Charlie is more than a guy who knows his way around a fryer. He's a businessman and family guy who learned from the best and draws inspiration from his culture. Hospitable, professional and always working, I don't think he knows the meaning of slowing down.
If you're as excited about the OC Fair as we are, then you should really catch up on Charlie's interview, because it began yesterday.
Now, are you ready for part two? Good.
Who taught you how to cook?
My mom. I was about 7 when I started to learn from her. The first thing I ever fried was an eggplant in her kitchen.
What is your cultural/ethnic background, and how did that influence the menu?
I'm Armenian/Middle Eastern. That influence is in a lot of my inventions. Our Zucchini Weeni was modeled after a very popular Armenian dish where you stuff vegetables with rice and meat, and cook it in tomato sauce. Many items carry over in interesting ways like that.
Do you have any skills that are non-food related? What are they?
I'm a really good chess player. Is that a skill, or is that a game? No, it's a skill. And I'm excellent at it.
Where did your nickname originate from?
Bob Jackson (the fellow I worked for before buying my own chicken trailer) gave it to me. I worked for him for 12 summers at the San Diego County Fair selling charbroiled corn on the cob.
Where did you grow up, and where's home these days?
I was born in Damascus, Syria. I came to America when I was 11 and moved to San Diego. That's where I live today, with my family and my restaurant.
How did you meet your wife?
At the fair. She came up to my booth and bought chicken wings. It was the California State Fair in Sacramento.
Last thing you looked up/searched online:
The very last thing? I was trying to figure out all of the uses people have for stuffing things with SPAM. I was doing that last night for two hours.
When it's not fair season, what are you doing in your free time?
I work like crazy at Chicken Charlie's FryBQ, my new restaurant in San Diego. We have menu items there including Fried Lobster Slipper Tails, ribs, and more that we don't have at the fair. It's my test kitchen for the fair, so you never know what we'll be making in there.
Last song playing on your radio/smart phone/iPod:
Chandelier by Sia, on my iPhone.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Don't take freedom for granted. Here we're free to work, we're free to love, we're free to believe in whatever we want to believe, and we don't have any government people telling you what to think, where to go. We're allowed to do what we want.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite memory as a child is going out and catching frogs. I would put on my waist-high boots, grab a potato sack, and go out in the creeks at night. We'd get the frogs and my mom would fry them the next day.
Last book you read; how was it?
The last book I read (I can't remember the name right now and I only got about 3/4 of the way through) was about Conrad Hilton and his hotel empire.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
Selling Christmas Trees. I love to go up to Oregon, buy farms, harvest the trees and bring them back to sell in Southern California.
Is there anything you'd like readers to know that we haven't asked?
Yes. I love Jesus. I've been blessed with a beautiful life. That says it all.
The 2015 OC Fair is open July 17 – August 16 (Wednesday – Sunday). For more information, check out www.ocfair.com.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.