When I first heard from Kelly McMullen of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club that Chef Bernard Guillas was interested in being a guest on “Lick the Plate Radio” I was very excited and a bit nervous to say the least.I’d known McMullen from her days as a wine buyer at Seaside Market and she is now working in marketing for LJBTC and closely with Chef Bernard to promote the restaurants he oversees there including the Marine Room, Shores Restaurant and all catering at the hotel.
Chef Guillas’ bio is impressive to say the least and it would be safe to say that he is the most accomplished and recognizable culinary personality in San Diego. When we met briefly over a spectacular dinner at the Marine Room, Guillas mentioned he lived in Encinitas and it would be easy to meet up to record our interview there.
The minute he said he lived in Encinitas, I could sense an approachability, or lack of pretense about him. Upon further conversation, he mentioned that of all the places in San Diego he could live, he choose Encinitas for those same reasons — and a restaurant scene that has improved drastically over the past few years. One of his favorites is the intimate Yu me Ya Saki House in Leucadia. That brief conversation, before he headed back to the bustling kitchen of the iconic Marine Room, set the stage for one of the best interviews I’ve been a part of.
Chef Guillas exudes a passion and excitement for what he does that comes through loud and clear in his words and actions. It was hard not to feed off his energy as we sat down to talk about his life, and what a life it’s been so far.
Chef Guillas was raised in the Brittany region of France into a family of butchers, bakers, and restaurateurs surrounded by artichoke fields. I mean really, could there be a more idyllic setting to form a lifelong appreciation for fresh, seasonal cuisine?
Guillas’ Britannic upbringing was influenced by his daily exposure to that fine cuisine. He began his formal training in 1978, at Le Bretagne Restaurant in Questembert, France, where he apprenticed with the legendary Georges Paineau. Over the next six years he expanded his culinary knowledge with several Maitres Cuisinier de France fine dining restaurants.
Then, just to keep things interesting, Guillas jumped continents, moving on to become chef de cuisine at Le Dolmen in French Guyana. The diverse South American flavors still influence his food today. In 1984, Guillas moved to Washington, D.C., as chef tournant, chef saucier, and sous chef under Pierre Chambrin, former White House executive chef, at Maison Blanche.
In 1989, he relocated to San Diego and spent five years as chef de cuisine at the Grant Grill, located in the US Grant Hotel downtown. In 1994, he landed as executive chef at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club where he has been since.
Since then, the accolades have been steady. Unlike many of today’s celebrity chefs who become hot with a Food Network appearance then simmer down to a more local notoriety, Guillas’ ascent has been consistent. It has evolved into award-winning cookbooks, TV and radio appearances too numerous to mention, along with appearances around the world with the who’s who of the A-list culinary scene. One particular story he shared involved Anthony Bourdain and had me particularly star-struck.
I should mention the fact that he still is very active in the kitchen with his chef de cuisine at the Marine Room, Ron Oliver. The meal I had at the Marine Room was among the best I’ve had anywhere. We started with cherry wood smoked Scottish steelhead and Baja stone crab cakes. Then had a taster of Cervena elk and venison loin with a cacao nib port glaze. Then on to entrées of Coronado Island sea bass with sunchoke, vanilla leek, beluga lentils and pomegranate molasses along with a second entrée of center cut Angus filet mignon with cipolini potato, huckleberry chutney, Shropshire blue and peppered cabernet franc. So yes, his skills in the kitchen are sharper than ever.
There is much more to know about Chef Guillas and much of it can be found at chefbernard.com and you can check out his acclaimed cookbook “Flying Pans, Two Chefs One World” at twochefsoneworld.com.