It’s no surprise that local heroine, Michelle Bernstein, has been participating in the South Beach Wine and Food Festival since its inception 13 years ago. “The first year was at Florida International University, there were only locals cooking and the ‘festival’ was a dinner for just a couple hundred people. That was it,” Bernstein remembers. “It was very small, very intimate. There was no Food Network, none of that stuff. But it was just as thrilling back then as it is now.”
The James Beard Award-winning Bernstein, born and bred in Miami, enjoys promoting the flavors of the Magic City and its surrounding area at her restaurant Michy’s, and she believes that the annual food and wine festival helped raise the profile of Miami chefs across the nation. “SOBE helped put Miami on the food map. It got more people to come here as a destination for our food more for than just our delicious weather and beaches. And it's brought such a flavor to Miami, people like Gaston Acurio from Peru,” she marvels. “We all serve ceviche and we all think we do it as well as they do it in Peru, but Gaston Acurio comes to town and teaches us how it’s done. All the chefs that I've always wanted to meet eventually get here one year or another. And it's amazing the relationships that have forged from it.”
Workhorse and SOBE supporter that she is, Bernstein is participating in three major events at the festival. She is hosting Spice It Up, a dinner at the Four Seasons in collaboration with spice-master, Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte à Epice. “This dinner, to me, is a celebration of him and his spices, and a lot of the flavors of Israel and the Mediterranean,” she says. “It's the first of its kind that we've ever done at the festival and it's very exciting because it’s really, truly about the ingredients.”
She is also hosting Swine and Wine, a pig roast where the chefs BYO caja china, a Cuban-style roasting box. Bernstein’s secret to the best roast pig? “To me, there's nothing better than marinating it in some kind of citrus, breaking down the meat to get it really tender and juicy, and then just taking a really long-ass time to cook it,” she said. “Cook it until it's crackly on the top and juicy on the inside. The trick is not to overcook it, but to slow cook it. It takes about eight hours to finish the pig. It's a long time, but we're sitting outside in the sun and the weather is usually pretty cool and breezy, and we're sipping mojitos."
Next, Bernstein comes full circle...