The peripatetic Bernard Guillas (left) and partner Ron Oliver have scoured the world in search of the tastes you enjoy. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED
In his book “So You Wanna Be a Chef,” Anthony Bourdain wrote that “If you’re 22, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”
As executive chef at La Jolla’s Beach & Tennis Club, La Jolla Shores Hotel and Restaurant and the storied Marine Room for the last 21 years, Bernard Guillas is not 22, may argue that he is not so physically fit and probably hasn’t slept on a floor in years. But he is definitely still hungry to learn. He agrees with Bourdain—to be good, you have to travel. As in a long marriage, the secret sauce that makes his relationship with his clientele work is continued growth through new experiences.
At the venerable Marine Room, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with several events on Wednesday, April 27, that relationship has flourished because Guillas and his partner Ron Oliver have been traversing the globe for years to bring new ideas and variations of old ideas to the guests.
Part of the Guillas strategy is to be multi-faceted, and he achieves this through teaching, writing and media appearances. He belongs to that group of chefs who have achieved a certain celebrity status, and he counts among his friends New York’s Daniel Boulud and Mario Bateli, who recently opened Babbo Pizzeria on Boston’s waterfront, and Boston chefs Lydia Shire, Jamie Bissonette, Andy Husbands and Jacky Robert, who, like Guillas, is a graduate of Maitres Cuisiniers de France.
When Guillas found out that this writer recently moved to San Diego from Boston, his first question was, “How is my good friend Michael [Schlow] doing?”
Like many of the leading chefs across the country, Guillas and Oliver have taken up the pen and written two books together, “Flying Pans, Two Chefs, One World” and more recently “Flying Pans, Two Chefs, One Sea.” Guillas laughs when he recounts the story of how the first book was published.
“This book, ‘Flying Pans, Two Chefs, One World,’ nobody wanted to publish. Publishers were looking for chefs with syndicated shows. So my thought was I’ll publish it myself. Ron was concerned about the money, but I was not — we only live once; let’s share the love. The book won The People’s Choice Award: Best Cookbook in America. And after that, we had the publishers' attention, and they came calling for the next book.”
Guillas is putting the finishing touches on his third project, a three-book series being handled by Simon & Schuster, geared toward teenagers. He is very closed-lipped about the subject matter, but he does let a few small details slip, such as that the stories involve saving the world, current events, travel, culture, magic and cuisine. The pace of the series is fast, and there are recipes after every chapter — all gluten and nut free — and, according to Guillas, very easy make. All the traveling, writing, teaching and media appearances feed into an important part of keeping his food ideas fresh, and Guillas believes that everything he does comes full circle.
“When you look at it,” says Guillas, “all those things are connected — anything that brings attention to me brings attention to this property itself. The Marine Room is a restaurant that is always in motion. As Ron and I travel, we are always learning about new techniques and new ingredients. We incorporate them into the menus for our diners. In Korea, for example, there are a lot of similar ingredients, but they approach it very differently. There is a lot of pickling, so we tried that out, and now we do pickling in our kitchen because people love the pickling.”
Guillas talks a lot about the evolution of food, but he also touches on the expansion of the Marine Room clientele, where that demographic is changing and how it will transfigure over the next 10 years. He still considers the Marine Room a local restaurant but sees the adventurous elements that he creates within the food going beyond local. Without a hint of boastfulness, Guillas sees himself as leading the charge in marketing the region, which he says benefits everyone.
“Going forward,” says Guillas, “we are becoming much more global. The next ten years is going to be about the international clientele. You will find that 65 percent of our clientele is going to be Asian — we are continuing to develop strong relationships with Korea, China and Japan. Do you know why we will be successful? We have passion, and we work in our restaurants. We look outside the box because I have learned so much by traveling and Ron has done the same. It’s my passion. I still have three restaurants to run, but I am here — I am on the line.”
For more on the Marine Room diamond jubilee, see marineroom.com.