By Joe Tash Contributor
By Joe Tash
As word of the death of Julien Hug spread through the San Diego community last week, residents reacted with sadness and disbelief at the loss of the popular and charismatic restaurateur.
Hug, 35, the son of Bertrand and Denise Hug, owners of the well-known eateries Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe and Bertrand at Mr. A’s downtown, was found dead last week in a remote area off Highway 74 in Riverside County. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department later reported that the apparent cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The family is well known in La Jolla, where Bertrand Hug started his restaurant career in 1973, as the managing partner of Le Cote d'Azur. He also was involved in the ownership of Mon Ami, La Mediterranean, Bertrand's and La Maison du Lac.
A public memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Friday at the Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe, 6225 Paseo Delicias.
Rev. Jack Baca, senior pastor at the Village Church, said he was told by Bertrand Hug that “everyone is welcome” at the service, where a crowd of 700 or more people is expected.
“We’re planning to seat as many people as we possibly can,” said Baca, adding that the Hug family “very much appreciates the outpouring of love and support from friends and the larger community.”
Julien Hug was a familiar fixture to many in the community both due to his work as host and manager at Mille Fleurs, a local dining institution in the Village, and from his and his parents’ philanthropic activities.
The factors that led Julien Hug to take his own life remained a mystery to many who knew him, and even his family had little idea there was anything wrong, according to Bertrand Hug in an interview granted to San Diego’s Fox Channel 5.
“Some of us never saw this coming or anything. He was the most beautiful person inside and out, he was a classic guy, he was a gentle soul,” said Bertrand Hug in the broadcast interview.
“He should have been a writer, he should have been an actor, he was too beautiful,” Bertrand Hug said.
According to the interview, Julien Hug left notes for his parents, girlfriend and co-workers, describing how he had battled emotional problems for many years. Bertrand Hug told the interviewer that he had not yet been able to bring himself to read the note addressed to him.
As news of his death filtered through the community, those who knew him recalled his warm, welcoming manner, movie-star good looks and zest for life. When he wasn’t working in one of his family’s restaurants, he enjoyed skydiving, riding motorcycles and driving sports cars. Last year, he gained fame as a contestant on the ABC TV reality show, “The Bachelorette.”
La Jollan Maureen Clancy wrote in a posting on the Rancho Santa Fe News website (the Light’s sister paper): “The compliments that were showered on Julien Hug during his all-too-brief life — gracious, charming, professional, creative, dynamic — were justly earned. As a restaurateur, he had the prized ability to make all his guests feel like the most important people in the room.
“Of the thousands of chefs and restaurateurs I encountered in almost 30 years as food editor/columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, very few could match Julien’s poise, polish, and vibrant spirit.”
Whether he was greeting customers at Mille Fleur or his family’s newest restaurant, Augusta Modern in Palm Desert, or taking his mother, Denise, on a tandem sky-diving leap for her 60th birthday, Julien Hug always lived life to the fullest, said those who knew him.
Former television anchor Andrea Naversen, also a Rancho Santa Fe resident, said, “All of us in the community have really taken this very hard. He was truly Prince Charming. … We were deeply shaken and saddened by news of his death. It’s been absolutely heart-breaking.”
While she didn’t know Julien Hug well, Naverson said, “He seemed to have everything going for him and that’s why this has come as such a shock.”
Naversen was one of the organizers of a fashion show scheduled for last Thursday at Mille Fleurs to benefit Kids Korps, one of the Hug family’s favorite charities. In 2008, Kids Korps honored the Hug family with its National Leadership Award for its support of Kids Korps and other charities.
When they heard Julien Hug was missing early last week, said Naversen, organizers considered calling off the event. But even after Julien Hug’s body was found on Wednesday, Bertrand and Denise Hug insisted the fundraiser go forward.
“Despite the tragedy, it was the Hugs’ wish we go on with the fundraiser to support Kids Korps, USA, a cause so dear to the family’s heart,” said Naversen.
The event turned into a celebration of Julien’s life, said Naversen, with members of the audience taking turns sharing their stories and remembrances of him. Although Bertrand and Denise Hug were not present, many of the restaurant’s long-time staff, including Mille Fleurs chef Martin Woesle, were on hand.
The Rancho Santa Fe Review has created a special section dedicated to sharing memories of Julien Hug.