Meet Chef Bernard Matz from the Café at Books and Books
Chef Bernard Matz has worked in the culinary industry for over 20 years. Having opened up some of South Beach’s finest restaurants, including Wet Paint Café which-was co-owned with renowned T.V. Chef, Douglas Rodriguez, he has continued to delight the residents of South Florida with his remarkable culinary skills. In 2004, Chef Bernard, along with Bookstore owner Mitchell Kaplan decided to fuse their individual passions by opening a bookstore/café where readers can enjoy a delicious meal while also enjoying a good book. Premier Guide Miami’s Marie-Junie Pierre met with Chef Bernard outside of this breezy outdoor café located on Lincoln Road, where he sat down to give us an inside view into his experiences as a Chef and his career throughout the years.
PGM: What inspired you and Mr. Kaplan to name this eatery,” The Café at Books and Books”?
BM: I remember kicking around different names with Mitchell and we really didn’t have anything better so we decided to just call it the Café at Books and Books. The bookstore had been here for many years and the café was right next to it. Mitchell had seen seven different reincarnations in five years, where some of the operators would try to impede on his business. The landlord of the Café offered him the café and we decided to go just go along with the name of the bookstore.
PGM: How has the fusion between the café and the bookstore worked out?
BM: 99 % of our customers actually do not come for the books and are not really involved in the book process. We are really a fully fledged restaurant. We would love to ideally have a place where people can sit and drink coffee all afternoon but unfortunately we aren’t able to do that. We have to turn the tables in order to meet our overhead.
PGM: Tell me a little bit more about your background. How did you enter the culinary industry and how was your first experience in the field?
BM: I opened Wet Paint Café, in 1986. That was my first restaurant venture.
A lot of people knew about Wet Paint Café. The Chef, Douglas Rodriguez, went on to become a famous chef. It was one of the first cafés on South Beach, and it opened at a time when the rent was really cheap and nobody was really out here.
PGM: Did you attend a culinary institute to develop your culinary skills or do you consider yourself to be self-taught?
BM: I briefly attended a culinary institute in 1996 but I think that my culinary skills are a result of experience which I amassed in the field. I definitely consider myself to be a self-taught Chef.
PGM: Did you always want to be a chef while growing up?
BM: I knew innately that I was going to be a Chef but I never wanted to be a Chef. I worked with Chefs for many years but never worked as a Chef. It took me 25 years to actually do it. I would only cook at home because cooking at home was an art but I considered cooking at a restaurant to be a job.
PGM: How did you and Mitchell Kaplan meet?
BM: I met Mitchell during the signing of my book, Bernie’s Kitchen. He had actually known me from when I worked at the Wet Paint Cafe. When I met him, I was at a point where I wasn’t really looking to get back into the restaurant business but Mitchell gave me the opportunity to make this place my own and to treat my customers like my guests. This was exactly what I did from the very beginning and although we originally started with 30 seats, we now have about 140 seats.
PGM: Can you tell me a little bit about your book, Bernie’s Kitchen, which was released in 2004? What kind of book was it?
BM: Bernie’s Kitchen was a multimedia book. It was the first book of its kind and I was doing multimedia at the time. I was in the internet and the dot com boom of the nineties so I did marketing design and the collateral design and I was able to produce the book on the house. It was very fun because it allowed me to share my knowledge and expertise about food with others.
PGM: What are your future goals in this industry? Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
BM: I would love to oversee a chain of cafés at Books & Books all over the country. I would also like to develop a chain of Fast Food Cuban restaurants.
PGM: That would definitely be a great business venture. What would be an alternative career, if someday you got tired of all that or it didn’t work anymore? Is there anything else that you would want to do?
BM: I’d probably do sales. I’ve always been really good in Sales and I have a lot of experience in marketing and business including a MBA in Finance.
PGM: That is quite impressive. What words of wisdom do you have for people who would like to pursue a career in the culinary field?
BM: There is nothing like “real hands on experience” in this business. There are too many factors that just cannot be taught in school .School is a great background if one can afford to put in the time but if someone really wants to succeed, hands-on experience, like a part time job in a restaurant, is not only helpful. It is vital in understanding the real work involved in this field.