A week and a half ago, I found out that my friend, Jason Osburn, passed away suddenly. While the unexpected death of any person is unsettling, Jason’s passing left me speechless and lost in thought about how fortunate I have been to have him be a part of my life.
I met Jason in 2015 at a workshop called the Charcuterie Jam. It was a great event at which Jason and I learned the differences in seam butchery between the French style (taught by Kate Hill and Dominique Chapolard) and the Spanish style (taught by Jeffrey Weiss). As I looked through my collection of photos from the event, I found several with Jason in the background, focusing on the particular technique being demonstrated.
The next time I recall doing something with Jason was an epic road trip including Jason, John Patterson and me driving to Flushing, New York, for the 2016 Charcuterie Masters competition. I learned how much of a novice I am regarding my knowledge of creating food and how simple my experiences are based on conversations I had with Jason or that I witnessed him having with some of the chefs we met there.
One of the highlights of that trip for me was walking through a grocery store with Jason there in Flushing. If you don’t know, Flushing, New York, has an enormous Asian population, and the grocery store we walked through was not your typical Safeway or Kroger. From the variety of seafood (including exotic crabs, geoduck clams and fresh frogs) to the plethora of produce I had only ever heard of (durian and dragonfruit), Jason described the flavors and textures before explaining how he would use them in a dish if they were available back home. It was like a culinary class on how to develop a menu.
Another highlight of that trip was listening to conversations Jason had with several of the chefs we met. He and Michael Pardus talked for a couple of hours about how fish sauce is fermented. He and Matt Fisher chatted about the pickles and collard greens that Matt served as sides to his BBQ and then spent the rest of the time we ate discussing the process Matt followed to make his Char Siu Pork. Jason and Michael Ruhlman conversed about charcuterie and bread making.
The ultimate exchange was between Jason and Will Horowitz. We stopped at Harry & Ida’s to meet Will and I overheard them riffing back and forth about the wonders of lactobacillus in pickling vegetables and making sourdough bread. Will took us to his fermentation room in the basement and showed us where he transformed the raw vegetables to the delectable additions to everything on the menu. He followed this up by inviting us into the kitchen to see the preparation of a shipment of eels that had just arrived. After watching one of Will’s kitchen staff prep a couple of the eels, Will asked if one of us would be interested in trying it. Without hesitation, Jason stepped right up, grabbed a live eel and went to work.
Over the years since the trip to Flushing, I kept in touch with Jason. I went to several of the pop-up dinners he did at the Canton Brew Works. I found my new favorite sandwich on his menu at Rappourt. I joined his team to compete in a BBQ competition. I even made it to his house for a holiday party.
In the time I have known Jason, there are a few things that I learned about him. His greatest love was for his family. You could see the parental pride he had for his daughters and the bond he shared with his parents.
Secondly, he loved to learn. As a fellow lover of knowledge, I appreciated that. What I can appreciate even more though is that Jason’s love of learning was always for the sake of applying that knowledge in making something or sharing the knowledge with others. While talking with some of Jason’s other friends at the luncheon after the funeral, one noted that Jason loved the talk to text feature on his mobile phone. The rest of us chuckled as she said that whenever you were with Jason he would pull out that phone and talk into it. Whether it was making a note about an order for a new menu item or reminding himself to tell someone something that he had figured out since they last spoke, you knew he was sharing his knowledge. It was difficult to feel like he was ignoring you when he did it too, because you knew that he did the same thing to someone else when he messaged you that he figured out the question you had posed to him.
Jason’s passing has hit me harder than those of others in my life. I think a lot of that comes from having seen him make his way through some very difficult times and be living his dream, happy in his family life, enjoying the partnership of someone he loved and making memories for friends and strangers alike with the food he created. Having seen the others at the funeral and luncheon, I know I am not alone.
I am glad to have known Jason, as he challenged me to think in different ways about the World and my place in it. He taught me about food and life. Through his friendship I have met and befriended others. Ultimately, like the song that was played at the funeral, I am proud to be included in his “Company of Friends.”
Rest In Peace