Michelle Bernstein is always on the go. A former ballerina and James Beard Award winner, the Miami native is a successful restaurateur, celebrity chef, cookbook author, regular judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, and host of the PBS weekly series Check Please! She battled celebrity chef Bobby Flay with gusto on Iron Chef America and won. The Show caught up with her before her Cooking Theater presentation.
What are your plans for your presentation in the cooking theatre today and what will you be making?
Chef: I am making a black paella with squid ink, all kinds of seafood and crispy garlic. My main aim when I am out there is to catch and keep my audience’s attention. It’s all about bringing them into the story and opening up their minds. I love getting people to taste and cook things they wouldn’t normally – I love seeing that glimmer when people discover something new.
Tell us about your latest project?
Chef: I am opening a new restaurant soon on Miami Beach while renovating Mach’s, a restaurant in Miami I’ve had for eight years.
What inspires you to create a new dish or recipe?
Chef: Luckily I travel a lot, so I gather inspiration wherever I go. I also have a young crew, and they always want to try the latest and the greatest gadgets and techniques. Running around the world trying out new restaurants provides inspiration too.
Have you walked the Show or will you – is there anything special you hope to find – or something that has caught your eye?
Chef: I haven’t had the time to see the Show. However we are always looking for ways to make things better and easier. I love some of the equipment I use all the time, such as my knives, but I also love seeing the genius behind other people’s fresh ideas, whether it’s a pan or an electrical gadget. There is always something new out there that I would never think of.
What chefs and restaurants are you inspired by?
Chef: Firstly, I think Chicago has the best food scene in the U.S. I love everything that Paul Kahan does at The Publican, Blackbird and Nico Osteria – and I want to try his tacos at Big Star. I was also very lucky to eat at El Bulli before it closed, and then Can Roca in Spain.
What inspires you personally?
Chef: Blank canvases, smells, people, farms.