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Local Chef Chats About the Spice Behind Popular Food Festival

San Diego’s wine and food aficionados will travel from across the county to take part in the weeklong culinary classic that is the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival 2011, which has become an iconic fixture in the local gourmet landscape.

San Diego has flourished into a bouquet of culinary blooms rich with color, aroma and diversity, fast becoming a stimulating restaurant scene. The kickoff has come for a spirited exhibition of many of San Diego’s most celebrated culinary and wine delights at the eighth-annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival.

Running Nov. 16-20, local wine and food enthusiasts can expect a decadent display, including a high-profile lineup of celebrity chefs, winemakers and culinary personalities lending their talents to the weeklong food and wine festival. The event will feature “over 800 different wines from award-winning wineries, 70 of San Diego’s trendsetting chefs and restaurants, 30 gourmet food companies, and the nation’s most prestigious celebrity chefs and culinary personalities,” said Michelle Metter, the festival’s co-producer.

Patch also spoke with Chef Bernard Guillas, a resident of Encinitas but known for his culinary mastery at the Marine Room in La Jolla, to talk about what motivates him and what he’ll be showcasing at the festival, an event he’s participated in since the beginning.

Patch: How long have you been doing this?

Chef Bernard: The root of my madness began with my grandmother at the early age of 3 years old. I was born in to a family of butchers, bakers and restaurateurs. My formal training began in 1978 at Le Bretagne Restaurant in Questembert, France, where I apprenticed with the legendary Georges Paineau. My culinary journey took me around the world and brought me to the U.S. to work with my mentor Pierre Chambrin, former executive chef of the White House. As an avid culinary explorer, I landed in San Diego in 1994 to join La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club as the executive chef. 

Patch: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Chef Bernard: Endless creativity…the discovery of new cuisine, ingredients and culture, while traveling the world. Chefs are like scientists, artists and magicians. A white canvas is replaced with a sleek white plate. On our palette, we use the natural colors and textures of ingredients to awaken all of the senses. It is a journey through the magic of cooking. 

Patch: What is it that you like most about savory delights?

Chef Bernard: Savory dishes have a special place in my heart as I love to take classic sweets and transform them into savory feasts. I take my brioche quince bread pudding topped with pistachio halavah foam, but as a savory recipe, I keep the brioche and replace the quince with wild mushrooms and truffles. The gelato is replaced by 20-year old Ambrosante sherry foam.

Patch: What makes your job so fun?

Chef Bernard: Sharing my passion for the art of cooking, while discovering the world through travel. Chefs are a big global family that loves to share the love.

Patch: What has been your favorite experience that your job has brought you?

Chef Bernard: Shopping at the Tai Pei veggie market, the Tokyo fish market, the Tbilisi meat market and the spice market in Mumbai. This brings it all home. You can feel the heartbeat of the country in every bite.

Patch: What makes this such a popular festival?

Chef Bernard: The Wine & Food Festival showcases the bounty and talents of our region. San Diego has blossomed into a community rich with global diversity and an exciting restaurant scene. It is a very exciting time where culinarians and wine lovers alike are able to attend cutting edge seminars during that week, as well as the Grand Tasting on Saturday. 

The Grand Tasting is a maze of fantastic food and wine that brings excitement and joy to your palate. The grand finale is the AIWF Big Bottle luncheon that I organize with celebrity guest chefs from all around the country. It is the perfect platform for our chefs to showcase their cooking style and philosophy with our guests and local chefs. It is all about the love, life and the human spirit. 

Patch: Is there anything else that you'd like to add that I didn't ask?

Chef Bernard: Passion is the secret that brings adventures and magic to cooking. Spice it up in the kitchen and around the world. A good cook is a sorcerer who dispenses happiness on a plate. Happy cooking!

Great advice from the master himself.

While the festival officially kicks off next Wednesday, new dates have been added, such as a culinary excursion to Rancho La Puerta this Sunday. The festival continues through Nov. 20, culminating with the Wine Spectator Celebrity Chef Luncheon & Big Bottle Auction, which features nationally acclaimed superstars such as chef, restaurateur and author Gale Gand.

Whether you consider yourself a seasoned wine enthusiast or a novice, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

“This year’s star-studded lineup of celebrity chefs touches on every end of the culinary spectrum, from James Beard and Michelin Star award-winning chefs to television personalities from ‘Top Chef’ and ‘The Next Food Network Star,’ ” said the festival’s Metter. “Additionally, this year we are also pleased to announce the Bocuse d’Or Culinary Council Dinner, featuring four celebrated American chefs from around the country.”

This year’s highly esteemed lineup includes:

  • James Beard Foundation award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year, Chef Gale Gand of one-star Michelin rated, four-star Mobil and five-diamond AAA restaurant TRU in Chicago.
  • James Beard Foundation award winner for Best California Chef, Chef Bradley Ogden, whose namesake restaurant in Caesar’s Palace was named Best New Restaurant.
  • Former San Diego Chef Gavin Kaysen of New York’s three-star Café Boulud and USA Team Coach for Bocuse d'Or 2013.
  • Chef Michael Cimarusti of two-star Michelin Providence in Hollywood.
  • Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg, also a two-star Michelin winner.
  • Addison Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef William Bradley.
  • Executive Chef/Owner Suzette Gresham of one-star Michelin-rated Acquerello in San Francisco.
  • Executive Chef/Owner Celestino Drago of Drago Centro in Los Angeles.
  • Former contestants on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” Rich Sweeney, Kenny Gilbert, Eli Kirshtein and Brian Malarkey.
  • Local favorites Bernard Guillas, executive chef of The Marine Room.
  • Chef Denise Roa, executive chef of Rancho La Puerta.

The 2011 festival is also host to numerous distinguishable names in the wine industry, including award-winning winemakers, sommeliers and master sommeliers who will be leading wine-tasting seminars and topic discussions on Thursday, Nov. 17, and Friday, Nov. 18, at the San Diego Wine & Culinary Center. A complete schedule of events can be found here.

In addition, many of these celebrity chefs, winemakers and culinary personalities will be present at the Grand Tasting Event held on Sunday, Nov. 20. Tickets start at $125 for this event.

Ticket prices for each event vary and can be purchased online or by calling 619-342-7337.

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