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Wine and Food Wednesday
He Was Alice Waters Before There Was An Alice Waters

By Charles Olken

He fought along side Hemingway in Spain. He served his country in the Pacific campaign for four years. He was a Berkeley pacifist. He was a public health advocate turned restaurateur. His innovative Berkeley establishment, founded in 1960 made him Alice Waters before there was an Alice Waters. He was the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for fifteen years. He was Jon Bonne before there was a Jon Bonne. He was the wine and spirits editor of Bon Appetit Magazine back in the day when one-third of that magazine’s content was devoted to consumable potions. He was Marvin Shanken before there was a Marvin Shanken. And he lived to the ripe old age of ninety-four before passing away quietly in his sleep last week.

And he was my mentor in wine and the person who first introduced me to the notion that wine better than Hearty Burgundy existed. A decade later, when I started Connoisseurs’ Guide, he became a member of our tasting panel. His name: Henry Rubin, known to his friends as Hank. He was a giant in the wine and food business back in the days when giants were few and far between.

In 1963, when I moved to the Bay Area to attend graduate school at a place south of San Francisco, one of my college roommates moved to Berkeley to study Nuclear Physics. In college days back east, our small group had become winedrinkers, leaving the world of strong drink behind in a move toward sophistication that was at least as much directed to impressing the women we were dating as to serving our palates. I got a call not long after arriving out west inviting me to come up to Berkeley and to join my friend at a wine tasting at a Berkeley restaurant. He seemed to think that there was magic in the Monday night events at the Potluck Restaurant, and I soon discovered that he was right. I did not get to as many of those events as I would have wished, graduate students do not have a lot of free time, but things changed when I graduated and moved into the City.

The Potluck was still going strong, fueled in part by a brilliant young chef named Narsai David who would go on to become famous in his own right In those days, Narsai was simply Hank’s newest protégé. The Potluck became my restaurant of choice, and when Hank finally closed it down and moved full-time into winewriting, Narsai’s new eponymously named restaurant continued the wine and food tradition that was so instrumental in my wine education.

For the next two decades, Hank was a fixture on the winetasting circuit, and he always seemed to be surrounded by a group of younger writers eager to lap up the wisdom that he shared so effortlessly. In the last decade of his life, he slowed down a bit, but still had time to author the highly useful The Kitchen Answer Book.

And now that he has freed the bounds of this earth, I find myself thinking that I have always wanted to follow in his footsteps—and if I can keep writing for another decade or two, I just might. Please stop a minute and join me in being thankful that this world had such a man as Hank Rubin.


Hank Rubin
by Marci Rubin
Posted on:3/9/2011 1:52:34 PM

Thank you for this incredible tribute to my father.  He truly was a quiet hero. He touched the hearts of all he met, and showed by example that success can go hand-in-hand with kindness, love and integrity. I'm awed and greatful to read your words and how he touched your life.  And join you in being thankful that this world had such a man, and I had such a father.

Hank Rubin
by Marshall Newman
Posted on:3/9/2011 3:06:58 PM

A worthy tribute to a man who mentored, inspired and touched many, and always with a smile.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:3/9/2011 9:14:44 PM

What a lovely and tribute Charlie. Thank you for sharing him with those of us that did not have the chance to know him.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:3/9/2011 10:03:49 PM

Dang it. "Lovely and tribute"??? Ugh. I was moved and Marci had me nearly in tears, gonna blame that.

Hank Rubin
by Marci Rubin
Posted on:3/9/2011 10:18:30 PM

Samantha, your posts put a smile on my face. Thanks.  "Lovely & tribute" are perfect for what Charlie wrote.  Better than my "greatful" for "grateful" -- for which at least I can blame the tears.

Hank Rubin
by David Vergari
Posted on:3/10/2011 8:28:38 AM

Very thoughtful and timely.  Thank you!

Hank Rubin
by Jim Lapsley
Posted on:3/10/2011 8:50:17 AM

Charlie, Thank you for reminding us all of the early days of California wine and Hank Rubin's major role in bringing an appreciation (and definition) of quality wine to a larger audience.  He was a pioneer and visionary in things culinary and vinous.  Thanks!

Hank Rubin
by Christian Miller
Posted on:3/10/2011 1:07:35 PM

A very nice tribute to a fascinating personality, thanks. BTW, here is a link to an old Pot Luck menu, courtsey of Narsai David's website:


otis livingston must go jail !!!!!!!!!!!
by tom
Posted on:5/18/2017 2:08:42 PM

to the adam rapoport and bon appetit magazine. another editor from more magazine abby perlman recently got involved in dirty coraption business with crazy cbs anchor otis livingston to steal money from bon appetit magazines employees bank accounts. never trust abby perlman and otis livingston they must go to jail.

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