Chef Eric Osburn, who opened Centurion in Roosevelt Square this June, has been cooking ever since he saw his dad flip an omelet for the first time at age 11. By 13, he was cooking all the meals at home, had his first kitchen job at 15, and was taken under chef Sam Caniglia's tutelage in a country club outside Chicago at 16.
"I more learned how to cook out of necessity, because if I wanted good food, I had to do it myself," Osburn says. "I can tell you for a fact that my mom and my dad aren't the greatest cooks in the world, but we think it skips a generation because my grandma on my mom's side was phenomenal."
Osburn's kitchen experience runs the gamut from dishwasher to executive chef ¬and he's picked up a pastry degree from the Culinary Institute of America along the way. We caught up with Osburn in his newly renovated space and found out why he thinks "can't" shouldn't exist, why he won't eat PB&J and why microwaves scare him.
What inspires you? A lot of my inspiration is doing things that you're not supposed to do and making them work. I don't believe in can't and don't and won't. I had a certified pastry chef once tell me that you can't make a freestanding crème brulee. Two and a half years later, I made it, took a picture of it and sent it to him. I hate being told I can't do something, especially in the world of food. Food is such a flexible medium that you can't say you can't do something. There's too many different ways to make it happen.
Hardest kitchen lesson? My first job, I worked at a place called Floyd's Steakhouse as a prep guy/dishwasher. And the chef, when he got pissed off, would actually throw pans at the dish pit: full speed, hit the wall, hit us, didn't matter. They could be scorching hot or cold as ice. If he was pissed, that's what he did. And I think that hardest kitchen lesson was at the very beginning: one of the things you have to know how to do if you're going to be in a restaurant successfully is know how to do your work and keep your eyes out for everything else that's going on around you all at the same time.
Favorite kitchen tool? I think that'd be a tie between nonstick spray and my chef knife. The nonstick spray is the most useful invention of the 20th century for cooking, because it has so many applications.
What was in your lunchbox growing up? Well, first of all, it was a brown paper bag. I don't think we were too poor for a lunchbox, because those weren't that expensive, but I was definitely too rambunctious to keep one in good order. And it was typically peanut butter and jelly, which is why I don't really eat it anymore. Ten years straight of peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day - every once in a great while I got cold cuts.
Biggest pet peeve about the food world? Microwaves. Yes, I have one here, and yes, I use it for certain things. The thing I don't like about microwaves is when your average, everyday chef takes a chicken breast that's totally uncooked and throws it into the microwave to cook it. It's not a cooking apparatus. The more inundated we get with technology, the lazier we get, it seems. The microwave's only been around for like 30 years. We won't know until the first generation that's been cooking with the microwave is in their 70s and 80s if it really is a good thing. Something about those micro waves kind of worries me a little bit.
Check back tomorrow to hear about Osburn's fried food nightmare and why he thinks Valley wait staff should shape up.
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