Brett Graff’s Mixed Company

Michelle Bernstein

Brett Graff’s MIXED COMPANY: SHOTS OF INSPIRATION FROM MIAMI’S BUSINESS LEADERS is a series of interviews with internationally recognized executives. In its second season, this one titled THE BUSINESS OF LEISURE, the column will over three months reveal how five high-level figures created extraordinary careers by either captivating us during our free time or using their own to accomplish steadfast professional goals.

Brett Graff is an award-winning journalist and a former U.S. government economist who under her trademark The Home Economist contributes to The Miami Herald, USA Today, Fox Business News, Yahoo! Finance, Maxim and more. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, PBS and Headline News in addition to being frequently quoted by outlets including Los Angeles Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times, and Wikipedia. She lives on Key Biscayne with her husband and daughters. Visit to see her reporting.

Michelle Bernstein, owner of Sra. Martinez and Michy's, reveals the secrets to combining creativity and corporate trimuph. Photos by Manny Hernandez

Celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein has a new baby. That’s not a metaphor for her latest eatery – although the James Beard Award winner did recently add Crumb on Parchment, a cozy café serving sandwiches and homemade baked goods, to the list of tasty businesses she’s created from scratch. And it isn’t intended as a figure of speech to announce any one of the coveted corporate deals she’s since signed. Although the recipes Bernstein created for Lean Cuisine are now lining grocery store shelves, the pots and pans she designed for Macy’s are displayed with great fanfare and the meals she’s created for Delta’s BusinessElite passengers have made global headlines. But in fact, the chef who regularly appears on the Food Network and PBS has recently become a mother – and it’s a position she may just consider her most delicious yet.

But even amidst the whirlwind of demands on Chef Bernstein’s time — she’s making four appearances at next week’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, including one at Fun and Fit as a Family — she opened for the doors to her Design District eatery, Sra. Martinez. And prepared for us plates of bacon-wrapped Medjool dates, crispy long-stem artichokes with lemon-coriander sauce, as well as croquetas with manchego cheese and fig marmalade. Though the dishes were a huge distraction for us, we still managed to ask her about the recipe for combining creativity and corporate triumph.

You’re a creative person and a talented chef, although that’s an understatement. How are you also so successful at business operations?

The secret is I have a great business partner — my husband, David Martinez. When we first started we understood that he’d manage certain aspects of this business and I would run other elements of the operation. And we both agreed that if my job – the food and the ambiance — wasn’t done right then the restaurant wouldn’t work. I’m a chef, No. 1.

Once upon a time you were the chef at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental – it was a great job with lots of exposure. How did you know it was time to go out on your own?

I was confident that if necessary, I could come back and find another good job. I never thought, “If this doesn’t work out then my career is over.” One bad move does not mean your career is over.

It doesn’t seem you even know how to make a bad move. In addition to the corporate partnerships, you’ve written CUISINE A LATINA and you host a weekly show, CHECK PLEASE! SOUTH FLORIDA on PBS. How important are these outlets for your mission?

As a creative person, it’s pretty important because it’s another outlet for reaching people through food. It’s not just about the recipes anymore. It’s about getting people to eat better, more naturally, and with an eye on sustainability. The first conversation I have after being approached for a project – I’ve never had an agent or a manger – is whether I can use the ingredients and products that I want and also keep the integrity of my recipes. If all that works out, I’ll do anything. I don’t care about big numbers.

What’s the secret to dividing up your time?

I am looking for that secret! All I know is my family is No. 1 and I do consider the restaurants family. I bring my son here constantly.

The best advice you ever got?

Someone taught me to stay dumb. It sounds negative but it’s actually very positive. Basically I approach opportunities with an open mind. I understand that there’s always something to learn. So for example, when I was talking to Delta they said, “What kind of dishes can you give to us?” And my answer was, “You have to tell me what I can do.” I needed to know about the ovens they use, their temperatures and heights — as well as the range of ingredients that are available. I told them, “If you teach me everything, I will give you anything you want.” You can’t go in thinking that you know everything, because you never do.

Victor Mendelson, Michelle Bernstein, Larry Mendelson, Brett Graff, Lee Brian Schrager, Tony Hernandez, Eric Mendelson

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