Food Network boosts, boasts Bern's Steak House

Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle wows Food Network star Sunny Anderson.

Bern’s Steak House executive pastry chef Kim Yelvington saved face when she faced cameras last week.

She’s no novice, but she practically melted under the glare of the Food Network lights, in town to tape an Old School segment for the salivating show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

Cameras rolling, the crew quizzed Kim during more than eight hours of eating, taping and eating some more. The summer episode will include foodie Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who loves Bern’s strip steak, and Sunny Anderson, who extols the rich Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle.

“Do you watch the Food Network,” they wanted to know.

“No,” says an embarrassed pastry chef.

C’mon guys, give her a break. The gal not only rolls fondant at Bern’s, but owns her own shop, Chocolate Pi. After 80 plus hours a week working with chefs in Bern’s kitchen, the last thing she relaxes with is more chefs.

“I should have watched their show, but I don’t have time to watch TV,’’ says the 30-something chef. “I live that life.”

The reaction of the foodies beyond the lens: “What island do you live on?’’

For the Food Network segment, she prepared each step of the perfect, peanut-y confection. The cameras rolled. This looks so great, she thought. Then they re-taped it, again and again and interviewed her, again and again.

“At one point, I couldn’t remember what I said,’’ she says. Welcome to television.

There was a silver lining, however. Brooke Palmer, Bern Steak House’s public relations director, saw to it that Kim got her hair and makeup done. “I told everyone to take a good look,’’ laughs Kim. You won’t see her looking so put together anytime soon.

Executive chef Kim Yelvington is a wiz at cakes, creams, sauces and sorbets.

Kim, who started working in high school at Baskin Robbins, was nicknamed Betty Crocker by her brother because she burned water. She has as much allegiance to Valrhona Chocolate as Mac hacks do to their I-gadgets. She studied under Sylvain LeRoy at the Valrhona School in France’s Rhone River Valley.

“I realized pastry could be my art form,’’ she says. Her brother has to admit, Kim doesn’t burn water anymore. When she returned to Bern’s recently, she was quick to place Valrhona back in the kitchen’s mixing bowls, replacing the “”horrid chocolate’’ they substituted in her absence.

She adds: “Like Bern’s, there is no comparison.’’

Kim, AKA the Brett Favre of culinary quarterbacks, has been hired, and has stepped away, from Bern’s many times. She began her first stint right out of Gaither High School. She and Lori King, another Harry Waugh Dessert Room employee, remember the wisdom of the restaurant’s founder, Bern Laxer.

“We’d chat for hours,” says Kim.

One day he asked Kim’s opinion on dozens of peanut butter pies he whisked out of an office refrigerator.

Founder Bern Laxer relied on the freshest ingredients for anything he served.

“I remember thinking, this man is crazy,’’ says Kim.”Why are there so many peanut butter pies here and second, just how long have these pies been around?”

Bern was the rare boss who respected most everyone.

Kim was hoisting big bins of ice cream one day when Bern, who was standing about 20 feet away, schmoozing with important guests, interrupted their conversation.

“Excuse me,’’ he told the VIPs as he stopped cold and dropped the conversation, to lift her load.

“It blew me away,’’ she remembers.

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Bern’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle starts with a deep-dish chocolate crust baked in a special stainless steel ring mold crafted by one of Bern’s employees. Filled with both chocolate and peanut butter mousse and tempered chocolate ruffles, it is adorned by a fried crepe triangle , which was sautéed in banana liqueur, then topped with crunchy peanuts.

It’s intense, fun, homey and has a twist, says Kim, who serves about 40 orders a night. This lovely is among Bern’s top five ordered desserts.

We’re talking heaven: My five favorites include the Banana Cheese Pie (not too sweet but oh so comforting richness in an almond praline crust); Macadamia Nut Sundae with its orange-scented cone; Chocolate-Chocolate-Chocolate (chocolate mousse nestled in a chocolate cookie crust with more chocolate); fabulous vanilla-ice-cream-topped Bananas Foster and Baked Alaska.

On my first visit to Bern’s Harry Waugh Dessert Room, years before cell phones, we couldn’t stop making calls from the telephones set at each table. Imagine talking at the table? With about 50 desserts to choose between, we never stopped swooning.

Too much sampling and dinner here becomes a three-Lipitor night.

1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-2421
www.bernssteakhouse.com

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Tampa Newcomer Has Made Waves

The Refinery, Seminole Height’s niftiest eatery is not only a beeline for locals, it stands alone as Tampa Bay’s only nominee in the Best New Restaurant in America category by the James Beard Foundation. The prestigious nomination joins more than two dozen other restaurants picked from 28,000 online nominations. Perhaps, you were fans who voted for owners Michelle and Greg Baker?

Their menus change weekly and fresh and fun choices include duck risotto, corn bread soufflé and shrimp kale salad. Next comes more than 500 judges who pick the five finalists and we learn more on March 21.

You can be first to know the winner if you attend the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony and gala reception May 9 at New York’s Lincoln Center.

5137 N. Florida Ave., across from Mauricio Faedo’s Bakery, Tampa, (813) 237-2000
www.thetamparefinery.com

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A Loyal Following, a Good Reason

Kim Bailey’s restaurant in Hyde Park was fun but his Davis Island place is even better. He’s also one of the funniest chefs I know. If you haven’t been there yet, run there and order the Chocolate Pecan Toffee Mousse Pie, the mango sorbet or his fresh beignets.

Now we can bask in the glory of his creations earlier in the day. Bailey’s Corner Bar opened Feb. 22 (11:30 to 2 pm). As he likes to say, “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.’’

Bailey’s Catering, 238 E. Davis Blvd., Tampa, (813) 254-8018
www.BaileyCatering.com

Photos from Amy Pezzicara

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6 comments to Food Network boosts, boasts Bern’s Steak House

  • John Kosik

    Awesome to see a great local talent get such wide recognition. Readers new to Tampa and Bern’s should know that they can go to Bern’s, skip the incredible main courses and have their just desserts.

  • Sydney Bell

    As a Tampa native, I particularly enjoyed this well-written article about some of my favorite places! Keep them coming………..

  • Julie Smith

    Mary, One of the things I love about your writing is that you find a way to say it so clearly. For instance:
    “She has as much allegiance to Valrhona Chocolate as Mac hacks do to their I-gadgets.”
    That, I get.

  • Robert Walloga

    Kim made our Lemon Raspberry wedding cake in 2006 and my wife has been craving another I wonder if she is still making cakes beyond Berns? Her work is fantastic I would go the Berns just for her dessert.

  • Yes she does. Her shop is Chocolate Pi on Howard avenue.

  • This is awesome! I love the site!!

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