Chicken Charlie: A Deep-Fried Imagination
Coming out of the deep fryer, it looks like a lumpy, enlarged donut hole. The sprinkles, a touch of powdered sugar and chocolate syrup drizzled over the golden brown casing indicate differently. One bite guarantees the fried Oreo to be much, much more.
The deep fried cookies have become a carnival staple across the nation. But if it wasn’t for “Chicken Charlie,” the softened, chocolate discs sandwiching warm vanilla crème that practically dissolve in your mouth, might still be unknown.
So might a number of other imaginative deep fried recipes that are currently available at the Big Fresno Fair located on the Fresno Fairgrounds. This year, Charlie is offering a stomach full of new additions, including deep fried s'mores and the deep fried Klondike bar.
Though his name might imply otherwise, Chicken Charlie is fearless. Throwing conventional cooking norms out of the kitchen, Charlie Boghosian has defined himself as one of America’s most innovative cooks.
When it comes to fair food, the Armenian immigrant is a maestro standing before a vat of hot oil.
Other vendors cook up oil-soaked classics, but none like Chicken Charlie. Boghosian’s imagination makes his small stand prominently stick out at any of the stops on his annual six-month tour of California fairgrounds.
No other stand boasts fried frog legs, fried vegetables, not to mention a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
What started as a 14-year-old’s summer job working in San Diego selling charbroiled corn for vendor Bob Jackson has turned into the Chicken Charlie’s mobile fried empire.
"I enjoyed cooking and selling corn. I enjoyed talking to people. I enjoyed the fair atmosphere and I just fell in love," Boghosian said.
Selling corn and baked potatoes during the summer, Boghosian worked his way through high school and college, graduating with a degree in criminal justice from San Diego State. But instead of entering the FBI or law enforcement, Boghosian bought a broasted chicken truck. His former boss, Jackson, dubbed this knight of the fairs “Chicken Charlie.”
Rather than the pressure-fried chickens, common to all fairs, Boghosian would become known for his unhealthy - but delicious - deep-fried concoctions. A little inspiration from the king of unhealthy fast food, McDonald's, pushed him to develop his first fair-frenzied sensation.
Boghosian admired how McDonald's customers could get a small dessert apple pie after a meal.
“We had sides like fried zucchini and french fries, but I always wanted a dessert to go with the chicken.”
That led to the introduction of fried Twinkies after he saw a vendor selling them at a Miami fair. Boghosian liked the idea but wasn’t fond of the taste.
“They had used a thick, wet batter that made it difficult to taste the cream inside.”
This sent Boghosian to the kitchen. He experimented with frying the snack cake until he found the right recipe. Using a lighter, sweet flour and egg batter that gave the Twinkie a crisp, crunchy crust, Bogohsian added strawberry and chocolate toppings and instantly had a sensation.
He sold 10,000 when he debuted the fried Twinkie at the L.A. County Fair in 2001.
“People immediately started asking, ‘What are you going to do next?’ So I went to the Hostess rack and bought a bunch of items to experiment.”
What followed were fried Oreos, avocados, then fried Pop Tarts, watermelon, Spam and Elvis’ favorite, peanut butter and honey sandwich – all deep fried.
Boghosian became even more inventive. He created the Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich slicing a raspberry jelly-filled doughnut in half, stuffing it with a fried chicken breast and covering it with a honey sauce. He also crafted the “Zucchini Weenie,” a turkey frank stuffed inside a zucchini shell deep fried like a corn dog.
Like a virtuoso, Boghosian credits his passion for the art of culinary cuisine that has made him successful.
“I do it because I love it. I really have a great life.”
But that doesn’t mean it is easy.
“There is an art to frying food. It’s not just throwing [the food] into the oil. You have to choose the right batter – wet or dry, thick or thin – and you have to know what temperature and how long you want to keep it in the oil. It’s not as simple as some people might think.”
People also might not consider the amount of work it takes to set up the custom-built trailers at each fair, especially when there is a quick turnaround such as Boghosian had last week. After closing down at the L.A. County Fair Sunday, Boghosian and his team had to break down, clean and pack everything before heading to Fresno. Once there, everything had to be setup by Wednesday morning.
The Chicken Charlie’s crew had been working day and night through Tuesday's waning hours to get everything prepared for the first customers to step onto the Fresno Fairgrounds at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday when the fair opened. In the 48 hours after the L.A. County Fair closed, Boghosian said he managed “a couple of 30-minute naps.”
“I’ve been doing it for so long; it’s second nature,” Boghosian said over the phone with a smile in his voice. “Nothing in life is difficult.”
Not for a 14-year-old boy selling charbroiled corn who grew up to become the Deep Fry King.
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