Ponsaty ousted; Rancho Santa Fe restaurant to close

Chef Patrick Ponsaty, photographed June 29 in the wine cellar at Ponsaty's Restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, has left the company and his namesake eatery is being rebranded.
Chef Patrick Ponsaty, photographed June 29 in the wine cellar at Ponsaty’s Restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, has left the company and his namesake eatery is being rebranded.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

One year after French chef Patrick Ponsaty lent his name and expertise to a new fine-dining restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, Ponsaty’s is closing.

Officials with Grand Restaurant Group, for whom Ponsaty spent the past four years as corporate chef, announced Friday, July 28, that Ponsaty’s will close on Aug. 13 and will reopen three days later with a new name and a new chef.

Ponsaty said he’s very disappointed by the turn of events, but things haven’t been the same for him at the company since a leadership change last spring. He wanted to continue using produce from local farms and the company wanted to order from less-expensive commercial suppliers.

“Everything stopped three months ago when the new president came in,” Ponsaty said July 28. “The concept they have is to have a cheaper restaurant and cheaper chefs. When the new president started, things went down for me.”

Boyd Kerr, president and chief operating officer for Grand Restaurant Group, disputed Ponsaty’s comments, saying the company values its relationships with local farmers and plans to “continue those relationships, supporting the culture and principles we stand for.”

“We have always been — and will continue to be — committed to our community,” Kerr said.

On Aug. 17, the restaurant at 6106 Paseo Delicias will reopen under the name Nick & G’s and its new executive chef will be Brian Freerksen. His past culinary credits include stints at Urge Gastropub & Common House, La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego.

Grand Restaurant Group officials confirmed July 28 that Ponsaty is no longer with the company. His photo and biography have been removed from the company’s website. But Ponsaty’s attorney, Eric Ludwig, said the chef has yet to receive a termination notice.

“We were happy to hear of the rebranding,” Ludwig said. “We don’t want them to use Patrick’s name or likeness or call it Ponsaty’s if he’s no longer in the kitchen. We don’t think it’s fair to the community or to Patrick.”

The fall of Ponsaty’s is a surprise ending to a restaurant concept that Ponsaty said last year was the culmination of his culinary dreams. Over the past 20 years, the chef has built a loyal following among San Diego County diners.

Since January 2013, he had worked for the Escondido hospitality company Grand Restaurant Group, where he oversaw the menus and catering for its properties, Ponsaty’s, Bellamy’s Restaurant in Escondido, The Ranch at Bandy Canyon in the San Pasqual Valley and Verbena Catering Co.

Ponsaty — who is one just two French Master Chefs in San Diego — grew up in Southern France where he started cooking school at age 15. He honed his skills in Monaco and Spain, then moved to New York in the mid-1990s. He came to San Diego in 1997 to help chef Jean-Michel Diot open Tapenade, then settled in as chef de cuisine at the El Bizcocho restaurant at Rancho Bernardo Inn in 1998. During his time at the now-shuttered El Bizcocho, Ponsaty made it one of the most-acclaimed restaurants in San Diego.

In 2003, he left the Inn to lead Bernard’O restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, then moved to La Bastide in Scripps Ranch and finally the Loews Coronado Bay Resort before joining Grand Restaurant Group in 2013.

The chef had described Ponsaty’s restaurant, which opened Aug. 2 of last year, as a place where he could spotlight all of the dishes he’d become known for, with a focus on cuisine from the Basque regions of France and Spain.

The restaurant’s niche when it opened was “fine dining,” and earlier this summer it unveiled a “secret” dining room for well-heeled diners willing to spend a minimum of $500.

Grand Restaurant Group officials have yet to unveil how the pricey secret room figures into the new concept or menu. A “celebration dinner” on Aug. 17 will introduce the community to the company’s new ideas.

Meanwhile, Ponsaty said he’s mulling a couple of new opportunities around San Diego and wherever he ends up customers can expect he will continue his same commitment to quality ingredients.

– Pam Kragen is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune