Interview: chef Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s + Crumb on Parchment)

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What were your first impressions of Jon [Shook] and Vinny [Dotolo]?

When they were 18 and 19? I thought they were hilarious. I thought they were stoners. I thought they were the most passionate young people to ever walk through my kitchen. I knew that they’d make it. You kind of know of know in kitchens, who’s got it. You don’t always know who doesn’t, but you know who does. There was something about them that was more driven that came through in the kitchen. They weren’t normal guys. In fact, they had this relationship that flourished when they were 18 years old, in cooking school. They literally went everywhere together. It’s amazing to me that they’re still together, and they’re still conquering, and not only taking the city by storm, but taking the country by storm. It couldn’t have happened to two better people, to two harder workers.

What was the restaurant where you hired them?

It was called The Strand, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was in my 20s and it was one of my first chef positions. I don’t know if all the dishes worked well, but I tried really hard there and Vinny, amazingly enough, remembers every single dish that we ever put out at the restaurant. He was telling me things this morning – I don’t think about that food, because I never look back – I try not to ever do the dishes I used to do. It reminds me too much of the ’90s. He was telling me about the food, and I was kind of embarrassed, but happy. I couldn’t believe he remembered.

Is there anything that surprises you about Jon and Vinny after seeing them in their kitchen?

No. Actually, they’re a little tougher than I thought they would be. I knew they were intense, I knew they were driven, I knew they were passionate. I was a B-I-T-C-H in the kitchen, and they’ve surpassed me.

Have you toned down at all?

With age, absolutely. I hit 40 and was super mellow. As a matter of fact, I have people in my kitchens who have been with me for over 12 years now, including my husband – he doesn’t work in the kitchen – every now and then they’ll say, “Come on, be that old Michelle who used to scare people. Bring it back.” I just can’t anymore.

You can’t summon it, or you don’t want to?

I don’t think I can be that person anymore. I look as people in my kitchen now as almost my children. It’s a different way to think. It’s a different way to treat people. I used to have to prove something, and now I want to teach them something.

Food Miami
What steps do you take to achieve balance in your life, if that’s even possible?

God no. I have like 10 jobs, and I have a two-year-old. He’s my life now. And I have two restaurants. There is no balance. There’s insanity, and there’s happiness. Where it used to be food, family now comes first, and family comes second.

How much more can you take on, if you even want to?

I never think that I can’t. Since that moment when I decided to become a chef, I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do. My body probably can’t, but I don’t think I can’t. My family does, but I don’t. I don’t believe in saying no.

Who else do you like to in the restaurant industry for inspiration, guidance or advice?

Everybody. I’m a French trained chef, and sadly, my mentor passed away quite a few years ago. The guys actually tasted his food back when I told them to, years ago. Daniel Boulud has been really lovely to me, always. Whenever I’ve needed advice, I actually can call on him. Bobby Flay, who’s a really nice person, and a lot of people can’t tell from TV. He’s always been there if I’ve ever needed anything. [Tom] Colicchio. I wouldn’t bother them, I would never interfere, because they’re busy people, but if I really, really needed something, I would call.

When people hear the name Michelle Bernstein, what do you want them to think?

I don’t think anybody knows who I am at this point. That I’m a nice person, I guess. Yeah, she cooks some good meals. She’s a good girl, and hopefully I’m a good mother.

Address: 6927 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33138

Interview: chef Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s + Crumb on Parchment)


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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