Recipe For Success

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There’s something about celebrities that absolutely enthralls us. At some level we know they’re only human, regular folks, like the rest of us, yet we still can’t help but elevate them on a pedestal – especially when it’s a celebrity we admire. Perhaps we’re drawn to celebrities because they seem to epitomize our notion of success, and we tend to want what they have. Some people are captivated by Hollywood actors, while others tend to idolize professional athletes. Personally, I don’t mind admitting that I’m a huge sports fan and would welcome the opportunity to meet and greet some of our local superstars (Lebron, call me), but I have a secret ambition I’ll share with you today. Food. I enjoy cooking as much as I enjoy eating out with my wife, and as a result, I need to include celebrity chefs on my list of favorite famous people. It’s for that very reason that I was honored to have the opportunity to sit and have a conversation with Miami’s own Celebrity Chef Michelle Bernstein.

At a glance it’s easy to see why Michelle, a Miami native of Jewish and Latin decent, is considered one of the finest gourmet chefs in the country by diners, critics, and peers alike. She’s a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award (2007 Best Chef South), has been recognized as a Top Chef by Food and Wine, Gourmet, and Travel and Leisure magazines, and was honored with a Best New Restaurant award in 2009 for Señora Martinez, the popular restaurant she opened together with her husband and business partner, David Martinez, in Miami’s trendy Design District. While that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of her accomplishments, there’s another side to Michelle Bernstein that the public also sees and which serves as an example for those of us in the business world. Michelle’s passion for food has inspired her to parlay her culinary success into residual business opportunities. In addition to owning three restaurants, Bernstein is Executive Chef for Delta Airlines’ BusinessElite Dining, she is the spokesperson in Spanish for Crisco, serves on the prestigious Macy’s Culinary Council, she hosts her own television show, and is the author of a cookbook, Cuisine a Latina (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2008). As if that isn’t enough, this month, she launched her own brand of cookware, “michelleB”, on the Home Shopping Network.

That’s what the public sees. A person who has earned her celebrity status and is emulated by aspiring chefs and even business professionals, including myself. But what we don’t always see is the road she traveled to get to that point, and the steps she continues to take to stay at the top of her game. Therein lies the lessons for us all. The parallels that can be drawn between Chef Michelle Bernstein’s success in the culinary world and your success in the business world – regardless of the industry you’re in – are far too numerous to explore in depth in this short column, but I’ve summarized the key ingredients of her personal recipe for success:

Work Ethic:

  • Personal Drive: Michelle Bernstein is one of the most ambitious people I have met. Her drive stems from a desire to be the best – and not for anyone else’s sake but her own. She’s not in it for the accolades. She just wants to be the best that she can be.
  • Personal Commitment to Excellence: In Chef Bernstein’s own words, “There’s a huge responsibility as a chef to give (them) the best that we can possibly give them – freshness, cleanliness, tastiness. Everything, really, goes into the pots and pans. Put 100% of yourself in it because they’re going to taste it if you don’t.”
  • Personal Discipline: Before becoming a chef, Michelle was pursuing a professional ballet career – a line of work requiring strict discipline when it comes to time and dedication to practice and performance. She has adopted the same discipline to her culinary pursuits and acknowledges that her discipline is a key factor in her success.

Business Outlook:

  • Core Business: Chef Michelle Bernstein understands that it all begins and ends with the food. For her, if the food isn’t excellent, then nothing else matters because, “it’s all about the food.”
  • Residual Business: The residual business opportunities stem from her core business without limiting herself to “cooking”. Though Chef Bernstein will personally create your gourmet masterpiece from her kitchen at Michy’s Restaurant on 69th and Biscayne, she allows herself to freely explore related opportunities to further her brand.
  • Repeat Business: Michelle and her husband, David, have always relied on word of mouth advertising. As a result more than 90% of their business is repeat or referred.

Product Approach:

  • The Food: For Michelle, the food is the product. For you it may be something else. Regardless, Chef Bernstein feels the product has to be exciting and capable of constantly changing with the times. “I even think about things like texture, and how my food affects a person’s taste buds, so it connects at different levels.”
  • The Ingredients: Use only the absolute best ingredients when putting your product together.
  • Taste Everything Every Day: Michelle’s fanatical commitment to quality is exemplified in her practice of tasting everything every day. “If something’s not right, we won’t walk away until it’s fixed.

Team Approach:

  • Lead by Example: Chef Bernstein doesn’t ask anyone to do something she’s not willing to do, or hasn’t done, herself.
  • Train Properly: Michelle’s entire staff is trained to know every detail about the food and wine they serve on a daily basis, and follow her strict guidelines for how customers are to be treated.
  • Set Expectations: While Michelle doesn’t expect anyone on her team to work as hard as she does, “If you’re not passionate and focused, if you don’t look interested, you’re out.”

There you have it, just some of the ingredients to Michelle Bernstein’s recipe for success. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see and taste the results for yourself by eating at one of her three South Florida restaurants. After all, the proof is in the pudding… and the short ribs, and the polenta, and the…

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