Michelle Bernstein's new Miami restaurant, Michy's, is a family affair: the celebrity chef runs the kitchen, dishing up her signature fusion cuisine (like sweetbreads in an orange glaze with bacon). Her husband, David Martinez, oversees the retro-moderne 1960's-style dining room, which was designed by Bernstein's sister, Nicolette. Everyone adds a different spice to the pot, and the end result is simply delicious, which is an apt description of Bernstein and Martinez's October 2005 wedding.
The couple met while they were working at the Mandarin Oriental Miami's Azul restaurant, where Bernstein ?rst made a name for herself (she's since become the executive chef for MB at the Aqua hotel in Cancún and is a regular on Today and the Food Network). When she and Martinez decided to make it official, they wanted to prepare a feast for the ages. That meant coming up with a menu that blended their varied backgrounds—Bernstein is a half-Argentine Jew; Martinez is Mexican by way of Minnesota, with a bit of German on the side—using food that could impress the most sophisticated of palates (not to mention Bernstein's mom, who's quite a cook herself). To pull off this culinary extravaganza, they would need some help. And they got it. Friends, colleagues, and family pitched in, sparing no expense to fête the couple.
Some 140 guests watched Bernstein, radiant in a fuchsia, copper, and azure halter dress by Miami designer Julian Chang, and Martinez, wearing a custom-made blue-and-white striped guayabera, exchange vows under swaying palms on the oceanfront lawn of the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. Then everyone headed across town to the Miami City Club, on the 55th ?oor of the Wachovia Financial Center, the tallest building downtown. The windowed room has 360-degree views of the bay, the beaches, and the city—all of which at first went unnoticed.
"People didn't even find their seats; they just marched straight up to the food as if they had never eaten before," Bernstein says with a smile. "I have to say, it smelled pretty damn good in there, so I can understand—but my family, they watched with their mouths wide open."
In all fairness, you couldn't really blame the guests. At the entrance, attendees were greeted by one of Bernstein's former cooks, Peruvian-born Miguel Puelles, who was preparing made-to-order ceviche with shrimp, tuna, and conch. There was also sushi, courtesy of restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow, who called on Bernstein to consult at his soon-to-open Social Miami, in the Sagamore hotel, and its Los Angeles counterpart, Social Hollywood. Jamaican Neville Dhue, Bernstein's first mentor in a professional kitchen, made the spicy jerk lobster—which he prepped in solitude, lest anyone discover his secret recipe. Even the greens were handpicked. Bernstein, a self-described "salad freak," recruited the local women who grow the vegetables for her restaurants to mix four types of leafy concoctions, including a shaved fennel and Parmesan salad.
"It's good to know people," Bernstein acknowledges. "It was definitely a labor of love." In addition to calling her former colleagues to the kitchen, Bernstein looked to the flavors of her youth. Since childhood, she has loved to eat at Hy-Vong, a tiny Calle Ocho café that she says has the most authentic Vietnamese food this side of the Pacific. She asked owner Kathy Manning to prepare duck spring rolls and shrimp on sugarcane.
And of course, there had to be the Argentine food that Bernstein had grown up eating. For that, she brought her mother to the Miami City Club to teach the chefs how to cook gaucho fare, such as churrasco, a strip streak with chimichurri sauce, and ensalada Rusa, an Argentine take on a Russian salad with peas, carrots, and roasted beets. Mom was also called on to bake more than 140 frosted cupcakes. "I was looking for a white-trash cupcake, and nobody makes them as well," Bernstein says. "When you want something done right, sometimes you've got to go to Mom."
It was certainly a feast to remember—except, perhaps, for Bernstein. Like many brides, she did not get to enjoy the meal she'd so meticulously planned. "I had two oysters because my husband made me try them, and I tasted the jerk lobster," she says. "I remember telling everyone that all I wanted to do at my wedding was dance and eat. I did dance, but I was so nervous, and I couldn't put anything into my mouth. When I got home I was starving, and there were no leftovers. My guests had eaten every single last bite."