Popular San Diego chef Bernard Guillas steps down from Marine Room, Shores restaurants

Chef Bernard Guillas, the longtime chef at The Marine Room and Shores restaurants in La Jolla, has retired.
(Courtesy photo)

Famous French-born chef’s unexpected announcement comes after birth of his newborn son


Bernard Guillas, one of San Diego’s best known and most beloved chefs, unexpectedly announced his retirement last week after 27 years at The Marine Room and Shores restaurants in La Jolla.

Since the 58-year-old North County resident first arrived in San Diego County more than 30 years ago, he has been a fixture at his restaurants, at charity events and on television. In a letter to his co-workers, kitchen staffs and customers last Thursday, Guillas said he was stepping down to spend more time with his family: wife Kristi Paul, 38, who he married in March, and their infant son, Jean-Bernard, who was born on July 2.

“This next chapter in my life is sure to bring me the same fulfillment that each and every one of you gave me as your chef,” wrote Guillas, who declined to be interviewed. “My years of service to all of you has brought me great joy, precious friendships and delicious memories. I am honored to have been a part of so many milestones in each of your lives ... My heart goes out to everyone who supported me over the years.”

Born and raised in the ancient walled city of Vannes in France’s Brittany region, Guillas moved to the U.S. in 1984 to work as a sous chef at Maison Blanche in Washington, D.C. In January 1989, he was hired as executive chef at the Grant Grill at the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. There, local food critics raved about how Guillas turned around the Grill’s culinary fortunes in less than a year with his focus on fresh ingredients and innovative techniques.

After five years at the Grant, Guillas moved to the Ja Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, where as executive chef he oversaw operations for its three restaurants — the 180-seat Marine Room, 200-seat Shores Restaurant and 100-seat members-only Club Dining Room — as well as all resort banquet catering. According to food critics at the time, Guillas worked his magic once again with his French cooking expertise and whimsical plating designs. A San Diego Union-Tribune critic wrote in 1994 that the Marine Room — which opened in 1941 and is famous for its oceanfront dining room, where high-tide waves often crash against its fortified windows — was finally serving food that rivaled its spectacular view.

His signature recipes at the Marine Room include his lobster bisque and a shareable dessert trio that he often hand-served to guests with his favorite catch phrase: “Share the love. Life is delicious.”

In his goodbye letter, Guillas thanked the management at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club for giving him the freedom to take advantage of media, travel and publishing opportunities around the world. He also made national TV appearances on morning shows like “The Today Show” and frequently did early-morning cooking segments on San Diego TV stations.

In 2004, he was named “Chef of the Year” by Chef Magazine. In 2009, he and his La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club chef de cuisine, Ron Oliver, co-wrote the first of two cookbook about their international culinary travels, “Flying Pans: Two Chefs, One World.” That book earned “Best Cookbook, Chef or Restaurant Category,” and “People’s Choice” awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It was also a finalist for BookExpo America’s 2010 Cookbook of the Year.

Joice Truban Curry, a San Diego publicist who has known and worked with Guillas for the past 13 years, described him as a private man, but in his more outgoing chef persona, he loved interacting with people and creating recipes to suit their tastes.

“He’s a very high touch person. He absolutely loves talking to people. I’d call him a chef of the people,” Truban Curry said.

She said Guillas was also renowned for his charitable work, both locally and nationally. For more than a quarter-century, he donated his food and talents at Mama’s Kitchen’s annual Mama’s Day events. He also worked with the philanthropic organizations Slow Food, The Beard House Foundation, Chaine des Rotisseurs, and the American Institute of Food & Wine. For several years, he also manned a local TV station’s turkey hotline to answer struggling home chefs’ questions on Thanksgiving day, Truban Curry said.

“He never said no to a charity and when he did something for them, he’d always go big. That’s the kind of person he is,” she said.

Craig Jacobs, director of sales and marketing for the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, said Guillas’s shoes will be hard to fill, but club food and beverage director Laurent Foss will oversee food operations while a search is conducted for his successor.

“We’re very sorry to see him go, but very happy for him. With the new baby, he’s turning a page in his life in a profound way,” Jacobs said. “We’re searching for somebody to replace him and we’re being very deliberate about that. You can never replace his same skill level, but we’re looking for somebody that’s got the talent and vision to maintain our reputation in the community.”