3. Michelle Bernstein: Miami's Culinary Darling

New Times' Best of Miami 2014 issue is here. To celebrate, Short Order is paying tribute to Miami's culinary all-stars. These people forged our city's food scene into what it is today -- a thriving amalgam of tastes and cultures. Through their insight and talent, they've given the city a unique flavor and paved the way for bright new chefs and restaurateurs to follow their lead and take the Miami food scene into the future.

Michelle Bernstein not only embodies the heart and soul of Miami cuisine, she embodies Miami itself. Like her native city, the chef is beautiful and sunny, but there's substance there, too.

Bernstein, a former ballerina and Johnson & Wales University graduate, worked with some of the best chefs in the business like Mark Militello and Jean Louis Palladin before capturing national attention in the late 1990s as executive chef of Tantra on Miami Beach, then as the top toque at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental Miami, where Esquire magazine's food critic dubbed it the "Best New Restaurant in America."

See also: Michelle Bernstein to Open Restaurant at Thompson Miami Beach Hotel

Bernstein's upward trajectory continued with a co-hosting gig on Food Network's Melting Pot; a winning battle against Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America, and multiple appearances on Top Chef.

In 2005, Bernstein opened Michy's, which was named one of the "Top 50 Restaurants in the Country" by Gourmet and "Best New Restaurant 2006" by Food and Wine. In 2008, Bernstein won the coveted James Beard for Best Chef South, published Cuisine a Latina, and opened Sra. Martinez in the Design District.

The chef then opened Crumb on Parchment in the Design District, a cozy spot to have breakfast, lunch, or cakes handmade by her mother, Martha. Apparently, culinary skills run in the family.

Bernstein's career, like Miami, is evolving. The chef closed Sra. Martinez in 2012 and recently announced the imminent closure of Michy's on June 28. Before we could even digest that bit of news, Bernstein announced she and husband/partner David Martinez would renovate the space and re-open a new restaurant there by the end of summer. Bernstein also announced she was planning a restaurant at the Thompson Hotel in Miami Beach.

The chef also is heavily involved in the local Miami community, launching the Miami chapter of Common Threads and working with the Miami-Dade Public School system on a chef partnership designed to improve the quality of school cafeterias. She has also partnered with Michelle Obama's Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools!, a program that targets childhood obesity by highlighting fresh fruits and vegetables served in school meals that are grown on premises in student-tended gardens.

Tasty Tidbit

If you've got a mango tree, take a look and see who's lurking around it. Turns out, chef Bernstein likes to "steal" mangoes. No matter how tall that tree is, "whether its standing on the hood of my car or using a 20 foot pole," mangoes aren't safe in her company. Actually, the chef says she asks permission before taking any mangoes, but likes the little "hunt," saying, "it just feels more exciting that way."

In Her Own Words

"Being a native, it's amazing to me how the skyline, culture, and gastronomy of South Florida has changed. It's bigger and better than it ever was. Creative, exploding with flavors and finally hip! Our young chefs are bustling and succeeding beyond boundaries and as a chef from a quarter of a generation before them, I couldn't be more proud. There are no rules anymore. Chefs and restaurateurs can basically do as they wish; no tablecloths, hard rock blasting from the speakers; and food of every genre on one menu or even one plate. We have become a culinary destination and it's about time."

Miami Food All-Stars

25. Dewey LoSasso

24. Mark Soyka

23. Jason Starkman

22. Lorena Garcia

21. Barton G.

20. Mike Hampton

19. Chef Creole

18. Jeremiah Bullfrog

17. Cindy Hutson

16. Jack Homes

15. Shareef Malnik

14. Bruce Ozga

13. Robert Is Here

12. Julio Cabrera

11. The Garcia Family

10. Norman Van Aken

9. Lee Schrager

8. Bacardi

7. Allen Susser

6. Stephen Sawitz

5. Felipe Valls

4. Douglas Rodriguez

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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