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Chef Michelle Bernstein Dishes on Holiday Traditions 


Life & Style

It’s impossible to talk about the holidays without mentioning food. Whether it’s baking sugar cookies with Mom, frying a turkey or going out for Chinese food on Christmas Day, everyone has their own twist on holiday food traditions. Celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein is no exception. Bernstein, a James Beard Award winner and frequent guest judge on “Top Chef” (among other television shows), naturally has her own ideas of what makes her guests sing and the sleigh bells ring, if you will.

A Miami native of Jewish and Latin descent, Bernstein is known for her haute Latin-inspired cuisine. Her restaurant Michy’s has long been a Miami favorite, and she’ll add three more to her empire with the mid-November openings of Seagrape and 1930’s House and Crown Room at Thompson Miami Beach. Previews® Inside Out recently caught up with the beloved cuisinier to ask her about her favorite holiday memories when it comes to giving and sharing food.

Michelle Bernstein

Chef Michelle Bernstein. Photo credit: Michael Pisarri

Previews Inside Out What is your favorite holiday cooking memory?


Michelle Bernstein Growing up in a Jewish-Latin family, we would either have classic Noche Buena dinners with traditional Latin dishes, or as Jewish families often do, we would go out for Chinese food on Christmas night. I didn’t really celebrate traditional Christmas until I married David, my husband and business partner. David is from Mexico, and our first Christmas together, we went there and spent three days with his family–eating, drinking and eating more. It was my first taste of an authentic Mexican Christmas.


Previews Inside Out What’s your plan for the holidays this year? 

Michelle Bernstein Since Thompson Miami Beach is opening just before the holidays, we will be here in Miami Beach. I’m looking forward to spending the holidays with my family. And now that my son is getting older, he really understands that the holidays are all about being with the people you love and, of course, eating!

Previews Inside Out Where do you typically spend the holidays? 

Michelle Bernstein We’ve spent the holidays in Miami, Mexico and Minneapolis.

BLOG_Thompson Miami Beach_Ricotta Gnocchi_Photo Credit Michael Pisarri

Ricotta Gnocchi at Thompson Miami Beach. Photo Credit: Michael Pisarri

Previews Inside Out What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish to cook and why? 

Michelle Bernstein I love making mojo marinated turkey with chorizo stuffing. Since I’m Argentinian, I like to honor the tradition of classic Thanksgiving dishes, but give it a Latin spin. The turkey is juicy and flavorful and goes so well with the chorizo stuffing.

Previews Inside Out What’s your favorite Christmas or Hannukah dish to cook and why?  

Michelle Bernstein Potato pancakes for Hanukkah, absolutely! Fried foods and Hanukkah go hand in hand.

BLOG_Thompson Miami Beach_Spinach & Feta Croquetas_Photo Credit Michael Pisarri

Spinach & Feta Croquetas at Thompson Miami Beach. Photo credit: Michael Pisarri

Previews Inside Out What does home mean to you? 

Michelle Bernstein Home is about love, passion, family and food. That’s why our holidays have evolved into a beautiful, eclectic, international food-centric celebration filled with a little piece of everyone that has touched us and our family over the years.

Previews Inside Out How do you balance your family, opening a brand new hotel (Thompson Miami Beach duties) during the holidays? 

Michelle Bernstein In general, Miami Beach is quite busy during December, with Art Basel and then the holidays. With the opening of Seagrape and 1930’s House at Thompson Miami Beach in November, it’s going to be a very busy season. Luckily, my husband is also my business partner, so we manage to divide and conquer, and always carve out time to spend with our son and family.

Previews Inside Out Do you have a dish in your repertoire that reminds you of home during the holidays? A dish from your childhood, perhaps? 

Michelle Bernstein My mother always played around with birds and cooked goose and duck quite a bit during the holidays. She’d braise cabbage to serve with it.

Previews Inside Out How much do your Argentinan roots inspire your holiday dishes? 

Michelle Bernstein Quite a bit; just see the Thanksgiving dish.

Previews Inside Out How would you put a twist on a traditional holiday staple, like stuffing or mashed potatoes? 

Michelle Bernstein Chorizo stuffing gives traditional stuffing a little bit of a kick and some bold flavor. I also like making a sweet potato pound cake. The house smells terrific, and it’s something unique.

BLOG_Thompson Miami Beach_Squid Ink Buccatini_Photo Credit Michael Pisarri

Squid Ink Buccatini at Thompson Miami Beach. Photo credit: Michael Pisarri

Previews Inside Out Tell us about your new role opening a hotel and the restaurants you’ll have there.

Michelle Bernstein I’m working with a great team at Thompson Miami Beach, including my husband, David, and Karim Masri and Nicola Siervo of Miami-based KNR Hospitality Group. Seagrape is the main restaurant and is an indoor/outdoor Florida brasserie. It will have great seafood, lots of veggie dishes and some really fine steaks. I’m working with local farmers to grow special produce especially for Seagrape. 1930’s House is a historic freestanding building at the resort and will be a really cool Mediterranean-inspired bar and small plates restaurant. The cocktail program there will be very avant garde, and I’m doing lots of crudos, ceviches, carpaccios and tapas. Both are indoor/outdoor, and each spot has its own unique identity. We are also handling pool and beach service, in-room dining and catering.  I’m really excited, and I haven’t worked on Miami Beach in a decade, so I’m looking forward to it.

Previews Inside Out Which of your restaurants (if any) will be serving a Thanksgiving prix fixe menu?

Michelle Bernstein We are planning Thanksgiving menus now!

Previews Inside Out Before you go, can you share one of your favorite holiday recipes with us?

Michelle Bernstein Sure. I have this great holiday dessert. Enjoy! 

Baked Apples with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, Crème Fraiche

Makes Four Servings

4  large baking apples, gala or Rome
2 Tbsp.  unsalted butter at room temperature
3 Tbsp.  honey
¼ cup  dried cherries or cranberries
½ cup  walnuts, chopped and toasted
¼ tsp.  ground cinnamon
1 tsp.  vanilla extract
1 cup   apple juice or cider
1 cup   crème fraiche or sour cream
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 425º. Cut about ¼ to ½ inch off the top of each apple. Remove the seeds and most of the core of the apples. Combine the butter, orange zest, honey, dried cherries, nuts, cinnamon and vanilla. Mix well and spoon the mixture into each apple. Place the apples in a small baking pan; pour the apple juice gently over each apple. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until tender and golden. Baste the apples with the apple juice at least twice during baking. Spoon some crème fraiche or sour cream over the top of each apple before serving.


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Chef Michelle Bernstein Dishes on Holiday Traditions 

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