Michelle Bernstein is a seasoned culinary veteran who runs two concepts with husband David Martinez in Miami: a “luxurious comfort food” restaurant called Michy’s and a bakery/café called Crumb on Parchment. On September 11, she “Cooking With Friends” Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook at Animal to promote their involvement as Lexus Culinary Masters.
At what point did you know that you would work with food for a living, and did you consider other careers?
I started as a prima ballerina, then I went to school for biochemistry and nutrition. I started the kitchen thing to improve my nutritional knowledge, not knowing I would absolutely fall in love with things like duck confit, foie gras and pizza dough. Just everything. I never really thought I had a place in a kitchen, being a woman, being more delicate, soft spoken – not that I am now – but I was at the time. I didn’t think I’d find a place in the kitchen. I didn’t know that was a possibility, so it didn’t come until working in kitchens for a couple years and really feeling the flack from the guys and feeling like I didn’t belong lit a fire that I never knew was there. Then I became a beast. I think I’m ready. I think I want to try this.
What made you flip the switch?
The animosity. Definitely. The pressure. Everybody telling me that it could never happen.
Where were you working at the time?
I was working at a place called Mark’s Place. It was a restaurant in the ’90s that was the best restaurant in Miami. And it wasn’t the chef. Nor was it the chef de cuisine. Nor was it the sous chef. It was everybody below. It was people at my level, and I was really pretty low level. It was those people that made me feel that way. It was my peers, the guys that were my age. I was 19. They made me feel pretty bad. By the time I was 22 or 23, I was always told, “You’re never going to be a chef.” I always accepted that. I always said, “Okay, that’s cool.” Then, one day, when I finally wised up, I said, “Why not? What do you have that I don’t have, other than physical strength?” So I kind of answered my own question.
What does a dish have to be for you to serve it at one of your restaurants, and how does that differ between restaurants?
It just has to taste really good. In Miami, we have Latin palates, normally, or very European palates. If something doesn’t have a real strong effect on you, it’s really not worth putting out in the kitchen. The look to my dishes are pretty natural. They’re not very fussy at all. I really love to play with textures, and I really love to play with flavors. For example, for my chorizo & chocolate cremeaux, I made a tuile with a sourdough and chorizo sandwich. Then I had jellies on there. I love to play, so it has to have a little whimsy, and it just has to taste delicious.
What were your first impressions of Jon [Shook] and Vinny [Dotolo]?
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