Mention the name Michelle Bernstein in the culinary community, and you're likely to see eyebrows raised in respect and hear praise for an innovative chef who helped pave the way for other female chefs.James Beard Award-winner Chef Michelle Bernstein burst onto the culinary scene in the 1990s. She now owns Crumb on Parchment and tapas restaurant Sra. Martinez, both in the Miami design district, as well as Michy's on Miami's Biscayne corridor. Bernstein also is the executive chef of the Omphoy, her signature restaurant at the Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach County.
On Friday, Bernstein will make another appearance at the Naples 2012 Winter Wine Festival, which has trustees and local foodies aflutter with excitement.
"We try each year to get the very best of the best chefs. Sometimes the very best are right in your backyard, and we are very excited to have Miami-based chef Michelle Bernstein, who not only brings with her some of the best flavors in the region, but also a fun, shining personality," said Joan Clifford, co-chair of the 2012 Naples Winter Wine Festival with her husband, Bob.
Bernstein, who also is known for co-hosting the show "Melting Pot" on the Food Network and later for battling — and beating — Bobby Flay on "Iron Chef America." ("I wanted to tie because I love him!" she declares.)
She hosts her own PBS weekly television series, "Check, Please! South Florida."
"Michelle Bernstein is a delightful person to work with, and even the airlines know how good she is," says Donna Solimene, co-chair of the chefs committee for the 2012 festival. "Michelle is the celebrity chef for Delta Air Lines, formulating special menus for BusinessElite and First Class passengers."
Bernstein isn't the only chef representing Florida at the festival. Chef Michael Schwartz, also from Miami, is participating for the first time this year. He owns Michael's Genuine (www.michaelsgenuine.com).
For more information on the Naples 2012 Winter Wine Festival, visit www.NaplesWineFestival.com
Bernstein says she is excited to take part in the festival again. Bernstein participated in the festival in 2006.
"Some of my favorite aspects of participating in the festival include that it's an amazingly organized festival with an incredible purpose," she says.
"Plus I get to rub elbows with amazing chefs and some wine folks I have idolized for years — and this festival is one of my favorites."
Bernstein's restaurants are about 35 percent to 40 percent locavore, meaning the ingredients come from local sources.
"We've taken our sweet time to get to where we are as a dining destination (in Florida), but now that we are here, we are thriving."
Bernstein's dining philosophy includes a family feel.
"My husband and I treat our restaurants and their patrons the way we would treat them at home in our own dining room," she says.
"The menu is always changing, always fresh and we are trying to push ourselves to be better, constantly."
As for the 2012 festival, Bernstein is planning, but also is waiting. The fresh ingredient guru knows that when it comes to planning a haute couture menu, timing is everything. Her thoughts on what she hopes to serve are percolating.
"I'm waiting to find out what I can get grown in the Redlands and Loxahachee that month," she says.
For more information, visit www.ChefMichelleBernstein.com.