Chef Chat: Eric Osburn of Centurion, Part Two
Hannah E Williams
Yesterday we heard from Chef Eric Osburn of Centurion. Today the conversation continues. Centurion, which opened in June, is Chef Eric Osburn's first foray into restaurant ownership and his proudest accomplishment to date. "European fusion" is how he describes the food. "We focus on all of the countries of Europe as where I pull all of my ideas and thought processes from, but we refuse to make one defined dish."
Osburn loves his wood-fire oven. He says it lends great flavor to everything and insists on cooking as much as possible in it: burgers, filets, rack of lamb, clams, pizzas, artisan breads. You name it, he's probably tried it - including deep-dish pizza, which is close to the Chicago native's heart.
We pulled Osburn away from the brick oven to talk more about what makes him tick. Today, he discusses why he'd win a gold medal for kitchen nightmares, his affinity for bread and butter and the fast food concept he thinks will surpass McDonalds.
"I had leased a kitchen out of a 500-seat sports bar in North Scottsdale: Metro Sports Bar," Osburn says. "I promise you, if kitchen nightmares had an olympics, I would of gotten a gold for that kitchen. I am not even kidding. From fryers going down right before 600 people show up to watch the UFC fights to the sinks not draining and having to take buckets of water out to the street to the hot water stopping so we had to boil water to do our dishes."
The worst one out of all them: We used to show the UFC pay-per-view fights for free, and right before one, one of my fryers goes down. It just isn't heating up the oil anymore. And two fryers just isn't enough to feed these people. Then, we didn't have enough oil for the next fryer over, so we're trying to take oil out of the nonworking one and put it in the there. Well, one of the girls gave me a bucket with soap in it, so there was soap in the fryer. When we turned it on, it started boiling the soap over. And literally, we had 20 tickets on the board at that time, and two cooks in the kitchen. I'm calling everyone frantically telling them to get their asses in there, we need help. I'm like "What the hell do I do? I don't have any fryers!" And a UFC fight? At a sports bar? No fried foods? I'd get a riot! People would come back into the kitchen and want to talk - not a talk I want to have. So I take two giant pots, put them on my giant burners, fill them up with more oil, turn on the burners, put thermometers in it, and I'm literally stovetop frying foods for people, playing with the flames the whole time to make sure the temperatures right. We also had pasta on our menu. I'm trying to make pasta, the butter in the pasta is splashing up and the flames are coming up and lighting the fryers on fire. I only had two pastas - THANK GOD - to do at that point on time. But every single time, I lit both fryers completely on fire. And you could just see me there: tossing pasta, blow, blow, blow, tossing pasta, blow, blow, blow, batting it with a towel. It was horrible.
If you were stranded on a deserted island and you had to pick one thing to eat, what would it be? Bread and butter. It's true. My German heritage comes shining through. If I had to pick one thing to eat, it would be bread and butter because I could eat that all day every day. I'm not saying that I should but I could. And you know what, If I'm on an island, who cares if I'm fat? I'm stuck alone! I got no women to talk to. I'll blubber around with my bread and butter.
What would you like to see more of in the Phoenix food scene? I'd like to see better customer service. There's a lot of good chefs out there that get brought down by bad wait staff. I think part of that is chefs' believing their food will shine through regardless of how it's served. And at other places, I think it's because they're too big they can't keep their hands on everything that every server does. But I really think that customer service is the number one most important thing for any business. I have the supreme benefit of it being so small and the open kitchen that I can literally keep an eye on everything at all times, so I can make sure everything hits that service standard.
Next big trend in food? If somebody does it: healthy fast food. A fast food restaurant that is purely healthy, has a lot of vegetarian and vegetable options. I could see that being huge. There's a high demand for it; a lot of people want to start eating better and eating healthier, but we're getting busier than we have been before, which makes them more lazy so they want to just pick something up and go. I'm thinking more of a drive-thru, dine-in, pick-up sort of thing. That would be gigantic, I think. If somebody did that, they could possibly take on the big burger chains. If I had the money to do it, I'd do it.
What's next? A lot of things will come with time and money. [An expansion, a bigger brick oven, wine and cheese tastings, new desserts, the list goes on...] Later, I want to do sugar work as a showcase. I want to post a schedule of the days and the times, and I'm going to do sugar work right there in front of the window so everyone inside and out on the patio can see me doing the sugar work: blown sugar work, pulled sugar work, chocolate work, all that stuff. After I start it up and get a little of a following, I'm going to try and tag team it and work with local art venues to do events paired with sugar work and dinner.
Hannah E Williams
(This is part two of our Chef Chat with Osburn. Check out part one and check back for a romantic recipe from Osburn tomorrow.)
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