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Recipe by Patrick Ponsaty, executive chef, Bernard’O Restaurant

As a fifth-generation chef, my father didn’t give me another choice or allow me to take another direction. He owned a restaurant in Cazeres, France. I started working there when I was ten and he gave me all of the crappy stuff to do. Like, cut a whole bin of potatoes, chop 30 pounds of onions at one time, or slice 10 pounds of carrots. I moved out when I was 15 to do an apprenticeship at Café Darroze with Chef Pierre Darroze in Toulouse, which was about an hour away. I had my own apartment when I was 15, but at the time, it was common for kids to move to do apprenticeships away from home.

I also worked with Didier Oudill at Pain Ardour & Fantaisie. After a while, Chef Didier encouraged me to go to the States. I tried to find a job in New York City and two weeks later I was there at the Park Bistro. Then I moved to San Diego and for a while I owned Tapenade in La Jolla. I moved to Rancho Bernardo and have been at Bernard-O’s for three years now.

I would say my style is classic French cooking. I respect all of the classic food. The most important thing I would say to do is to buy the best produce you can find and not destroy the food with spices. Cook the vegetables simply and put the fish on top. Don’t ruin the ingredients!

Why did I leave France? Well, when you have to pay a lot of taxes it encourages you to leave. Especially when you have two kids. Mine are ten and eleven, and they love escargots and foie gras. I make them tomato salads and strawberry tarts. They like everything I like and aren’t difficult.

At home I am very lazy when I am off. But I like a nice tomato salad with green onion and good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I like good fish. Or I make pasta for my kids and add the fish. In France, when we go back, we eat good bread with porcini mushrooms. I buy bread here from La Brea in Los Angeles and from Bread and Cie in San Diego. It’s very good. I like to write and relax when I’m not working. Or I’ll go to the beach and sit down with my dog and girlfriend and the kids.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves 6–8)

  • 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and cut into large dice (about 3/4˝)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into large dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, center removed, seeded, and cut into large dice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 6 ripe medium-sized tomatoes, cored and cut into large dice
  • 4 large leaves of fresh basil
  • 1/2 ripe melon, cut into large dice
  • 1 quart reduced-sodium chicken stock (or use homemade)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

HOW TO DO IT

Peel and chop onion and cucumber and pepper into large dice of about 3/4 inch. Peel garlic cloves and core and chop tomatoes. Stack the basil leaves and roll into a tight bundle and slice. Slice the melon and cut flesh into large dice.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken stock and olive oil. Add the salt and pepper and whisk well until combined. Add all of the vegetables, basil leaves, and melon and marinate for eight hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.

After marinating, add the entire mixture, including the marinade, to a blender or a large-capacity food processor. With the blender running, add the balsamic vinegar and blend for about 1 minute or until the mixture is a smooth consistency. (If using a smaller food processor, blend only half at time to avoid spillage.)

Add salt and pepper to taste and serve cold. The soup can be garnished with thinly sliced fresh mint leaves, diced melon, prosciutto, or pesto, if desired.

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