As someone who has managed his own dining room, kitchen and as owner of Coastal Kitchen, Mike Grant is a bit of a triple threat— knowing his restaurant through and through. We have him chatting about his family, cooking and education, and how they sometimes intertwine.
Tell me about a signature dish at Coastal Kitchen. What inspired the dish, and what the components?
S'mores Pie. My children love making and eating s'mores. It always annoys me how sticky and dirty I get making them. . . so we figured out how to eat them with a fork. Graham cracker crust, chocolate mousse filling, fresh meringue— torched for marshmallow flavor.
I want to learn more about the vendors you work with. Do you head to specific farmers markets to source your ingredients?
I check out Dana Point Farmer's Market on Saturdays. One of my favorites is Tamai Farms in Oxnard; they have the best tomatoes in Southern California. When I can set aside some time, I enjoy visiting Chino Family Farms in Rancho Santa Fe.
Most important quality you look for in a sous chef.
Quality-driven—it's hard to say it's not right and to not serve items, but quality should never be compromised. Start over and make it right.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Two eggs over-easy on top of toasted, sliced French bread and bacon.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
Long hours. Yes, it's true.
Name an indispensable tool in your kitchen.
What did you learn from your time with Hillstone Restaurant Group that you apply to Coastal Kitchen?
Concentrate on each plate for each guest!
Best culinary tip for the home cook.
Butter makes everything taste better.
Favorite places to eat.
Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, Stonehill Tavern here in Dana Point and Gulfstream Restaurant in Newport.
As someone who has managed in both the dining room and kitchen, I'd like readers to understand some of the challenges front of the house staff has. Could you please provide an example?
Guests have many dietary restrictions and requests. That causes staff members to spend longer at each table, and demands full knowledge of our menu and ingredients.
What is something most people don't know about you.
I graduated from Florida State University with a BS in Biology (and I did it in four years). Cooking is all science!
Tell me about your "cooking with chemistry" thought process.
Cooking IS basically chemistry. There is a reason to every step of a recipe. Adjust it slightly, and you can surprise yourself or ruin a meal. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee was given to me by Bob Lynn while I was at Houston's restaurants, and I was hooked forever.
Where did you grow up, and where's home these days?
I grew up in Tampa, Florida (miss the warm weather). I have lived in Southern California now for 25 years, and currently live in Laguna Niguel.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
Going to the beach with my friends. Windsurfing and sailing all day, and grilling shrimp right on the beach.
Favorite meal growing up.
How did you meet your wife?
Out with friends in Los Angeles.
Last thing you looked up online.
Terranea Resort. Our 10-year wedding anniversary is coming up this weekend. Relaxation time!
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Where was your most recent meal?
Sunday night dinner at our house with three generations in attendance. We grilled marinated ribeyes (and filet for my daughter— her favorite) with large, loaded baked potatoes!
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Promotions are not necessarily based on merits or deeds— keep working hard, stay focused and positive. You will earn your turn to lead.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
A pilot. My father was an F-4 instructor fighter pilot in the Air Force for 24 years.
Coastal Kitchen is located at 34091 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, (949) 449-2822; www.coastalkitchendanapoint.com.