By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
A Dunkirk native is on the "chopping block" for a very special Halloween show on the Food Network.
Kyle Bernstein shares her recipes on her blog, “The Obsessed Chef.”
Kyle Bernstein, a 1984 Dunkirk High School graduate, will appear on the network's popular series, "Chopped" on Tuesday for a Halloween-themed episode.
"Chopped" is a television show featuring competition between chef contestants. Each contestant is challenged to create dishes from selected ingredients. The dishes are judged by celebrity chefs, and contestants are eliminated from rounds by being "chopped" from the competition. The final chef remaining wins the competition and $10,000.
Kyle is the youngest of nine children brought into the world by Dunkirk locals Barbara (Bialasziewski) and the late Harry Bernstein.
Cooking up excitement
Who: Dunkirk native Kyle Bernstein
What: Appearing on a Halloween-themed episode of the competitive cooking show, "Chopped"
Where: The Food Network
When: Tuesday at 10 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m. and throughout the month
While growing up, all of the Bernstein children were encouraged to help with household chores, including kitchen duties. During that time, Kyle learned how to put together a substantial evening meal for a large number of people out of whatever was on hand. She also got her first look into the world of food service as a child by visiting her dad at Cease's Commissary where he worked as night watchman.
"I was intrigued by the giant vats of simmering soup and the meticulously packaged sandwiches stacked on refrigerated palates," Kyle told the OBSERVER.
A FLAIR FOR DRAMA
In addition to cooking at a young age, Kyle attended School 4 where she quickly developed a taste for theater. At age 6, she acted in the role of Rhoda in the Dunkirk High School (DHS) senior production of "The Bad Seed" to replace an ailing cast member. Later, she participated in county-sponsored summer programs for art and theater, and practiced dance under the tutelage of Sally Crino and the late Eloise Heil. While still in elementary school, Kyle also appeared in high school and SUNY Fredonia plays which required a child actor.
Once Kyle reached middle and high school, Kyle participated in chorus and attended several New York State School Music Association competitions. She also played flute in band and continued performing on stage in productions such as "Guys and Dolls," "South Pacific," and "The Music Man."
Kyle said her flair for drama gave her an edge.
"I believe my early theater performances helped prepare me for my appearance on 'Chopped' by removing any stage freight one might have in that situation. I take direction well and have no problem talking to a camera."
Many of Kyle's early interests became helpful to her later in life. Kyle chose to study the French language as an elective throughout junior high and high school, which became useful in culinary school.
"I was fascinated with French culture, art and food," she relayed.
When the DHS French Club sponsored a trip to Europe, Kyle said she "begged and pleaded with my parents to let me go." The Bernsteins scrimped and saved to fulfill their little girl's wishes and she was able to go. She described the trip as "monumental" and said, "It was there, even on a low-budget student bus tour, that I began to develop an appreciation for how delicious, fresh and complex great food can be."
Also during high school, Kyle's culinary experience transitioned from home to the workplace after getting her first job at the local Burger King. Her sisters, Kathy and Cheri, and both brothers, Scott and Harry, worked there previously. Each sibling put in a good word for the 16-year-old, so she was quickly hired.
"It was only a part-time, after-school job, but I took it seriously. I manned every position and every shift, and worked my way up from cashier and birthday party hostess to production leader and trainer," she explained.
Kyle attended training seminars when offered and stayed late to watch the managers organize scheduling, complete payroll and place product orders. She tried to learn as many aspects of kitchen operation as possible.
"I memorized safe food handling temperatures and holding times and could take apart, spotlessly clean, and reassemble a broiler or shake machine like nobody's business," she said. She also said she enjoyed training new hires and teaching them the importance of quality, service and cleanliness.
After graduation from Dunkirk Senior High School with a Regents Diploma, Kyle remained local for a while. She attended Fredonia State University, where she majored in communications with a minor in French from 1985 until 1987 and continued to work at the Route 60 Burger King.
In 1988, Kyle moved to Canandaigua, where she attained an associate's degree from Finger Lakes Community College in travel and tourism, marketing and sales. Her next big move was to Brooklyn in 1990.
"I decided to head to the big city to see what the world had in store for me," she said.
In New York City, she worked in hospitality, tourism, and meeting planning and said of her field, "It is an excellent way to learn one's way around and experience all the city it has to offer."
RETURN TO COOKING
In 1997, Kyle had grown tired of working in an office.
"I decided to follow my passion and go to back to school for culinary arts. I settled on the local, but internationally renowned, French Culinary Institute," she explained.
The school had a nine-month-long evening program and was close enough to her apartment in that she could continue to work her current job and walk to school in the evenings.
"Going back to school while working full time is in itself a challenge. Culinary school is a completely hands-on experience. Working a full day and then spending five hours rushing around to do prep work you've never done before is brutal. Kitchen work is physically taxing."
Kyle said the challenges were exciting to her.
"Sometimes it was hot and time to finish an assignment was short and tempers flared. I was surprised by how much I thrived on the adrenaline rush," which she enjoyed. "I found myself taking on extra assignments, carrying weak team members and stepping up to daunting tasks. It made me feel strong and empowered."
After completing culinary school, Kyle worked for many years in a variety of kitchen environments.
"Cooking in a professional restaurant kitchen was wonderfully fulfilling and exhilarating at times, but it was intensely physical labor and most kitchens are not designed for a petite 5'4" female," she said.
After a while, Kyle decided she had cultivated a strong foundation and enough experience to move on.
"I began networking and spreading the word that I was looking for a new career," she said.
A NEW PASSION
Kyle joined the New York Women's Culinary Alliance (NYWCA) and volunteered for every event they offered. She began taking classes in food styling and recipe writing and began the process of auditioning for food-related television shows. She also found opportunities to teach cooking classes to adults and children.
"I caught the teaching bug," she said. "I loved working with the children, but even more so, I immediately felt the significance of conveying the importance of knowing where your food comes from, how it is prepared, and what's in it."
While teaching gave her a sense of satisfaction, the courses were not paying the bills.
"You never know when or how an opportunity will present itself, and all of my research and diligence was trumped when I saw this ad in the help wanted section of the New York Times," she said. "The ad read: 'Ambitious self-starter to market gourmet food brand to high-level chefs hospitality background, culinary experience, and some French required.' I called them on the spot and told them I was the person they were looking for."
Thus she began work at Petrossian, a Paris-based importer and distributor of caviar, smoked fish, and other gourmet edibles, where she is still employed today. She heads up the 10-person sales team for the wholesale division, and says she is "excited to have daily opportunities to use (her) culinary background to match potential customers with the exact item to suit their needs." She said her position also allows her to keep abreast of kitchen trends and continue to develop relationships with "legendary chefs and amazing up-and-comers."
In addition to her sales career, Kyle has pursued new teaching opportunities. Orange County Community College accepted a proposal from her and added classes to their continuing education roster, which she taught from 2009 through 2012. Topics included"Beautiful Food on a Budget," "Healthy Swap-Outs," and "Eating Well with Diabetes." Kyle has recently found a new venue for her classes at Henry's Farm to Table restaurant at The Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa, in Milton, N.Y. (www.buttermilkfallsinn.com). There she teaches a series of evening classes which include healthy options, vegetarian fare and even meals based on special dietary restrictions. One class, "Dealing with Issues," is a hands-on food prep seminar where the group creates a typical American dish which is recreated to suit food allergies, sensitivities and health issues. In class, she uses recipes she has developed herself, all of which can be found on her blog, www.theobsessedchef.com.
Kyle's appearance on "Chopped" airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on the Food Network. Her episode will also air throughout the month, including Thursday at 7 p.m.
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