Before there was This Is Why You're Fat.com, there was Chicken Charlie. For almost a quarter decade now, 40 year-old "Chicken" Charlie Boghosian has spent 5 months of each year touring the California fair circuit with his custom-built trailers, the mobile Chicken Charlie empire, giving shape and substance to the food fantasies of the carnival masses, with nothing but a deep-frier and a vision. Boghosian can (and does) deep-fry anything.
As the inventor of the deep-fried Oreo, now a carnival mainstay and cult favorite, Boghosian has already secured his position in the annals (and arteries) of food history. Yet every year he unveils new creations, proving time and again that he is a deep-fried visionary. In 2007, he gave the world deep-fried Coca Cola, frog legs, and Elvis' favorite peanut butter banana and honey sandwiches; in 2008, it was deep-fried White Castle burgers, spam, and pop tarts. This year, he did it again: a hot dog inside a hollowed-out zucchini boat, battered, deep-fried and served on a stick -- a creation he affectionately calls the zucchini-weeni; and a classic s'more, deep-fried in pancake batter.
But what drives such a man? Is it the challenge? The prestige? "I do it because I love it," says Boghosian, who hosts fry fests at his home in San Diego during the off-season. "I really have a great life." And indeed he does: last year, Boghosian raked in an estimated $2.2 million in sales from his battered confections.
Even his fried flops are golden. "I tried to deep-fry a Hostess Snowball," Boghosian says. "I tried it in wet batter, dry batter -- the marshmallow was so big, it just dissolved!" But out of the Snowball flop, came the idea for the deep-fried s'more, which is currently one of the most popular items on the menu.
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Though other fair stands sell the same fried Twinkies and Oreos that Boghosian sells, the name Chicken Charlie has become synonymous with fairground food. After scanning the food stands adjacent to one of the three Chicken Charlie trailers at the OC fairgrounds, where he is currently stationed, Boghosian explains, "When people come to the fair and want cotton candy, they say, 'I want cotton candy.' They can go anywhere to get it. It's all the same. But when they want deep-fried Oreos, they say, 'I want Chicken Charlie's!'"
Occasionally, people bring in their own items for him to deep-fry, at a price. And even though he specializes in fried food, Boghosian recently added chicken and beef kebabs (a tribute to his Armenian roots) to the menu because some of his customers were asking for lighter options.
So what's next? Boghosian is working on a cookbook. "Chicken Charlie at the Fair: 101 Ways to Blow Your Diet" will be half stories about his life at the fair, half recipes for his many fried inventions. He also has plans to open a restaurant in San Diego later this year. And as for next year's fried inventions, Boghosian is already in the test kitchen. "I deep-fried watermelon just the other day; it was delicious."