Chef Michael Ground’s Philosophies on Cooking and His Influences in the Kitchen
Written By: Rachel Vensand Fireside by The Patio
San Diego native Chef Michael Ground is no stranger to versatility in the kitchen. His adaptability as a chef is shown in his creation of American bistro classics for The Patio on Lamont, traditional cuisine at Saska’s Steakhouse, and in the uniquely flamekissed meats and veggies of his newest culinary endeavor, Fireside by The Patio. Located in Liberty Station’s former firehouse, this primarily outdoor eatery elevates the traditional backyard grilling experience by using open-air, wood fired grills, smoker ovens, and the Japanese grilling practice yakitori. The first restaurant of his own creation, Chef Michael Ground’s Fireside buzzes with life and attracts patrons of all ages to enjoy its smoky dishes and relaxing atmosphere.
Q: Where are you from?
MG: San Diego, born and raised.
Q: How did you get involved with cooking?
MG: My godmother was the regional manager for a mortgage bank, where I worked right out of high school because I wasn’t keen on going to college. I did it for three or four years, and even though I was making a lot of money, I really didn’t like it. It was a desk job and wasn’t my thing. I always cooked with my dad growing up and I figured, I’m either going to be stuck in a bank making a lot of money and being miserable, or I’m going to make a lot less money, work five times harder and be happy. I’m so glad I chose the latter, because it’s instant gratification when we have a successful night where all of our guests are happy.
Q: Did you go to a culinary school?
MG: Yes, I went to the Arizona Culinary Institute where I learned a lot and cultivated a greater appreciation for Southern Californian weather.
Q: Are there any chefs that you draw influences from?
MG: Yes, three chefs in particular. I admire Joe Magnanelli, Kevin Binkley from the time I spent in culinary school out in Arizona, and Thomas Keller, who is probably the best chef in the world. He is a perfectionist, and his philosophy is that you have to train your staff yourself on how you want things done. If someone does something wrong, I take it personally because I have a lot of pride in my staff. A lot of the people here have worked for me for a long time; I know their families personally. I spend more time with the people in this restaurant than I do with my family, so I love getting to know them. It builds a community within the restaurant.
Q: What do you like to cook at home?
MG: I love barbecuing at home for friends and family, I’d do that every day if I could. I have an Italian cooking background so making pasta with that kind of “breaking bread” feeling is very comforting. I like mixing it up. It could be tacos one day or I’ll wake up sometimes and go buy a piece of meat and smoke it all day or all night. I love going to the store without a plan and picking something up and seeing what I can make.
Q: How is the menu at Fireside by The Patio different than The Patio on Lamont?
MG: This one is all focused with fire. It’s all very simple; it’s comfort food with a lot of meat, a lot of vegetables and salads, but we do it very well. Everything’s smoked, grilled, or cooked yakitori style (Japanese BBQ), whereas The Patio on Lamont is a classic American bistro.
Q: Do you have a favorite?
MG: Admittedly, I love it here, because this is the first restaurant I opened by myself, as the chef. Particularly, I love the dinner menu, it’s much more extensive and involved, featuring grilled octopus and grilled steaks. When we come in to Fireside in the morning, the sous chefs will light the fires and we’ll smoke meats from 6 a.m. until right before service. It’s super welcoming, I love it and it invites guests in. Cooking something over wood-fire is a lot harder than just turning on a gas grill, because so much attention is involved. It can be different every day, depending on how dry or wet the wood is. Each day is a challenge. For me, it’s exciting to know that when we started I trained everyone, and now I can come in to see the product better than what I did before. It’s amazing.
Q: How often do you renovate an entirely new menu?
MG: Never an entirely new menu at once. At both Fireside and The Patio On Lamont, we’ll gradually add and delete items over the course of a few months, keeping staples that work with seasons and depending on guest favorites. Not everything is seasonal though, mushrooms you can get year round for example. Luckily, being in Southern California, there are very long seasons because the weather’s so consistent.
Q: Where do you get your ingredients? Are they locally sourced?
MG: Any ingredient that shines, like the squash in the summer squash + sausage flatbread, we’ll make sure to get at a farmers market. Making everything from scratch is also essential; we make the sausage here, the ricotta cheese, anything you can possibly make we love to do it ourselves. I’d rather train my team how to make it than buy it from someone else.
Q: Is Fireside by The Patio kid friendly? How’s the crowd at the restaurant?
MG: The Point Loma area has a lot of young families, so we love getting people that will come with their kids because the atmosphere is very casual and it’s mostly outdoors. Sometimes you’ll see kids playing on the grass while parents are having a couple beers and relaxing. We’ll get groups of every type, from girls or guys at happy hour to planned events like baby showers and company lunches. Fireside really has something for everyone.
Fireside by The Patio
2855 Perry Rd Building 8
San Diego, CA 92106
Fireside by The Patio Heats Up the Culinary Scene in San Diego