Larry Osman graduated from Rutgers with a degree in computer science. Soon after college he took a job with Nabisco, where he worked for over 30 years.
Now he makes Schlumpia.
In March of 2016, Osman officially launched Uncle Larry’s Schlumpia, his Jewish-inspired take on lumpia, or Filipino spring rolls.
Osman says Schlumpia isn’t a way of introducing Jewish food to Filipinos, or Filipino food to Jewish people. It’s about going after everyone who wants to have fun and try something unique. It’s about taking the classic New York deli foods and traditional holiday dishes and finding how to showcase them in a new way.
JERSEY BITES: When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “aha!” moment?
LARRY OSMAN: I went to the beach one day with my wife and some friends. On the way back we went to Efes [in New Brunswick] and had great shawarma. Then my wife asked to go to Thomas Sweet. Sure. We were married 20-something years at the time, so I was probably six feet in front of her crossing the street—we weren’t newlyweds holding hands. Next thing I know they’re carrying me into an ambulance. Someone turned and I got hit by a car. I had a brain bleed, orbital fractures and all this stuff. That’s when it hit me that life is short. I love computers and Nabisco, but I want to do something different. As soon as I hit the age of early retirement, I asked them that the next time they do a company reorganization, could they pick me. They did, and I got a retirement package. The good aha moment would’ve been if I had seen the car coming. But I realized I had some longevity in my family. My dad is going to be 93. At anytime something could happen, and I want to do something different. I had to wait about two years for it all to play out. I was thinking about what I was going to do. I couldn’t sit around all day and watch TV. I just had a passion for food, and that’s when I said, “I always make lumpia, and I make them with Jewish fillings. So instead of lumpia, Schlumpia.” That’s how it all came together. My wife was extremely understanding. Within a week of me telling her I wanted to leave, she got a full-time job. I said, “Honey are you doing this because you don’t trust my retirement Excel spreadsheet or you don’t want to be in the house with me?” She just kind of nodded, but it’s working.
Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
One of my first days at Rutgers I went into the Hill Center for calculus class. It was a lecture of 300 people. I sat next to some guy who had a tennis racket necklace. His name is Neato, and we became really good friends. We actually cut out of class and played tennis a couple times. He lived locally, in Somerset, and I would go to his house a lot whenever they had parties. I was introduced to Filipino culture and cuisine, and the food was just great. They had lumpia, and they were great. His mom gave me the recipe. Years later when I got married and had a family–I do all the cooking–that was one of our go-to foods. The kids loved them. I would start to fill them with cheeseburgers or mac and cheese—whatever the kids wanted. I guess it was some holiday and my relatives were coming over, and we needed an appetizer. The kids asked for lumpia. You can’t really fill them with pork and vegetables for Rosh Hashanah, so I filled some with potatoes and onions, like a knish, and kasha. It was a big hit. I would make them over the years, so when I was contemplating early retirement and trying to get mentally ready for it, I knew I had always wanted to do music or cooking or comedy. I [decided I was] going to do cooking. It was such a fun experience starting from nothing and getting all my training and certifications and developing recipes. It was just so good doing something totally different than what I had been doing.
What is your cooking style?
It’s not just good food: I try to make it really fun. It’s about having fun with the whole experience. I came from corporate America where everything was a bit more rigid and you couldn’t really go outside of the norms. So my title here is CFO, but it’s Chief Frying Officer. It’s really a fun thing, and there really isn’t any Jewish-Filipino fusion food, so why not?
What is the best advice you have to share with young people interested in becoming chefs?
I have a real appreciation now for how hard a food business is [to run]. It’s not just the work. It’s getting sales, understanding where to source your ingredients, how do you make a profit, how much do you have to sell to make a living? It’s extremely hard, and that’s why so many restaurants fail. People have these wild dreams, and it’s a hard thing to do. My real advice–most chefs would just say work hard and keeping going–is get a job in a field that you can make a good living in, do it for 30 years, and then enjoy this as the next step. That’s what I tell my kids. This is fun and I’m going after my dreams, but you do need to raise a family. That’s very tough.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
What I’m really looking to do next is a pop-up restaurant. I’d love to take over a restaurant for an evening, especially one that has a good bar, because beer goes with Schlumpia. I want to have a Schlumpia tasting event.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at?
White Castle is probably the number one. I also took a lot trips out to Chicago and the rest of the country to realize how great New Jersey pizza and bagels are. And the family really loves Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick.
What is your beverage of choice?
What I like to do is to stress the fusion aspect. If I’m eating Schlumpia, I’d say a Filipino San Miguel beer or something from Shmaltz Brewing Company, or even Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry or Cel-Ray tonic.
What is your favorite comfort food?
My favorite comfort food might be potato latkes. Just a pile of them and sour cream. Not applesauce.
What doesn’t work in a Schlumpia?
I tried a falafel Schlumpia, which just didn’t do it. I tried a potato latke Schlumpia. It was just way too fried. Then I tried it with the raw batter inside, and it didn’t work. Mostly anything that you can eat in a deli, as long as it’s not too moist, is perfect for a Schlumpia
What is the one staple food you always have in your cupboard at home?
When it’s in season, it would be Mallomars. When it’s not in season, we try to keep some in the the freezer. That’s the whole reason I got the job at Nabisco. My dad said that even if the job was no good, they make Mallomars so I had to say yes. I ended up loving my whole career there.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
I think they would be Larry David, Mel Brooks, and Anthony Bourdain. I don’t know if they’d all get along. I don’t know if it would get so annoying that I would leave, but it would be fun. I’d also invite Richard Lewis, but I guess he doesn’t get a chair.