RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond native Chef Steve Glenn, Jr. has been in the kitchen since he was 10 years old. At just 23, that’s more than half his life.
“My grandma got me in here doing hard labor — peeling potatoes, cleaning collard greens, stuff like that. So yeah, I got an early start,” Glenn said. “I saw how my grandma used to take raw stuff and change them into something amazing. I was like, ‘Oh yeah. I’m going to figure out how to do that.'”
It was that drive that helped land him a spot on the reality cooking competition series “Hell’s Kitchen.” Season 20 premiered on May 31.
“My favorite part was being able to learn from the main man, Gordon Ramsay himself. He’s a great teacher. If he wants you to learn something, you’re going to learn it,” Glenn said. “But the most challenging part, once again, is working alongside Gordon Ramsay because you can’t be starstruck when you’re working with him. You’ve got to be a cook – you’ve got to be a chef.
Glenn was only 21 years old when the show was filmed. He said the premiere was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which also impacted the restaurant industry in his native RVA.
“When I initially got back, I took a vacation because I was tired. I was so tired,” Glenn said. “I took off, like, a month, and after that month was up, I just kind of couldn’t stay out of the restaurants because once you’re in it, you kind of get addicted to it.”
He returned to his pre-filming job at Richmond Country Club as Chef de partie and was soon promoted to Sous-chef. But at the end of 2020, Glenn said that he decided to step away from restaurants and pursue his own private chef business.
“I do private events every now and again, and that’s been going pretty well,” he said.
Working for himself has also given him more time to help the struggling restaurant industry in the greater Richmond area.
“The restaurant industry before was like almost oversaturated,” Glenn said. “Everybody had a restaurant, everybody had a food truck. Then, the pandemic hit, and everybody’s restaurant shut down and nobody’s working in them, and now it’s hard to get people back in the restaurants because of the unemployment thing.”
In an effort to assist, Glenn is working on collaborations with different businesses around the City of Richmond, in the hopes of increasing foot traffic and rebuilding the local restaurant scene.
On Wednesday, Glenn collaborated with another local chef at Ma Michele’s Cafe in Midlothian on a Caribbean-American soul food night.
The time at home during the coronavirus pandemic also prompted Glenn to begin growing his own produce, which he uses to construct dishes with peak freshness.
“Once I figured that I could bring something from the ground without it dying immediately, I was like, ‘I’ll see what else I can stand, too,'” he said. “Over the course of the last year and going through the winter and stuff like that, I just figured out what I was able to grow.”
Glenn has tomatoes, squash, kale, herbs and more growing in his backyard. But he still struggles with cilantro.
“The flavor that you get from some produce that you grew yourself, that you just cut off the plant, is completely different than what you’ll get from a store,” he said. “Also, it’s just really convenient. I’ve never run out of bay leaves or thyme or rosemary ever. It’s just right there.”
Each plant has a name, carefully selected and written out by Glenn’s 4-year-old sister, who just learned how to spell.
“She likes to help me name them,” Glenn said. “I name all of my plants because if I’m not there or I need somebody to water them, everybody doesn’t know what a tomato plant looks like, but everybody knows who Loretta is. So I’m just like, ‘Hey, give Loretta some water.'”
Moving forward, Glenn is preparing to sell his own seasoning blend called All You Need. But his number-one goal is to bolster the culinary scene in the greater Richmond area by teaching others what he’s learned in the kitchen.
“I just want to teach everyday people how to cook because a lot of people think that in order to be a good cook, you have to go to culinary school. But that’s not necessarily the case,” Glenn said. “I have a way of simplifying things when I teach.”