Steve Cain: El Gaucho Portland’s Executive Chef

We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. We introduce you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up to our culinary team. Bon Appétit!

When you think of the quintessential chef, what image comes to mind? Beyond the white uniform with chef’s toque, if you picture a-larger-than-life person with a gregarious nature, a man in love with life and the food he creates, then you have met Steve Cain, El Gaucho Portland Executive Chef.

Affectionately known simply as “Chef” or “Big Poppa,” Steve came to the El Gaucho team in 2002 as a broiler cook, and quickly worked his way to Head Chef of AQUA (then known as the Waterfront). Transferred in 2008 to open El Gaucho Bellevue as Chef de Cuisine, he came “home” to AQUA in January 2012 as Executive Chef before being promoted to El Gaucho Events Executive Chef in August 2013, and to El Gaucho Portland Executive Chef in 2015.

“All of our restaurants are strong on culture and family. Here in Portland, it’s a tight knit team,” Chef Cain explains. “Everyone cares so much about each other – it really shows in the teamwork and care for each other.”

Born in Tacoma, and living in many places across the state, he graduated from Walla Walla High School. Soon after graduating, he came to Seattle and immediately started working in restaurants. After four attempts, he was hired on as a dishwasher and to prep the chef, Bruce Bonholzer, who had graduated from Le Cordon Blue in France. Cain’s culinary journey since then includes 13 years at Schwartz Brothers (he opened Daniel’s Broiler and Chandler’s Crab House for them), Arnold Shain consulting (working with the talented chefs Leslie Dillon and Ted Furst), and a short stint at Entros on South Lake Union, before joining El Gaucho.

Out of all the culinary accomplishments Chef has obtained, his favorite is being able to give back by involving himself in the charity events El Gaucho Hospitality has participated in over the years. One moment in particular stands out: “We were at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Catalyst (their major fundraising event), and Tony, a former FareStart student I hired at AQUA, came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you.’” He explains, “He had become a leader at Seattle’s UGM, helping men recover and change their lives. It had such an impact on me, because he had succeeded, and I saw first hand the difference that El Gaucho Hospitality’s involvement makes. It affects positive and powerful change, and strengthens the fabric of the community.”

Cooking during the holidays is one of Chef’s favorites. He credits his mother with instilling a love of cooking from an early age. Always experimenting with different foods, from curries to French to German to Asian cuisine, she amassed a heap of cookbooks along the way, including Pierre Franey, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child. A voracious reader, Chef Cain read the cookbooks and, subconsciously, they directed him on his career path.

“It would not be Christmas without my mother’s steamed pudding and French vanilla sauce,” he explains. “We are mostly Danish and Scottish, but a long time ago this English-style steamed pudding found its way into the family holiday recipe book. It’s interesting because you combine finely grated potatoes, carrots, raisins, currants, flour and a custard mix that’s poured into a pudding mold and steamed in a water bath for several hours. The end result is a tender and almost savory pudding, finished with the French vanilla sauce. It’s something you rarely see anymore, but oh so delicious!” he exclaims.

Another holiday favorite is making sausage with his extended family. “In the 50s our family of 40-50 strong would gather at Lake St. Claire by Olympia and spend 2-3 days making the sausage and partying,” he recalls. “We only spend one day making it now, but it’s always special because our entire extended family spends the day hanging out. We make about 140 pounds of a white pork sausage with onion and allspice, and split it all up to take home. We traditionally serve it on Christmas morning,” he explains.

Besides the people he works with and the guests he cooks for, Chef Cain’s favorite part of working at El Gaucho is the quality of products.  “Our brand is built on the highest quality products available, from Certified Angus Beef brand prime steaks, to Columbia River salmon and Alaskan halibut,” he says. “We source the best, and I love offering that to our guests.” he exclaims.

Visit El Gaucho Portland nightly beginning at 4:30pm. Chef Steve and his team enjoy making your dining occasion a memorable one.

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