Detroit native Jason Osburn contacted me the evening I was going to Charcuterie Masters in Flushing, the message was something like this " Meet me, want to talk to you!" At first I thought it was some joke of our mutual friend John Patterson of salt cured pig, so I ambled in and asked for Jason, all intense and with charcuterie gear cutting stuff and asking me to taste his product. I started watching and seeing what he does as a real artist,craftsman and what have you and asked him to interview here on stir the pots so he could tell me what he does!
How did you become a chef?
I was always in the kitchen. We were a "kitchen" family. When we had family gatherings we would all end up in the kitchen; talking, eating, leaning on counters, washing dishes, laughing, I think it was the communal aspect of food that originally drew me to cooking. I appreciated that everyone came together over food. Differences were set aside and guards were let down and people genuinely enjoyed themselves and their company. When the food was exceptional there was no longer room for novelty. The room would get quiet and everyone would focus on the experience.
After college I worked in event marketing for about seven years. During that time I traveled extensively and had the opportunity to eat at a lot of great places around the country. I continued to pursue my own culinary interests, teaching myself to make sushi and ferment vegetables and simple charcuterie, working with sourdough and brewing, but I never had any notion of returning to a kitchen professionally. Then I had some serious health issues and spent a lot of time unable to work. When I could get back into the job market, kitchens are always hiring so that was an easy go-to. I bounced around several mediocre to bad restaurants, putting in my hours as a laborer, frustrated, reheating Sysco food, powdered hollandaise, soup base and boiled "BBQ" ribs, while waiting for something better to arise. I quit. I decided to pursue a magazine venture. MiCraftBeerCulture was to be a Michigan focused craft beer and food publication. It was time to cash in on my graphic design and writing skills. I put out 5 or 6 issues. I could see it wasn't a good business model from day one, but what it did do was connect me to and immerse me in, the food scene here in Detroit. Eventually, while pursuing an interview about a restaurant set to open (Gold Cash Gold) I met Josh Stockton. In conversation with him I recognized two things: 1. I should be cooking for a living. 2. I had finally found an opportunity for me to work in a restaurant where I could make food of the caliber I had always wanted using whole animals, using fermentation and preservation techniques with farmers bringing bushels of fresh produce to the backdoor.
Where do you work?
I am the Sous Chef at Gold Cash Gold in Corktown, Detroit.
What are you a fermenter or charcutier?
I don't think of myself as a chef or a cook or a "fermenter", I'm just someone who likes to play with their food. I like to cross cultures and processes. I'm always thinking "what if" and "why?" One of my favorite things to do is find uses for scrap. The things most kitchens throw away or wouldn't have in the first place cause their product didn't get dropped off by the farmer or cause they didn't know that pig's name before it was butchered. In all honesty I don't take myself all that seriously. I don't think most Chefs should. We aren't inventing cuisine. We aren't discovering fermentation. We are simply reconnecting to processes and methodology that's been forgotten or ignored or that the public has been intentionally mislead about to profit someone somewhere. In a way we're storytellers. We are spinning time-tested tales with modern twists. As for fermentation or charcutier, well they're the same, essentially. Both involve manipulation of environment to aid beneficial bacteria while hampering harmful ones. They're both intensifying flavors. They're both basic preservation techniques. They're both delicious and excellent ways to use the "lesser" cuts or parts that would normally be composted or fed to the chickens.
But back to your question, Yes.
Is Detroit a city reinventing itself within the food culture?
Trying to answer this I started talking with a friend and fellow Chef, Kate Williams. She’s about to open a place called Lady of the House. http://www.ladyofthehousedetroit.com/
I think the best way to answer it may be by sharing our conversation.
Kate, "I do feel a lot of freedom with cuisine. As a chef that's why I chose Detroit, even though I grew up here. The fact that farming came into Detroit and all of these folks working to beautify their streets in what was a declining population and increasing crime rates, that's fucking amazing. That was attractive to me. And that goes back to food and cooking throughout history. It's blue collar in its definition, so having someone you know grow it, is incredibly humbling and really gets back to roots. When I did my dinners in nyc, they were so floored that I brought food from 50 feet from where restaurant is going lol. When I moved back here I felt like people were doing really cool shit in general. Actually doing it, not just talking about it. It's true. I still feel like we're a bunch of friends comparing cracked out ideas but we [aren't trying to be NYC or Chicago or Portland, we're just being Detroit, and people are paying attention.]"
What’s your favorite food?
We're literally comparing apples to oranges here. I love Japanese food for its focus on minimal preparation and maintaining the integrity of the ingredients. I love Thai, Indian and North African cuisines for the complexity and depth and use of spices and preservation/fermentation to intensify flavors. As far as favorite food it definitely comes back to cooking with fire; fish, seafood, meat, vegetable, fungus, cheese, if it touches smoke or flame in the process I will likely enjoy it.
Is “in house” a sign that craft is coming back to the cooking profession?
I think it's a sign of a larger awareness in cultured society in general. People are recognizing the lack of sustainability in our food and agricultural systems which largely stems from our having been distanced from our food sources. I think as a chef if you aren't making conscious effort to influence and educate your patrons you aren't fulfilling your duties. Part of that is teaching them what real food tastes like. So many times I've given someone something as simple as a fermented pickle or sauerkraut and they are blown away. They've been raised on chemically altered, pre-packaged and fast food. They need to eat a foraged wild strawberry and learn to appreciate the subtle complexity of a properly aged salami rather than the citric acid tang of $5 per pizza pepperoni. A properly raised piece of beef needs nothing more than salt & pepper yet a Big Mac has 72 ingredients! If people want to be healthier they need to get back in their kitchens. We as chefs should be showing them that delicious food is attainable. Besides, if you aren't making food from scratch are you really a chef or are you just the middleman in a sales transaction?
Who influences you?
Obviously the people I work with daily and collaborate with in the industry around Detroit, but the extended online communities I participate in are hugely influential. Handcrafted Larder is an umbrella group focused on "inconvenient foods", our version of 'slow' food. Food done from scratch. No cryo-vaced sub-primal cuts of commodity meat, no #10 cans of ketchup, jars of BBQ sauce, or gallons of heavy duty mayo. The sub-groups of Handcrafted Larder, started by John Patterson, include The Salt Cured Pig, which has reached almost 11,000 members and focuses on charcuterie, Salt Cured Pickle which is pickling, preserving and fermentation, Butchers Cut is serious whole animal butchery, Milk+ is all dairy, cheese, yogurt, kefir, and Mashes Musts and Spirits which focuses on alcohol distillation, wine making, brewing, Mead, fruit, etcetera. What differentiates these groups from other Facebook food groups is the level of expertise of the administrators and the focused moderation. Many of the admins are leaders in their field and run the gamut from University faculty, nationally recognized authors and chefs, and food bloggers to farmers and homesteaders. Rather than just being a photo archive members are expected to post process, recipe, ingredients, questions, something that makes it unique and a benefit for the person posting and/or the group. I have learned, taught, built relationships and started collaborations through these groups.
What’s your favorite tool?
My hands. Most useful tool I have next to my brain.
Besides charcuterie and fermentation you’re making cheese, how did you learn all this?
Google. Seriously though the internet has been vital. When I was younger I read the Foxfire books and I've always collected cookbooks but the availability of the entirety of human knowledge at your fingertips makes it possible for someone to learn anything they desire.
Your feelings on trends and labels, modernist, molecular, farm to table?
People will always have a need to put labels on things. My 6 year old daughter put the only label on me I care about, "Real good cooker."
When you’re not cooking, what do you like to do?
Cook more. I get to do all my experimenting at home i.e. cheese, charcuterie, playing around with koji, plus I enjoy foraging, camping and fishing, skateboarding, bicycling, flying kites and generally doing stuff with my girls.
Who are your food heroes?
The people out there doing it every day. The people breeding heritage pigs and pasturing animals and raising beautiful vegetables and making real cheese. The cooks who are talking to farmers and ranchers about how to make this all work. The people who are advocating sustainable seafood and farming practices.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Celebrating the 5th anniversary of this interview. I'm working towards a fermentation/pickling operation that would sell at retail and as a larder to restaurants as well as a live fire cooking concept restaurant.
Can I be Anthony Bourdain?
Fire or circulator?
Food is art and craft. There shouldn't be rules to creativity. As for myself though, I am a fire guy. Cooking over burning wood is a passion of mine. My concept for my own place is based entirely around live fire cooking.
Can you share a recipe, ketchup?
I've already promised the ketchup recipe/article to someone.
Honestly, not at the moment. I don’t have any of my notebooks with me.
@micraftbeerculture To check out his instagram and his email firstname.lastname@example.org