The late Anthony Bourdain once tried to lecture Miami chef Howie Kleinberg about the importance of delivering a dish on time at all costs on the television show “Top Chef.”
Kleinberg, keeping cool and with his knowing smirk under the hot TV lights, quoted Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” back to him about making sure a dish was right at all cost.
Bourdain could only laugh and say, “Oh, that’s unfair, man…”
That passion for cooking is what those closest to Kleinberg remember. Howard “Howie” Kleinberg, who owned Bulldog Barbecue in North Miami, died over the weekend of a heart attack, his mother, Susan, said. He was 46.
“I am just finding out how many lives he touched,” she said Monday, after receiving calls of condolences all weekend. “He was married to his passion in life, which was his cooking.”
Kleinberg was a South Florida native who was born at North Miami General Hospital — which would later be the site of Johnson & Wales University, where he later attended culinary school.
“Isn’t that a full circle?” Susan Kleinberg said.
Howie Kleinberg saw the passion for food all around him. His father, Wally — who died when Kleinberg was just 6, from a heart attack at the age of 34 — started a hot dog company. And his mother was a career event planner who worked with caterers.
But Kleinberg took a while to figure out his life’s work after leaving North Miami Beach High to attend the Hyde School in Maine.
His mother saw him struggling to find his place and asked her friend Lee Schrager, who founded the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, to help him find a job close to him. He found a job for Howie in the kitchen at the Hotel Intercontinental in downtown Miami.
“He came home the first day complaining, ‘Look how red my hands are!’ But after a couple of weeks, he said, ‘I think I kind of like this,’ ” Susan Kleinberg said.
He was still a young, unknown chef when Terry Zarikian, culinary director of the South Beach food festival, recommended Kleinberg for Season 3 of “Top Chef” in 2007. Kleinberg was cast as the “heavy,” his mother recalled, the tough-guy instigator who would take no guff. He earned the nickname, “Bulldog,” which he lent to his barbecue restaurant of nine years.
“I watched his career blossom,” said Schrager, who knew Kleinberg for 35 years. He was a hard worker, very dedicated and he loved this industry.”
But Kleinberg had a soft heart, particularly for children who faced food insecurity, and he was a regular contributor to “Taste of the Nation,” which raises money to address childhood hunger. He also raised money for pet shelters and owned a rescue, Skye, at the time of this death that a high school friend has adopted.
In addition to his mother, Susan, Kleinberg is survived by stepfather Ken Ratner; a sister, Amy (Kleinberg) Wildstein and her three children, Whitney, Lindsey, and Phillip.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 26, at Levitt-Weinstein, 18840 W. Dixie Hwy., in North Miami Beach.
The family asks that any donations be made in Kleinberg’s memory to the pet rescue Bullies-N-Beyond Rescue or to Feeding South Florida.