Bertrand Hug's Mille Fleurs food still in demand after 25 years
By Lee Schoenbart
Before there was Bertrand Hug's Mille Fleurs, there was another — but in name only. And Hug was a regular.
Hug remembers what he said more than 25 years ago as if it were yesterday.
"It was called Mille Fleurs, but there weren't any flowers anywhere. I said, if and when I come in, I would put flowers on the table, flowers at the entrance, flowers everywhere," said Hug about the coveted restaurant lease and wine cellar he finally purchased from Lee Dodson in 1984. "I used to come here all the time as a customer, and I always saw the potential of the place."
Since bringing Rancho Santa Fe's signature restaurant to prominence all those years ago, Hug said his fondest Mille Fleurs memory took place on Jan. 3, 1985.
"I would have to tell you, and it still is, the day that I opened this because it was a dream that I had to be on my own, to have my own restaurant and this is the place I wanted to be," he said. "It was like a dream come true, such an accomplishment.
"I may have had 100 bucks left in the bank, but I had the restaurant that I was dreaming about. I just looked at it. Everything glimmered. Everything looked so good, and it was," Hug recalled.
"That was one of the joys of my life. The only moment like this that remains is when my son was born."
Hug said that the secret to Mille Fleurs' success is that he has the best people working for him and he always pays attention to detail.
"Not only have I been open for 25 years, but I've had the same chef for 25 years, Martin Woesle," he said.
"Everything that Martin uses here is of the absolute best quality. We have a very small refrigerator. We have no freezer. We don't have a microwave. We get everything every day and we buy from the very best. We only use Chino's Farm for our vegetables. We use Newport Meat because we know they have the best prime meat. It costs more money, but you get what you pay for.
"And there's a person that is instrumental in my restaurant — her name is Penny Payton. She's been here 25 years; she's my director of operations, my GM," he said.
"Every nine years or so, I redo the restaurant, no matter what," Hug said. "I spend a lot of money just so I can keep that freshness about it."
His son Julien Hug, Mille Fleurs' host since 2005, previously told this newspaper, "While our food is nationally acclaimed, also I think our staff is so down-to-earth. I've got some really talented staff that is very knowledgeable about food and wine, but also not afraid to entertain the guests. We make a lot of personal friendships here.
"A lot of our business, like 50 to 60 percent, is regular customers and people we're on a first-name basis with and they love coming out. Our servers end up making friends. We end up sitting down with the guests quite a bit ourselves – familiar, and yet, at the same time elegant.