Known for her innovative fusion of Latin food and a burst of bright, contagious laughter, Miami native James Beard Award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein is one of South Florida's culinary stars. This multitasker is currently involved with three restaurants: Little Havana's Café La Trova, Bayside Marketplace's La Cañita, and Miami Beach's Sweet Liberty. While she is often on national television judging culinary shows, Bernstein hosts PBS weekly series Check, Please, and the Emmy-award winning SoFlo Taste on Channel 10. Let's not forget Michelle Bernstein Catering, one of the many enterprises she works with her husband and business partner, David Martinez. All this while raising her tween son Zach gray Martinez
Beaches of Miami interviewed Chef Bernstein
How do you approach projects as different as Café La Trova and Sweet Liberty?
Like I approach everything with respect and understanding that everything I work on has its breath, flavor, culture, and livelihood. As a team, we fully immerse ourselves in work one at a time to give it the consideration it deserves.
Do you visit the different restaurants that you are involved with regularly?
Of course, however, mainly working with the chefs, cooks, and FOH staff during the day. We can make changes, upgrade, fix and work.
How long does it take for you to prepare each installment of Check, Please?
We film in about 3-4 hours; however, production time, editing, and going back to film at the restaurants we discuss takes months.
What have been the most important lessons you have learned as a female chef in South Florida?
I don't consider myself a female chef; I consider myself a chef that happens to be very much a strong woman. I have a lot of pride in being a homegrown girl and having deep roots here in South Florida. I love our flavors, colors, and cultures. It's essential to understand one's culture to cook within it.
Who are your most important influences as a chef?
My family, this is not a who but a what (our ingredients), our diners, what they want, and how they make me better.
If you could change some professional elements?
Equal opportunity, equal pay, and maybe a little less physically brutal.
How do you help empower young women who aspire to be chefs?
By breaking the glass ceiling, open the conversation, ask the right questions, and be transparent. Give opportunities to anyone that deserves them. Be an example.
What do you do to relax?
How do you structure your days to fulfill your commitments while raising Zach?
He comes first, always, period. I make him fresh arepas and pressed juices every morning, take him to school, make sure homework is done, snuggle as much as he lets me. After that comes work, which I also adore!
Where do you go to disconnect?
Outside when I work out or go for walks with girlfriends.
Do you listen to music while preparing food, and what music do you listen do you prefer?
Yes, and it's funny, I love all types of music. What I listen to depends on the day, the mood and the intensity in the kitchen, and what I'm making. Some dishes need more brain and focus than others that come quickly and simply.
What do you need to have with you at all times?
My sanity and a little mascara! Oh, and wipes, I'm a freak about how my hands look and smell.