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Chef Michelle Bernstein mulls closing Michy's while seeking peace, ballet and balance

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Two years ago, Michelle Bernstein shocked the food world when she shuttered her hugely successful tapas restaurant, Sra. Martinez.

Now she's on the verge of doing it again. And all in the name of balance. And ballet.

Make no mistake, Bernstein is among the best chefs of our time, wielding a deft hand with the big, bold flavours of Latin cuisine (don't be fooled by the name, her mom is Argentinian). But that talent has enabled her to follow paths unconventional for chefs of her calibre. Overseeing an empire of restaurants doesn't appeal to her. Nor television.

"I see so many people decades younger who are opening in so many cities left and right around the world," Bernstein said during an interview Friday at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. "That wasn't the path I wanted to take."

Keeping Sra. Martinez — considered one of the nation's best restaurants at the time — also wasn't on that path. The building's rent was going up just as Bernstein's son was born. The time was right to refocus.

"I raised a son instead of raising a restaurant," she said.

Now she faces a similar choice with Michy's, her namesake — and equally regarded — 8-year-old fine dining restaurant that she runs with her husband, David Martinez, Miami. Its cramped quarters — with no room for improvement — are too limiting. Within a month she will decide whether to keep it, or move on.

"And at this point in my life, a lot of arrows are pointing me in the direction of 'Let's look for something a little bit better and more comfortable for me to spend my time in and raise my child in.'"

And if she moves on, whatever replaces Michy's will be a little more rustic, a little more fun, she said. And a little more in balance with life as a world class chef and mom. And if in the process she could revisit the career she almost pursued instead of cooking — dance — even better.

"If I can fit in ballet again, I think I'd be really content," she said. "I think things would be really, really good. I'd be at peace."

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