RANCHO SANTA FE — When an award-winning restaurant maintains its prestige year after year, it offers a true testament regarding the person who is dedicated in overseeing its operation.
At the Mille Fleurs helm, is the highly regarded restaurateur, Bertrand Hug.
For those who know him, Hug’s name is synonymous with dining excellence.
Born in Southwest France, Hug was an ambitious son of humble farmers.
He pursued his higher education in economics at the University of Toulouse.
While immersed in postgraduate studies, Hug eventually arrived in the U.S., and to support himself while in school, he worked in the restaurant industry.
“I started working as a busboy, then a bartender, and then a waiter,” Hug said.
And that’s where it all started.
Eventually, his focus in banking shifted to fine dining.
When his friend and client, Norman Eisenberg, mentioned the probability of opening a restaurant in La Jolla, Hug made a beeline for the West Coast.
In 1973, Hug became the managing partner of Le Cote d’Azur.
Since then, he’s owned several restaurants.
Still, it wasn’t until 1985 when he purchased the Mille Fleurs property in Rancho Santa Fe — a location he was eyeing for years.
Mille Fleurs has received high praise from numerous media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal naming it as the “Top 100 Restaurants in America,” and voted as the “Top 25 Restaurants in America” in both Food and Wine Magazine and Gourmet Magazine.
This recognition didn’t come easy — it took persistence and diligence.
“I always loved food and my mom instilled in me this will to succeed,” Hug said. “I always wanted to be the best; and, to this day, 30 years later, we are on our way but we still have to be better.”
This perspective has kept Hug at the top of his game to enhance the dining experience for his guests.
For some restaurateurs who have reached the top and garnered dining praise, complacency has followed. Complacency in the restaurant industry doesn’t pair well together — some establishments flounder because of it.
Not for Hug. He stays involved with Mille Fleurs, and his other downtown San Diego restaurant, Mister A’s.
“You don’t always have to strive for innovation, but you always want to better yourself,” he said.
Changing the décor at Mille Fleurs every seven to eight years is part of the betterment protocol.
And then there is the food and wine, of course.
While the French have a love affair with food, Hug said, he has always championed the movement, “From Farm to Table.”
Chino Farm has been Hug’s go to destination for fine produce.
“I want to provide the freshest and best food possible which is not tainted by a lot of sauces,” he said. Hug continued, “We provide an environment where service is knowledgeable, but also friendly.”
Over the years, it has been paramount for Hug to provide fine dining without the “stuffy ambience.” Delivering the best food possible in a welcoming environment has always been his unwavering mission.
A visit to the wine cellar at Mille Fleurs brims with a robust collection.
“I have a passion for wine. Frankly, I knew nothing about wine when I came to America,” he said. “I basically drank the homemade table wine or whatever was put on the table — we drank red wine cold to hide the imperfections.”
Now, Hug is considered a regarded sommelier, tasting and procuring the wines for his restaurants. Three mornings a week, Hug is wine tasting.
“The sales people come by and I taste anywhere from 30 to 50 wines,” Hug said. He added, “You got to keep up with the Jones’ if you want to have a solid wine list because you cannot rely on the old.”
Nearing 30 years, Hug is humbled by the fact that couples and families have chosen Mille Fleurs to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special milestones. Along the way, Hug has built close friendships.
Hug went on to say that in the world there are about 10 percent of people who love what they do and he is one of them.
“At night, it is such a true pleasure to say hello to everyone at Mille Fleurs because I love to see people smile and enjoy themselves,” he said. “I want to thank everyone for their wonderful patronage.”