It’s been a rough year for Michelle Bernstein, the Latina queen of cooking who led the revival of Miami’s Upper East District. Bernstein was forced to close her iconic restaurant, CENA by Michy on Biscayne Boulevard, after an amazing 10 year run. The building was sold to a real estate developer with plans to triple her rent on a par with the current market value.
“It was devastating,” recalls Michelle, the author of Cuisine A Latina and a popular television personality.
Bernstein shut the doors at CENA by Michy back on May 31st and only a month earlier, also left her Seagrape restaurant in the Thompson Hotel. The landmark property was purchased by Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and she was again squeezed by inflated overhead. But Bernstein and her husband/business partner David Martinez are examining new projects and recently opened a pop-up eatery, Bernstein’s Garden Cafe, in conjunction with Miami’s Art Basel 2016. It’s Michelle’s fourth consecutive year at the event, which unofficially kicks off Miami’s winter tourist season.
“We’ll have some wonderful new dishes at the cafe this year, and I’m excited for people to try them,” she entices with vibrant enthusiasm.
Bernstein still operates Crumb On Parchment in Miami’s Garment District and made her mark years ago with a successful catering business. As for Michelle’s philosophy in the kitchen, a simple approach is favored that’s not “heavy-handed” or complicated.
“My style of cooking is inspired by my own food memories growing up,” says Bernstein, a recipient of the prestigious James Beard Award for culinary excellence. “My father is of Russian-Jewish descent and my mother is from Argentina. “It was from her that I developed a lot of my favorite Latino and Italian recipes.”
Bernstein also wrote another book, called “The Macy’s Culinary Council Thanksgiving and Holiday Cookbook.” It’s in the spirit of the season that I offer one of Michelle’s favorite dessert creations, “Michy’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding.” It’s a staple recipe that I’ve tweaked a bit to match my own taste. And even though Thanksgiving is over, it’s a great dish to offer with tamales for up-coming posadas and Navidad. So here we go:
Michy’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of pumpkin puree (available at Walmart, Target, etc.)
2 egg yokes
1 teaspoon of all spice, ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon. (Michelle calls for 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup of chocolate chips
1/2 cup of raisins (my addition)
1/4 cup of rum (optional…my addition for adult functions)
6 cups of diced french bread (crust removed)
Pour milk, cream and brown sugar into a small sauce pan and heat until sugar melts. Allow to cool.
In a larger bowl, pour the eggs, pumpkin puree and mentioned spices. Stir in the cooled milk/sugar combo and rum (if desired). Add the french bread and mix well. Let the ingredients soak into the bread for about 20 minutes.
Pour contents into a stick-free casserole dish and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Your nose will tell you when it’s done. Don’t be alarmed if your creation looks like hell. Believe me, it’ll taste like heaven!
-Esteban (Steve) Randel