If you imagine that chefs, on their days off, spend their time eating and drinking their way through a dreamland of fantastical foods, then you'd be right. At least occasionally. On a recent weekend, Michelle Bernstein—Top Chef judge alum, star chef, and Miami restaurateur who launched the iconic Michy's and now runs Crumb on Parchment along with packed pop-ups and events year-round—proved that when chefs actually manage to sneak away, they have it good. Really, really good. Bernstein, who was fresh off a European trip and just shared her insidery Miami restaurant tips for S. Pellegrino's Chef Taste Guide series, spent a mouthwatering food-filled weekend in her hometown. There, she and her family indulged in the foods they ferried back from Europe, plus luscious local finds that make us want to hop the next flight to Miami.First, more on that dreamy vacation: "We started out in Paris then went to Provence, Nice and Cassis," Bernstein told The Feast. "In Italy we went to a tiny beautiful town called Pienza in Tuscany, and to Florence and Modena. We drove to Chianti because there's this sixth-generation butcher there, a really wild guy, and he has four restaurants all in one. We ate at his La Oficinia ("the office") and had a tasting menu of all parts of the cow, but the interesting thing is he didn’t serve offal. It was insane, hunk of meat after hunk of meat, including what they call 'sushi of cow,' beef tartare."
Back home in Miami, the food-fest continues: "We went to Europe with our son and brought back a lot of the ingredients with us. Things that I think you're allowed to bring back? Salami, four different salamis. Pecorino from Pienza. Wild boar. Balsamic vinegar from Modena. Prosciutto and Parmigiano from Parma. We brought back tons of olive oil from all the wineries we went to. We actually shipped wine back because I had two suitcases and no room for the wine. I had a darn good cooking weekend." The Feast tagged along, vicariously.
"I fried eggs in the extra virgin olive oil we brought back. Right now it’s mango season here in Florida, as well as avocado season. We ate the fried eggs over avocado which went on top of challah that I baked the night before. My son’s favorite way of eating a mango is, you cut a chunk in the peel and make diamond shapes and turn it over and push it through. My son doesn’t eat eggs, which drives me crazy, so he ate salami and mango all morning. I have a beautiful old Berkel in the garage, so I sliced some salami for him."
"The two things I couldn’t believe I saw my son eating so much of were the Tuscan salami and the Pecorino. I’m a bad parent for doing this because I think he got super-dehydrated, but he ate a quarter wheel of the cheese all by himself. I didn’t even get to try it. My kid eats like an American kid—he wants his grilled cheese, he wants a good hot dog every now and then. So whenever something stuck in Europe, that was it. It stuck. I’ve been shaving Pecorino on everything I want him to eat. He woke up at 5am the other day: "Mom, I’m so thirsty." I felt so guilty about all the Pecorino, but I was so excited."
"I have to be honest—I was dying for dim sum. So we went to this place called Tropical Chinese. I remember it from when I was a little girl; it must have been here a long time ago. Carts of dim sum. You wait in line, you deal with it. My son is four and he ate the dumpling skins and left me what was in the center. I‘m all about Chinese vegetable so I eat whatever might be in season and available. My son participated in the dim sum carts more than you're supposed to. He tried to put his hand in those carts. We always get into trouble there, always get yelled at. He really gets excited about the carts."
"On the way home after lunch, I stopped to get some meat. Glaser Farms is in the southern part of South Florida, and I got to stop and pick up a bunch of ingredients. A huge array of fruits and vegetables. So I picked up everything for the week. Then we went and picked up some meat because we decided to barbecue that night. We stopped at a little Argentinian meat store in Miami Beach on the way home. It sells Argentine cuts of meat as well as sausages. The beef is cut differently. We got an entrana, which we call skirt steak but it's not really skirt—it’s more of a hanger steak. It’s a lot thicker than skirt and really beautiful. I got sausages, and I always have to get the blood sausage called morcilla."
"For dinner, I threw everything we picked up on the grill, and I made a chimichurri. I made a huge salad with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. I usually don’t like Balsamic vinegar in salad, but staying in Modena, you fall in love with it because the quality is so ridiculously high. So now I have to eat it with salads everyday, the stuff I brought back. So much depth of flavor and richness."
"I was a little on the lazy side because the barbecue ran late. I ran over to Athens fruit shippers, a fruit stand where they make the best fruit salad you've ever had your entire life. I grew up with it. They make a nectar, bright orange and beautiful, and spoon it all over the fruit salad, and they put it all over the all-fat cottage cheese. Then I went and got coconut macaroons. We all just munched on that at the house with my dad. It's the perfect breakfast, especially if you're about to jump in the ocean."
"I'd made tomato sauce four days before and I'd frozen four quarts of it. So I made penne (storebought) with tomato sauce, and I pulled out some of the prosciutto, cut it thin and tiny, and tossed it into the pasta along with the Pecorino and Parmigiano, and served it with grilled meat from the day before that I warmed through with arugula and a little bit of that Balsamic. My son ate all the pasta. We ate everything else."
"We popped open a Brunello di Montalcino from a winery that we had visited in Italy. I was able to pack four bottles but we shipped 12 bottles. They haven't gotten here yet. I packed the ones in the suitcase in pants, rolled up so the bottles would survive the trip."
"We called the nanny and we went on a date. We went to a restaurant called Los Fuegos ("the fires"). It's a restaurant by Francis Mallman and he was actually there, which I couldn't believe.
He came over and remembered me, and I was super excited because I’d only met him a couple of times. But of course I remembered him. Who forgets him. He sent out grilled sweetbreads, which I was thrilled about. We had a hazelnut and grapefruit and greens salad, which was amazing. We had a provoletta, grilled provolone cheese. It's crispy and crunchy on the outside and it kind of forms its own crust. It’s delicious. Then, I don’t know why because we were full, but we ordered a whole grilled chicken. They have slow grills and wood-burning ovens outside. It’s beautifully crisp and gorgeous and I took most of it home. Turned it into a chicken salad. Throw me anything and I'll toss it in some mayo and flavorings. I love egg salads and chicken salads and tuna salads. I like salty breakfasts, so that chicken salad was breakfast the next morning."
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