In 2008, The James Beard Foundation awarded Miami Chef Michelle Bernstein the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef-South. It was an award well deserved, and represented the beginning of Miami being recognized as an emerging and innovative food destination to be reckoned with.
Fast forward to 2014, and Michelle still reigns as a one of Miami’s top chefs which includes her exciting return to Miami Beach to helm the restaurants at the newly renovated former Art Deco classic, The Crown, now known as The Thompson Miami Beach. This profile of Michelle and her very busy life, has been in the works for many months, but as soon as it seems to be ready to go to print, Michelle announces something new on her plate, and off I go to update the news.
I first caught up with Michelle, just as she announced the closing and renovation of her first and namesake restaurant, Michy’s. I was attending a Billecart- Salmon Champagne Dinner at Michy’s http://www.miabites.com/home/2014/3/24/michys-hosts-billecart-salmon-champagne-dinner#.VHSCDVfF-Gk= and we chatted about her plans to re-invent Michy’s with a new look and new menu. We also talked about her other projects; teaching at-risk kids about nutrition and healthy eating thru cooking classes as part of her commitment as founder and board member for Miami area Common Threads, and how important giving back to the Miami community was for her. And we chatted about her popular and Emmy nominated PBS Food TV show, Check ,Please!, which brings local food writers and bloggers together to share best food spots and to discuss food trends and news.
And then I ran into her at a Nespresso Lincoln Road event launching their new products and featuring some of Michelle’s small bites billed as a taste of things to come at Seagrape.
The next time I met with Michelle was at her Design District casual outpost, Crumb On Parchment , as I wanted to ask her about her involvement with Delta Airlines, where she has been the Culinary Captain for over 5 years. As part of the NYCWFF, Delta was hosting a special, “Food with Altitude” event that I was going to cover for MIAbites. What started as just a pilot ( no pun intended ) program for Delta turned into an International culinary focus with Michelle leading the design and execution for menus for the South and Central American routes and the addition of Chefs Michael Chiarello from Bottega in Napa handling the Los Angeles and West Coast based routes , Linton Hopkins of Eugene for Atlanta based routes and Jean-Paul Bourgeois from Blue Smoke NYC. And as Master Sommelier, Andrea Robinson.
Michelle credited Delta with being innovative with their inflight menus and not afraid to let the culinary captains create dishes and use flavors they know best.
Michelle was participating in the event by featuring tastings of two dishes; Oaxacan Mole Braised Chicken Tacos with roast calabraza, sesame, pepitas in a soft tortilla and a Brazilian style Shrimp stew, with crispy farofa ( Japanese bread crumbs), coconut , chilis and lime.
Lucky me, I got to taste both which represented Michelle’s talent for knowing just how to add “flavor” to what could be a mundane inflight menu.
Crumb On Parchment by day… Michy’s PopUp by night.
We also talked about the projected opening of Seagrape at The Thompson Hotel on Miami Beach. An exciting and ambitious project, Michelle was looking forward to creating a menu and space that would encourage people, “ to come to the beach, without dealing with the beach “. With a smile, she shared that even valet parking at The Thompson was being offered at the affordable price of $5-.
But one of Michelle’s favorite projects also on site at The Thompson, was the 1930’s House, a historic cottage originally across the street at 228 41st St that was moved to the premises in 2000 and was now being lovingly restored as a 1930’s Cocktail and Crudo Bar.
Whew! I was exhausted and asked Michelle how she does it all and is also a wife and mother. She smiled and credited her husband, David Martinez, for being both a supporter and partner, her hard working team, and that she has learned how and when to step back to enjoy her family and enjoy time with her active son. She admits it is not easy, as all working mothers know, but she understands that being happy professionally makes you personally a better wife and mother.
Just as I was getting ready to finally publish this profile, I got an invitation to The Thompson grand opening…ribbon cutting ceremony with local dignitaries, light breakfast with Michelle Bernstein in Seagrape and tour of the hotel and restaurants.
The Thompson is a beautiful hotel, reminiscent of the elegance of Miami’s past, Seagrape with both indoor dining and outdoor terrace is both private and welcoming, The Crown Room with its marble top bar, distressed leather stools and whimsical amber glass light fixtures is classy and clubby, but it is the 1930’s House with the original carved stone fireplace, Cuban tile floor and wood bar, crudo bar and sharing table that is worth special note. With Michelle’s Crudo and Beverage Director, Michael MacDonnell’s inspired cocktails, the 1930’s House will be a welcome destination for anyone looking for a unique Miami Beach experience.
And so with this weeks soft official opening of Seagrape, and future full service at The Crown Room and The 1930’s House, this article is finished…for now.
Thank you, Michelle for sharing with us…award winning chef, TV star, Common Threads mentor, Art Basel official caterer, Delta Culinary Captain, wife and mother. Anything I missed? Talk about a mouthful!
PS- Michelle also has a food outpost at Sun Life Stadium this year for hungry Miami Dolphin fans looking for something other than a hot dog and beer.
4041 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33140