Lenard Rubin of The Vig/The Vig Uptown

Written by Geri Koeppel Category: People Issue: September 2011

For three decades Rubin has worked at some of the top resorts in Boston, New Orleans and here in town – The Ritz-Carlton, the Boulders, The Phoenician, the Pointe Hilton Tapatio and Squaw Peak. And he also spent time in Russia, where with one company he helped open 26 restaurants that sold everything from fried chicken and pizza to fondue and pasta.

He also owned and operated Medizona, which Esquire magazine named one of the top-22 new restaurants in the country in 2000. How did you get started in fine dining?
My first job was at The Ritz-Carlton in Boston. It was $4.50 an hour and I was super excited. It was more than minimum wage at the time. I worked in all the different areas in that kitchen for about four years.

How did you learn to cook so many different types of cuisines?
A lot of it is from working with different people. A lot of it, I tried to learn about foods I love to eat. I love Indian food; I love Mexican food, all the Latin flavors. So a lot of that stuff I experimented with on my own.

You used to cook with things like foie gras and caviar, but the Vig Uptown’s menu isn’t in that price range (the costliest item is $16). Does it hamper your ability to be inventive?
It’s definitely more of a challenge. The fewer items that you’re able to use to put in your menu, the more creative you have to be to not make standard fare. It’s exciting to do things that are kind of standard but with a twist. This is the first time I’ve ever worked at a place that sold chicken wings.

You love to mentor your employees. What are some telltale signs someone is going to be a great chef?
That they pay attention, they take notes. Showing up to work on time every day or coming in early. Showing that you’re really dedicated to the job. Seeing that they know how to season food. It’s something that’s so simple, but people have a really hard time with it.

What are some signs they’re never going to make it?
Don’t show up for work on time. Call in sick a lot. You have to show them the same thing 100 times. There are those people who are just doing it for a paycheck and don’t belong in a kitchen. The good people in this business, they’re born to do it.

Lenard Rubin
Executive Chef, The Vig/The Vig Uptown

The Vig: 4041 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 602-553-7227
The Vig Uptown: 6015 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-633-1187