Lenard Rubin has a confidence about him that comes from being a two-time James Beard House invitee with 25 years experience as a chef -- most notably with the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. The guy's background includes an extensive stints in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, Boston, New Mexico and New Orleans.
So what the heck is he doing here in the Valley, you ask? He's doing quite well, thank you very much, as chef/partner at The Vig and The Vig Uptown
In the corporate food world, Rubin spent up 40 hours a week in meetings. But at The Vig, he can exercise his creative muscle, get intimately involved with the process of food making.
His challenge is to use the best every day ingredients, many of them local like the beef from Hobe Meats
directly across the street, to create top notch plates for under $18. Rubin and his owner partners have worked hard to create a menu that's relatively consumer-friendly: no one dish is over $16.
Rubin was kind enough to dish with us for a while.
(Catch the Q&A after the jump.)
What motivated you to become a chef?
It happened by accident really. I was going to college in Rhode Island and had a girlfriend in Boston. I wanted to spend the summer in Boston so I went there to look for a summer job. I was walking down the street with the help wanted ads from the Boston Globe under my arm when I passed by an outdoor café and heard someone call my name.
It was a friend of mine from college in RI who was having lunch with his brother and his girlfriend. It turned out that his brothers' girlfriend was the chefs' admin assistant at the Ritz-Carlton. She brought me over right after lunch for an interview with the sous chef. He offered me a job as "Café Runner". I was to be paid $5 an hour and was in heaven because it was way over minimum wage at the time (1981). I was so excited that I ran over to my girlfriend's dorm which was a couple of blocks away to tell her, only to find her in bed with another guy. The nerve of her....in the afternoon no less.
I decided that I was going to go ahead with the opportunity anyway. It was an entry level position in the famous Ritz Café. The kitchen was so small that we could only store barely enough food for each meal period. The responsibility of the café runner was to go to the main kitchen upstairs to collect, and sometimes prep all of the items necessary for the next meal service. Then during service I was like the gopher to the café chef, and besides running up and down the stairs all day, I sometimes got to help make sandwiches, salads, desserts and other various culinary tasks.
I found after a short time that I had an aptitude and a great fondness for the kitchen. My chefs also saw this and I was able to move around and up through all of the various areas of the kitchen at the Ritz where I stayed for a number of years. This was my foundation and motivation to continue my quest to become a chef.
What 's your favorite food -- both to eat and to make?
I love ethnic foods, especially Indian, Middle Eastern and Mexican. My favorite foods to make are usually prepared utilizing ingredients indigenous to the Southwest. I guess you could call it Southwestern Cuisine, but it slants towards a modern take on Mexican. I also infuse a lot of ethnic (Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean) ingredients into my "Southwestern Cuisine" and do my best to create fusion rather that confusion of the different cuisines.
Who does the majority of cooking at home?
I love my job and my staff because I can usually be home every night to cook dinner for the family. I do most of the cooking at home because even though my awesome wife Susan is a great cook too, she doesn't think she is.
When you eat out, where do you usually go?
Check back tomorrow for Chef Rubin's recipe for Carne Asada on a Potato Pancake.
4041 N. 40th St., Phoenix, AZ