Interviewed by Susan Streit, De Gustibus Blogger You grew up on a farm in New Zealand. How did that first influence your cooking? We were encouraged [by our parents] to do a lot of cooking on the farm–dinners, baking. I did a lot of baking. We weren’t allowed to purchase lots of biscuits or cakes, they were expensive, so we baked those at home. Cooking can be very time consuming, and that kept me out of trouble. My mom did a lot of pickling and other sorts of things that were easy and cheap. We were on a budget. We killed our own animals on the farm, but got butchers to take care of the rest.
Interviwed by Susan Streit, De Gustibus Blogger Are any of the elements of the food you grew up eating in Australia in your cooking here in New York? No. I do not think there are any individual elements of Australian food in my cooking. Traditional Australian food comes from a broad range of ingredients from many cultures. Influences from the English and other traditional European countries play a role, but there is such a large range in the cuisine. The ingredients include lots of fresh seafood, given Australia’s location, and fruits and vegetables, and many Indian and Asian spices. I would have to say that there is more Indian and Asian influence in Australian food, and less traditional European.
Interviewed by Susan Streit, De Gustibus Blogger What led you to realize the connection between disease and poor diet? When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, they did a radical mastectomy. They took off so much skin muscle. It came back 11 years later in her bones, brain, lungs. She had a very bad prognosis. My dad had read an article about a doctor that healed his own cancer through a more natural diet. We started to incorporate a more natural diet, eating more macrobiotic, natural foods. My mom’s health was slowly getting better. She had more energy, clearer skin. I began to notice it in my own body, too. That was my first connection. Eating real food as opposed to food from a box was foreign. My mom eventually died. I told myself though, if I get sick, I will try changing my diet first. That was the first connection and then I was diagnosed with thyroid disease hyper. I used diet first instead of radiation treatment. I dropped 20-25 lbs, and my health got much better.
Interviewed by Susan Streit, De Gustibus Blogger You are of both Jewish and Argentinian heritage. What was the Bernstein kitchen like while you were growing up? Always warm, always smelling good! I was always waking up hungry to the smell of cooking. We had many old-style Jewish recipes, whether it be the best stuffed cabbage ever to creamy polenta with tomato sauce and mozzarella. A lot of chicken came out of the kitchen. Growing up it was a rough time, financially speaking, so chicken was the go-to protein. Beef was too expensive to have, despite the fact that many South American cuisines focus on their beef. But there was always a big mix food in the kitchen. We also loved going out to dinner. My parents always took us out. In my family, food was how you came together.
Interviewed by De Gustibus blogger Susan Streit At one time you were pursuing an acting career. What led you to cooking professionally? I always found cooking to be extraordinarily creative and fulfilling. I made the leap, went back to school and trained. I decided I wanted to be a chef for the creative aspects, and to get into hospitality to touch and reach people, and do something for people–which is pleasurable. And food is pleasurable.