Check, Please!, hosted by Miami’s favorite local chef, Michelle Bernstein, makes its debut on PBS (WPBT, Channel 2) tonight at 7:30 p.m. Every episode features three guests who pick their favorite restaurants, then visit the establishments anonymously and offer their critiques back in the studio. I spoke with Michelle over the phone about the experience...
Do you enjoy doing the show?
I love it. You know, I don’t get to talk to many people about anything except what I do, which to me is a very boring subject. I love to talk about food, but I’d rather talk about other people’s food. So each week they bring on three people from really really different walks of life and I get to talk to them about their views. I feel like I made friends, or at least acquaintances, that I really hope to see again. (A pause). Well not all of them, but some of them (laughs).
What kind of restaurants are being visited?
It runs the gamut, including places I’ve never heard of or even knew existed. Which is amazing. There are a couple that we’ve all heard of, but not too many upscale restaurants yet. What we have had is a lot of ethnic places. And not the typical ethnicities that we all think of when we think of Miami.
Will they ever visit Michy’s?
No. They are not allowed (laughs). How could I sit there with a straight face if somebody attacked it? I couldn’t fight back because that’s not what I’m here for.
How astute have the guest critics been so far?
Sometimes they are, and sometimes I just don’t get it. But honestly, who am I to judge what is good for another person? It’s just cool to have an amateur’s perspective on what they consider to be great food or a great experience.
Any restaurants get slammed?
Oh yeah. A lot. A lot.
Are they judging just the food, or service, ambiance, and so on?
Everything. Some are more into design than others, but they are reviewing the total experience. There have been times when people have liked the food but didn’t like what the restaurant was about.
What criteria do you use in judging restaurants when you dine out?
Well for me it’s about the food and the meal. But I do very little fine dining any more. If and when my husband and I can get out for an hour or two we try to go with what we crave. Especially me. You know I cook all day long, so I want something that I don’t cook but crave. That’s how I choose restaurants.
Check, Please! is a big hit in Chicago and San Francisco. Miami is a different sort of city, though.
Yeah. I don’t know if people from here will want to watch people chat about restaurants. I’m just not sure. I find it fascinating to hear what people have to say about restaurants, though maybe that’s because I own one.
When it comes to food this town is unpredictable.
It is. Even when it comes to serving things like chicken livers (at Michy’s), I’m never sure if it will sell. I put pork belly on the menu the other day, and I said to my sous chef, ‘Well, you know what, let’s just buy one and we’ll see. It’s Miami.’ Sure enough, within the hour they sold out.
You’re always so busy that I’m sort of afraid to inquire, but anything else on the burners?
Forget about it. Don’t even ask. You probably know that I opened in Ocean Reef Club (in Key Largo). It’s sort of what I did at Azul and what I do at Michy’s combined together. I love it. And I swear to you I think I make the best fries in Miami in that restaurant. I don’t know what’s up with the fryer, but they’re really good.
I like a good fry. For that I might take the drive.
And two years after the hurricane, Cancun has reopened (MB at Aqua). So I’ve got that going again. And of course I do Delta Airlines. And that’s all.
I’m really always at Michy’s. I came back from the Keys yesterday and had to work there last night. By the end of the night I wasn’t even sure what I was serving.
Well thanks so much, and good luck with the show.
I can’t wait for you to see it. I hope you like it.
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Well I’ll let you know.
Yeah, I know (she says in a tone of dread, then laughs).