After 27 years at The Marine Room and The Shores restaurants in La Jolla, chef Bernard Guillas has retired, citing the birth of his first child and wanting to spend more time with his family.
He married Kristi Paul, 38, in March and the two welcomed their son in July.
“My wife lives in Moab, Utah, so I was bouncing around between here and there during the pandemic,” he told the La Jolla Light. “When our baby came along, we decided we needed to focus on family.”
Reflecting on his time in San Diego’s culinary scene, the 58-year-old North County resident said: “When I came here 30 years ago, there were only a handful of chefs that were really focusing on quality and service and experience. Now everyone is really focusing on doing the best job. And we have a wealth of chefs, farmers and artisans and gifts in this city. It really is a culinary destination.”
Guillas was born and raised in the ancient walled city of Vannes in France’s Brittany region. He moved to the United States 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 La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, where as executive chef, he oversaw operations for its three restaurants — the 180-seat Marine Room, 200-seat Shores and 100-seat members-only Club Dining Room — as well as all resort banquet catering.
His signature recipes at 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 — include his lobster bisque and a shareable dessert trio that he often handserved to guests with his favorite catch phrase: “Share the love. Life is delicious.”
At The Marine Room, Guillas often would arrive as early as 4 a.m. to get ready for the day’s service and enjoy the quiet time.
“The Marine Room is the grand dame,” he said. “It has a unique energy. When you go down those stairs and that beautiful ocean welcomes you, it’s unbelievable. When we did the high-tide breakfasts, I would come in at 4 a.m. and fire everything up. But I would also sit for a few minutes in the dining room and just watch the ocean. It’s an amazing place.”
He said he’ll miss the camaraderie with the chefs and staff and with the farmers and other suppliers from whom he got his produce, meat and seafood.
Many in the La Jolla community will, in turn, miss “Chef Bernard,” a longtime partner with local charitable groups.
In 2020, La Jolla-based St. Germaine Children’s Charity created a fundraising cookbook featuring more than 50 recipes created and donated by chefs from more than 40 La Jolla restaurants. Guillas was instrumental to the process.
“Chef Bernard is one of my favorite people and the reason we were able to create our St. Germaine cookbook,” said St. Germaine President Stefanie Bedingfield. Guillas made phone calls, gave input and signed 75 copies, she said.
“Chef Bernard is an icon in the cooking world, but to me he epitomizes everything good in people,” Bedingfield said. “He is generous, funny, kind and has a heart filled with joy. … He is a true gentleman, consummate professional and, of course, an amazing chef! He will be deeply missed by everyone in La Jolla.”
The Marine Room also hosted several events for La Jolla-based women’s philanthropy group Las Patronas.
“Las Patronas has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Chef Bernard over many years,” said group President Martha Sottosanti. “He has been one of our biggest supporters and is always willing to provide delicious food for our events, including opening The Marine Room each year to host our beneficiary luncheon. We will miss Chef Bernard greatly and wish him happiness in the next chapter of his life.”
Guillas, however, said that though he’ll be moving to Moab for a while, he’ll be “moving back here.”
“I have my home here,” he said. “So I’ll still be doing something, maybe private dinners and festivals. I’m not completely out of the business. My passion and my life are cooking. I’m still going to have fun and cook.
“We’re going to cook as a family. … I look forward to experimenting on baby food purees.”
He said he also will work on a children’s book, following up on the publication of his cookbook, “Two Chefs, One Catch,” in 2009.
Craig Jacobs, director of sales and marketing for the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, said club food and beverage director Laurent Foss will oversee food operations while a search is conducted for Guillas’ successor. He said Guillas’ shoes will be hard to fill.
Guillas said “it was a privilege to share those special moments … when people celebrated milestones at The Marine Room and for all those avid diners who liked to experience a culinary journey with no boundaries.”
“Remember,” he said, “life is delicious.”
— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Pam Kragan contributed to this report. ◆