Charlie Palmer and Executive Chef Michael Mahoney at the CPS reno harvest dinner
The “Biggest Little City In The World” Gets Bigger
Chef Michael Mahoney
The “Biggest Little City in the World”
Given that chefs traditionally move for the trade, it’s rare to find one who works in his hometown. Charlie Palmer Steak Reno’s Executive Chef Michael Mahoney is a proud exception. While completing his culinary arts studies at the Art Institute of Sacramento, in 2012 he joined the team at the Grand Sierra Resort, becoming a full-time employee later that same year. A few short years later, and he runs the kitchen at Chef Palmer Steak’s Reno outpost. Here’s his take on his hometown.
rowing up in Reno was amazing. Not so much for the culinary scene back then as for all the activities the area offers—from skiing in the winter to events in and around Reno throughout the year. Burning Man, Hot August Nights, the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, Street Vibrations, the Great Reno Balloon Race, National Championship Air Races, Artown the entire month of July, and the list goes on. Plus, you’re bound to find some form of culinary influence at most of these events.Admittedly, back then the food scene wasn’t great. Basque was and always has been a staple here, and I love the family style aspect of it. My favorite spot is Louis’ Basque Corner, a staple with an amazing following. A lot of my personal culinary experiences were shaped by the Army. I was stationed in Louisiana—and talk about a culinary scene, an amazing melting pot of so many different cultures. I also had the privilege of traveling to countries like Kosovo, Hungary, Bulgaria, Iraq, and Kuwait, where I made it a point to try local dishes. All this truly shaped my love of food. Today, eating out in Reno is a whole different story.

Reno is growing at an extremely fast rate. Large tech companies attract a wide array of people, and the culture continues to modernize and thrive. The dining scene in Reno has become very interesting as well. No longer are the majority of must-eat restaurants relegated to casinos, as they were in the past. As different areas expand, like our Midtown district, so do the varying types of cuisine offerings.

Local is becoming big in Reno. Our local co-op is doing amazing things along with our farmers markets, purveyors, breweries, and craft bars. Revision Brewery is a fast-growing establishment I’ve had the privilege of working with on our Harvest Dinner we just hosted with Chef Palmer. I was also able to utilize the co-op and Wolf Pack Meats for the event. Reno has a short growing period, so I do my best to spotlight local purveyors at special events.

As the first, and still only, celebrity chef–owned restaurant in the city, Charlie Palmer Steak Reno has had a huge influence on other establishments here. When Chef Palmer brought his progressive brand to Reno in 2007, he paved the way for casino restaurants to become more innovative with their menus. Chef Palmer has helped to progress the palates and the “foodie” mindset of the people of Reno, coupled with a type of service that shows we really care about our guests.

Hospitality is something our front-of-house team takes great pride in and strives to perfect, because they feel attached to a chef who takes time to coach them and us as managers. They feel more personal responsibility than if they worked for a faceless chain. I try to make it a point to cater to our guest’s needs. The only thing that limits me is access to product. If I can get it here in the casino, I can make it happen. For example, I am constantly creating new dishes on the spot for vegan guests who end up here, and I hope to place vegan options on the new menu. I know that veganism is growing at an exceptional rate, and we need to stay ahead of these trends. Even at a steakhouse!