6000 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale • thephoenician.com
By Mallory Gleich
It would seem that Arizona keeps calling Chef Rick Boyer back. His most recent return six years ago was his third – and his second round working at The Phoenician. With a career spanning over 20 years, Chef Boyer knows all the ins-and-outs of a kitchen – and how to stay positive when things turn out unexpectedly.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Massachusetts, just south of Boston. This is my third time living in Arizona – I’ve been back for six years. I moved here the first time in 1993. I came down and just fell in love, and one of my first jobs was actually at The Phoenician. In total, I’ve been here for about 15 years.
I went to school in Vermont, and then a vocational school in Massachusetts and studied culinary arts. When I was 14, I worked in some local restaurants. When I graduated high school, I applied to the New England Culinary Institute and graduated there with an associate’s degree and never looked back.
Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?
As a young man, both my grandmothers were phenomenal cooks. One was English, and one was French. My grandmother on my dad’s side was the first person to teach me how to cook. And during the holidays, I would always spend time in the kitchen –
I was mesmerized by them. That’s where I fell in love with cooking.
Oddly enough, when I went to vocational school, my first choice was carpentry.
I like to be creative, and that’s why I love culinary arts. You can create and have the satisfaction of pleasing people with what you’ve created.
Where and what was your first position in the industry?
My first position was as a pastry “finisher” in a doughnut shop in New Bedford, Mass. I made the doughnut glazes. I also washed the pots and the floors, so I was a steward. I was also a dishwasher at a pizzeria and worked my way up there.
Do you have a favorite chef that you’ve worked with?
I have lots. I would say my career took off when I came to The Phoenician. Right out of the gate, it was known as a food and beverage destination. The food, prepared by Chef Alex Stratta, Robert McGrath and James Boyce was years beyond what everyone else was doing. I give lots of credit to Alex Stratta for holding me accountable in technique and teaching me the fundamentals of cooking outside of school. I’ve taken things I learned here back in the 90s with me throughout my whole career.
What are the first things you learned how to cook?
Growing up in New England, I learned how to make chowder and fish and chips, pot roast – I started cooking those first. I grew up in a town with Portuguese culture, so lots of seafood. Learning how to cook shellfish and clams, and learning how to make chowder the right way, those were some good inspirations for me.
Where else have you worked?
I’ve worked at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado, The Phoenician and Arizona Biltmore in the late 90s. I was a chef at Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida, and then after that, became an executive chef at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. I worked for the Kohler family in Wisconsin for a few years. Then I came back here to help with the relaunch of The Phoenician in 2013 as executive chef.
What is your inspiration for new recipes?
Seasonality is first. We build our menus on the best products we can get each season – also, the demographic. We have travelers that visit us from all over, and they expect us to deliver a high level of product and cater to their needs. The food has to be fresh and vibrant – and that comes with seasonality. We want to put stuff on the menu that we know will sell and attract our demographic.
What’s the most challenging part of being a chef?
When you work at a high-level property, there’s not a lot of room for error. So the biggest challenge is the commitment to being great and surrounding yourself with people who aspire to be greater than good. Training never stops. We’re always working to be better. The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity, the biggest strength, because it keeps us fresh, moving and focused. The work is never done, but we’re always striving to improve and stay consistent.
What’s it like working in the Midwest compared to here?
People [in the Midwest] want simple food that’s prepared at a high level. Working there was a phenomenal experience for me. I was able to help relaunch a couple of restaurants, and to work for the Kohler family was second to none. Here, it’s important to keep The Phoenician as a food and beverage destination.
What’s your signature dish?
Whatever you’re in the mood for! Each restaurant [at The Phoenician] has its signature dish. You never know it’s going to be a signature until you put it on the menu and people fall in love with it. For instance, the buttermilk buns at Mowry + Cotton – that became an instant signature.
Favorite part of being a chef?
The constant pursuit of excellence. On a day to day basis, I am thrown so many challenges that I’m trying to perfect – training, education, inspiration – and that, for me, is what keeps me coming back. I get to train and inspire young individuals. I get to be creative daily. I can’t imagine sitting at a desk and looking at numbers all day – although that’s part of the job, that’s not the biggest part. Training and learning and instant gratification and feedback, those are things I love.
Any funny industry stories you’d like to share?
When I was in school, I was in class making beef bourguignon. I was searing the beef tips, and I seared them a little too hard. They got a little dark. The instructor, in his French accent, called me out, “What are you doing? You burnt them,” and of course, as a young man, I was confident that I had not. So he went and got a loaf of bread, absorbed the oil in the pan and asked me to eat it. So I ate the bread with the burnt grease, and I can tell you, it did not taste good. I spit it out. Lesson learned – it’s okay not to know everything because, in this business, you have to be adaptable.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy golfing, being outdoors, reading cookbooks, mysteries and leadership books and hiking. Spending time with my three children and cooking in the kitchen with my family.
Go-to comfort food?
Whole roast chicken with mashed potatoes. My wife laughs at me because I cook at such a high level, come home and eat so basic. Something about a whole roasted chicken with potatoes and veggies – I’m in heaven.
How do you overcome challenges in your life and the kitchen?
When things become stressful, people come back to the fundamentals of who they are and how they were trained – back to their core values. I pride myself on having strong core values and fundamentals, and I take that with me in my personal life. Faith, family and health come first.
In my personal and professional life, staying focused and having a positive approach is critical, even when we entered the first phase of COVID-19. We had to adapt. It’s never as bad as it seems, and we’ll work through it. Again, surround yourself with good people and good processes. The wellbeing of the team and our guests comes first, too.