've been eating it since I was a kid.

The F: I told my Facebook fans I would be chatting with you and asked them what they would want to learn about Michelle Bernstein. Then I promised to pick one question to ask you. Ashley Peeler wanted to know what percentage of the food you cook is farm-to-table?

MB: Just one? You should have picked more! I would say the percentage of dishes I cook that are farm-to-table varies according to the seasons. If I had to give it a number, I'd say it ranges from about 70% to 75%, depending on the time of year. In my opinion, I'm still not where I want to be.

The F: How do you think we could help South Florida catch up with the farm-to-table movement?

MB: By continuing to buy local and to spread the word about the importance of it for flavor, health and our local economy. I think we've come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do. 

The F: You are such a huge part of the culinary scene in Miami and have influenced it in so many ways. What have been some changes you have seen in the past ten years?

MB: I have to say that one thing that has disappointed me in the last few years is that it is difficult to find authentic, cultural food in many of the newer restaurants. I find that some of the younger chefs have moved away from tradition and it is difficult to go say to a Cuban restaurant and find real Cuban food. For some reason, it has become a fusion that has a lost a bit of its roots. However, there are also some great things happening out there and some talented new chefs that are taking things to a whole new level.

TF: Tell us a little bit about Common Threads and your involvement in this great effort.

MB: Common Threads teaches kids in underserved communities about the importance of good nutrition and cooking healthy meals. There is such a big problem with childhood obesity, that showing kids how to make affordable and nutritious meals in a fun way helps them make healthier choices. We provide recipes, do fundraisers for the program and teach classes so that children will improve their well-being and learn about cultural diversity at the same time.

With that, the time arrived for Bernstein to go wow the crowd with her fabulous meal. And that she did. Between her impeccable skills, captivating humor, and fun personality, everyone was had a great time. Add to the mix, the comedic antics between Bernstein and her parents (particularly her mother Martha), and it was truly an amazing afternoon. Take a look at the pictures below to get a glimpse of the fun. The menu consisted of Shrimp Braised with Jerez Wine, Creamy Grits, Gremolata, and Crunchy Garlic, followed by juicy Steak au Poivre served with a Caesar Salad. Dessert featured a Bananas Tres Leches Cake that made me sneak in an extra one when no one was looking.  Beware! You will get hungry...

The culinary fun begins
She makes it look so easy.
All the ingredients laid out
And the cooking begins...
Moments before Bernstein arrives to the kitchen
As usual, everything was set up so nicely
Telling another story
The South's got nothing on this tasty treat.
Shrimp & Grits

Bernstein and her inspiration: Martha, her mom.
Mama Bernstein helping her daughter with the steak.
What a great duo!
Going to try the recipe this week.
Steak au Poivre with Caesar Salad
Mixing it all together
Always so cheerful
I'm not a fan of bananas in desserts and I was blown away
Banana Tres Leches Cake
Be sure to stay tuned to find out where and when the next Macy's Culinary Council event will take place in your area.

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