Steve Reno was all but born into the food service industry. He started cooking for pleasure when he was only three years old, making elaborate architectural edifices on his kitchen countertop out of tomatoes and such, alongside his mom way out in the Chicago hinterlands. At four, the family moved to Brazil, where he learned to cook Brazilian food. From then on he cooked out of necessity, first as a latchkey kid looking after his brother, and later to fund his wanderlust. At 13 he became a line cook, working the broiler at a steak joint in Joliet, Illinois that his friend's parents owned. At 17 he married his 26-year-old boss at Pizza Hut. When the marriage floundered, Steve took off for Europe, where he cooked to enable his partying. He landed on the West Coast in 1994, and within weeks was cooking up big meaty bass riffs for Portland's most ass-kicking band ever, Blackjack. If you've eaten out here in the last decade, you've doubtlessly sampled his wares. Reno has chicken-fried steaks and porcini-dusted French fries at nearly every joint in town, including Magic Gardens, the late-great EJ's, Shanghai Tunnel, Mint, Voleur, and hundreds of others, although these days you can find him down at the Ash St, where you'll find surprisingly decent pub grub (a good choice before the bands get going and you're looking for someplace subtle to eat when downtown is nothing but crowds).
Aside from what seems like a natural, lifelong propensity for the kitchen, what is it about the job of cooking food that appeals to you?
Nothing appeals to me about the job anymore. I'm so very burned out on it. I still love cooking for friends, but serving the public is awful. People come in and want a rib-eye well done and it fucking kills me. Or ahi well done. Go get a fucking can of tuna fish! It's more of a means to an end. I can leave town on tour for months at a time and still come back and cook.
What's your favorite thing to prepare?
All depends on the person. The sky's the limit. My band Diesto [nicknamed "the band that never leaves"] once played a show in Tacoma. We were destroyed by 11 pm and wanted food. The house where we were staying was vegan. All they had was peanut butter and an onion, but by midnight I'd whipped up this totally fucking killer tofu with peanut sauce.
Do you have any secret ingredients you rely on?
Grape jelly. And you'd be surprised what I put grape jelly in.
What's your signature dish?
My chili. I make a fucking rippin' chili. It's got like 30 ingredients in it.
Including grape jelly?
Maybe. VIVA LAS VEGAS