A Florida Chef Pays Respect to Hawai‘i’s Produce at HFWF
“Don’t you dare touch my scallions!!”
When she got here for the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, chef Michelle Bernstein was stunned by our local produce, particularly, yes, the green onions. She said she’d never seen scallions that big and beautiful, so they HAD to find a way into her culinary creation for the Spiked! dining event on Oct. 20!
“They give us a list of what Maui offers, but until you get here, you have no idea how really beautiful the produce is, and how incredible the beef and fish are,” she explains. “We’re told that it’s good, but until you see it, taste it and feel the texture, you have no idea the wonders that grow on this island! We come here and little things like scallions, and to you guys you probably just walk by them, to me, it made me literally just stop and stand there. I’m from a place that has a hard time growing things anyway, and it’s not a huge variety of stuff. So to come here and see this, it’s just amazing; it’s so vibrant.”
A Miami native of Jewish and Latin descent, Bernstein is a James Beard Foundation Award winner (Best Chef South 2008) and author of Cuisine à Latina. She and her husband (and business partner) David Martinez own and operate MBC Michelle Bernstein Catering Company as well as her popular café concept Crumb on Parchment in Miami.
Here in Hawai’i, we know and love Calamansi, or Philippine Lime. But Bernstein, who grew up more than 4,700 miles away, has the same affection for Calamansi, which was part of her childhood.
“I grew up with a Calamansi tree always growing in my backyard in Miami, FL — have one now,” she muses. “I would eat them every day as if it was an orange! I loved them as a little girl. I never realized; we call them Calamandarinos — I thought it was Latin! I never knew until years later and I professionally cooked!”
So, coming to Maui for the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, she joyfully used Calamansi to accompany her braised short rib dish for Spiked! at Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, along with these other ingredients:
“I knew we’d be outside, so I wanted to cut the richness of the rib,” Bernstein says. “I made a radish salad with daikon and red radishes and cucumbers…and those grilled scallions!”
These days, Bernstein is busier than ever. She regularly appears on such national TV shows as Top Chef and Good Morning America. She also hosts the PBS weekly television series Check, Please! South Florida and a regional food show. In addition, she dedicates time to an after-school program for underprivileged kids, and has worked with a cancer institute to provide provide oncology patients with food alternatives to help ease their way through treatment.
Bernstein was the only female out of 13 chefs at the Spiked! event, and says she’s noticed a drop in the number of female leaders in the culinary industry overall, though she was encouraged to see a lot of them as students assisting at this year’s festival.
“I don’t know why we’re losing them; we’re not seeing them in the executive capacities, we’re not seen them in the corporate capacities, and I’m not blaming the man at all, I’m not blaming the fact that they’re not getting offered jobs. I just feel like maybe we’re fading out somewhere in the middle,” she says. “Whether we left because we wanted to become moms, or to find a job that’s a little less horribly laborious. It’s not an easy job; it’s a heavy-lifting job. It really is exhausting and when I became a mom, I felt the hardest time of my life was deciding how and when I could keep on working the way I did while having this child I always dreamt of having.”
Speaking of family, she got to bring them with her this year to Maui, one of her top places to visit, and maybe, someday, live.
“Definitely our favorite thing that happens on our calendars every year. My son has been asking for three months now, ‘when is Hawai’i, when is Hawaiʼi??,’” Bernstein laughs, adding that they were even heading over to Lāna’i for a night to make the most of their time here. “We try to soak up as much of the culture, since that’s really the part that we love. Our dream is one day to come back here and stay, and it is a dream, but what a beautiful dream to have!”
Dates have already been secured for next year’s festival, so mark your calendars:
Oct. 5: Hawai‘i Island
Oct 18-20: Maui
Oct 23-27: O‘ahu
Learn more about the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, which features a roster of more than 100 internationally renowned master chefs, culinary personalities, winemakers and spirit producers, here.