Cena, in Spanish and Italian, means dinner. And in Miami, chef Michelle Bernstein has been bringing a world of flavors to that meal, in delicious, uncomplicated, award-winning fashion for more than a decade. So when in May 2015, Bernstein, the Miami native with Argentine and Italian-Jewish roots, relaunched her signature restaurant, Michy’s, as Cena by Michy, after a sleek renovation, the name just seemed to make sense. With dishes like sweetbread tacos, grilled prawns with salsa verde, a creamy plate of fettucine carbonara (with jamón Serrano, no less), Bernstein carries on her unique meld of culinary traditions.
“I was born and raised here,” says Bernstein, who was given the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef/South. “I’ve left a few times, but I keep coming back to Miami. This is what inspires me, especially the people and the cultures.” She left once for culinary studies at Johnson & Wales University, and after graduation headed back to Miami, where she got rave reviews for her sophisticated cooking at restaurant Azul, in the Mandarin-Oriental Hotel. With husband and business partner David Martinez she opened Michy’s in 2006 (voted one of Gourmet magazine’s Best 50 Restaurants in the U.S.), tapas restaurant Sra. Martinez (now closed) in 2008, restaurants at the Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach in 2009, and launched MBC Michelle Bernstein Catering Company. Later came Miami Design District bakery and café Crumb on Parchment, and Seagrape restaurant in the Thompson Hotel. And if that weren’t enough, she published a cookbook, Cuisine à Latina: Fresh Tastes and a World of Flavors from Michy’s Miami Kitchen.
On television Bernstein has battled Bobby Flay (and won) on Iron Chef America,co-hosted the Food Network’s Melting Pot, continues to explore local food on the ongoing PBS show Check, Please! South Florida, and is now host of the WLPG program SloFlo Taste.
Giving back to the community is high on Bernstein’s priority list. She’s involved with nonprofit Common Threads, an after-school program for underprivileged young kids that introduces them to the joy and smarts of cooking good, nutritious food.