Monday, August 21, 2006

Chicken Charlie’s Broasted Chicken

FAIRS AND FOOD have always gone hand in hand. The word “fair” is derived from the Latin “feriae”, meaning feast, and reflects that a feast was the main event at Medieval fairs. It was 1904 during the Saint Louis World's Fair when fairgoers first ate hot dogs and ice cream cones as they walked. Hot dogs and ice cream still remain a popular staple at most county and state fairs, but this month I spoke with a man who’s advantageous gains at the fair have come through the delicious chicken and other deep-fried items he sells.

“Chicken” Charlie Boghosian and I sat down at a table in front of his 10-year old mobile stand “Chicken Charlie’s Broasted Chicken” and talked about fair food, his concessions business and life on the road.

Nearing his 25th year of fair food service, “Chicken” Charlie surprised and delighted fairgoers last year with deep-fried avocados and the return of deep-fried twinkies and deep-fried oreo cookies. This year, he has developed a new concoction: The Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich! It is composed of a marinated and lightly seasoned deep-fried chicken breast, a slice of cheese, and a Krispy Kreme Donut Bun. It is served with a honey packet, but one can also request Strawberry Syrup as a condiment. The combination may sound a little interesting, but even more interesting was the story of how Chicken Charlie’s came to be.

Charlie began his fair career at the Del Mar Fair in San Diego, working for a man named Bob Jackson. There, he sold charbroiled corn and stuffed potatoes every year for 10 summers. During the remaining months of the year, he attended school (high school, then Miramar College) to prepare for a career in Law Enforcement and eventually work for the FBI.

He finished his education with an AA in Pre-Law and a BS in Criminal Justice, but Charlie was not ready to say goodbye to working with Mr. Jackson, a man who had become a close friend and father figure to him. He was also not ready to leave behind the thrill of eventually being his own boss and the opportunities that awaited him by starting a business. He and Bob soon went into partnership forming Boghos and Jackson Enterprises and Chicken Charlie’s Broasted Chicken.

The chicken that Charlie sells is first marinated for 12 hours and then cooked in a pressure fryer, “broasted” resulting in a quicker cooking time, and a juicier, tastier product. The chicken (500 pounds a day!) is also always purchased fresh, never frozen. Charlie purchases ingredients from 5-10 vendors that make deliveries, and goes shopping locally for to insure that only the freshest ingredients are served to hungry fairgoers. Along with the enormous amount of chicken, Chicken Charlie’s uses 300 pounds of flour, and serves (on average) 750 twinkies, 300 donuts, and 500 avocados per day!

To remain successful and set Chicken Charlie’s apart from the other food vendors at the fairs, he incorporated other items into the menu. He began selling garlic fries, and deep-fried vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, artichokes, and aspargus), but he also wanted to have a dessert item available. While on vacation in Florida, he spotted a man selling deep-fried twinkies at a local fair and knew they would be easy to make in his trailer along with the other fried items. He began selling them later that year (2002), along with deep-fried oreos. In 2004, he added strawberries and bananas, and in 2005, avocados. He explained that a lot of food experimentation goes on while on the road and he constantly interacts with customers to see what they enjoy most.

For Charlie Boghosian and Bob Jackson, the smell of success can be found at the fair in the fried food. The stand has now been operating for 13 years and is only gaining in popularity. Charlie travels with a ten person crew and hires a crew of ten local people to work for him at six county fairs at which the stand operates in California and the California State Fair. He takes good care of his employees by paying them well and paying for their lodging during the fair season. He credits the success of the business to the people that have worked and currently work for him (including his sister and brothers). He and his employees put in very long days because they love what they do. His crew is very close and have become like family during their travels.

Along with the vending business, he is working on a cookbook to be published as early as next year, that will contain the story of Chicken Charlie’s as well as recipes for his most famous items. Charlie (originally from Syria) also plans to incorporate traditional Middle Eastern recipes.

“A person who loves to cook gets joy from seeing the reaction on people’s faces when they enjoy your food,” said Charlie. “My family loves to cook and to eat––and I love sharing that experience at the State Fair.”

Chicken Charlie’s Broasted Chicken will be in Sacramento until September 4th, the LA County Fair September 8th-October 1st and then in Fresno from October 4th–15th.

No comments: