There’s something about celebrities that absolutely enthralls us. At some level we know they’re only human, regular folks, like the rest of us. Yet we still can’t help but elevate them a pedestal — especially when it’s a celebrity we admire.
Perhaps we’re drawn to celebrities because they seem to epitomize our notion of success, and we tend to want what they have. Some people are captivated by Hollywood actors, while others idolize professional athletes. I don’t mind admitting that I’m a huge sports fan and would welcome the opportunity to meet and greet some of our local superstars (LeBron, call me). And I have a secret ambition I’ll share with you today: food.
I enjoy cooking as much as I enjoy eating out with my wife, and celebrity chefs are on my list of favorite famous people. So I was honored to have the opportunity to sit and have a conversation with Miami’s own celebrity chef, Michelle Bernstein.
It’s easy to see why Bernstein, a Miami native of Jewish and Latin decent, is considered one of the finest gourmet chefs in the country by diners, critics and peers alike. She’s a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award (2007 Best Chef South), has been recognized as a Top Chef by Food and Wine, Gourmet, and Travel and Leisure magazines, and was honored with a Best New Restaurant award in 2009 for Señora Martinez, the popular restaurant she opened together with her husband and business partner, David Martinez, in Miami’s Design District.
There’s another side to Bernstein that serves as an example for those of us in the business world. Bernstein’s passion for food has inspired her to parlay her culinary success into residual business opportunities. In addition to owning three restaurants, Bernstein is Executive Chef for Delta Airlines’ BusinessElite Dining, she is the spokesperson in Spanish for Crisco, serves on the prestigious Macy’s Culinary Council, hosts her own television show, and is the author of a cookbook, Cuisine a Latina (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2008). As if that isn’t enough, she launched her own brand of cookware, “BernsteinB”, this month on the Home Shopping Network.
That’s what the public sees — a person who has earned her celebrity status and is emulated by aspiring chefs and business professionals. But what we don’t always see is the road she traveled to get to that point, and the steps she continues to take to stay at the top of her game. Therein lies the lesson:
n Personal drive: Bernstein is one of the most ambitious people I have met. Her drive stems from a desire to be the best — and not for anyone else’s sake but her own.
n Personal commitment to excellence: In Chef Bernstein’s own words, “There’s a huge responsibility as a chef to give the best that we can possibly give them — freshness, cleanliness, tastiness. Everything, really, goes into the pots and pans. Put 100 percent of yourself in it because they’re going to taste it if you don’t.”
n Personal discipline: Before becoming a chef, Bernstein was pursuing a professional ballet career — a line of work requiring strict discipline when it comes to time and dedication to practice and performance. She has adopted the same discipline to her culinary pursuits and acknowledges discipline is a key factor in her success.
n The basics: Chef Bernstein understands that it all begins and ends with the food. For her, if the food isn’t excellent, then nothing else matters because, “it’s all about the food.”
n Residual business: The residual business opportunities stem from her core business, which is the food, without limiting herself to “cooking.” Though Chef Bernstein will personally create your gourmet masterpiece from her kitchen at Michy’s Restaurant on 69th and Biscayne, she allows herself to freely explore related opportunities to further her brand.
n The food: For Bernstein, the food is the product. Chef Bernstein feels the product has to be exciting and capable of constantly changing with the times.
n The ingredients: Use only the absolute best ingredients when putting your product together.
n Taste everything every day: Bernstein’s commitment to quality is exemplified in her tasting everything every day. “If something’s not right, we won’t walk away until it’s fixed.
n Lead by example: Chef Bernstein doesn’t ask anyone to do something she’s not willing to do, or hasn’t done, herself.
n Train properly: Bernstein’s entire staff is trained to know every detail about the food and wine they serve on a daily basis, and follow her strict guidelines for how customers are to be treated.
n Set expectations: While Bernstein doesn’t expect anyone on her team to work as hard as she does, “If you’re not passionate and focused, if you don’t look interested, you’re out.”
These are just some of the ingredients to Bernstein’s recipe for success.
Manny García-Tuñón, executive vice president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm in Miami, writes for El Nuevo Herald, the Miami Herald and the Bradenton Herald.