Michelle Bernstein

A former dancer, native Floridian Bernstein hung up her pointe shoes to celebrate the rich soul-food tradition of her Latino-Jewish upbringing. She is known for her ability to fuse dynamic Latin flavors with Asian, French, and Caribbean ones, and one of her latest projects is Social Hollywood, a collaboration with restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow.

Describe the moment you knew you wanted to be a chef.

I was 21 years old, working in one of the best kitchens in South Florida. The boys there told me I was too delicate, too feminine, and not physically strong enough. I knew that one day I would show them. Today, I am the only one from that cooking line who is a chef.

What snack would you leave on a plate for Santa Claus, to really tempt him?

My croquetas (filled with blue cheese and jamón serrano), with a little fig jam for dipping.

Describe a holiday food memory from your childhood.

I'll never forget the Thanksgiving when Mom roasted a whole goose with fresh chestnuts, a whole duck with cabbage, and a whole turkey with stuffing and mushroom gravy. It was the best meal of my life.

What chef from the present or past would you choose as your personal chef?

Mario Batali.

What is your advice to future chefs?

Keep your head down, and don't have an ego.

Describe the last meal you ate.

One and a half hot dogs! One was topped with mustard and sauerkraut, and the other with jalapeños, onions, mayo, and mustard. My husband ate the other half!

What do you prepare at home for yourself and for your family?

We love Cornish hens simply roasted with lemon and olive oil. Or whole roasted snapper with ginger and scallions … always lots of fresh crisp greens and veggies. And on some Sundays, I go crazy with baked goods, huevos rancheros, and pancakes.