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By MIKE MUNDY
Jerry Clapper is unique in many ways. One way is his choice of occupation: executive chef, a dream he realized from his youth.
In the Clapper household, the story of an adolescent Jerry is told. In this perhaps apocryphal tale, a junior high age Jerry is watching TV with his grandfather. Upon seeing a commercial for a culinary school in Pennsylvania, Jerry is said to have leaped on the couch and proclaimed: "That's what I want to be: a chef!"
All youths of this age likely make such proclamations. Jerry is unique in that he successfully pursued his goal. This pursuit began as an East Canton student who enrolled in the Canton South culinary arts program, taught by Tom Blike.
"I learned so much in Mr. Blike's class. We really became close and he has followed me through my career. In fact, when they had the kitchen makeover done by television show "Restaurant Impossible," Mr. Blike called me and I got to go down and work with chef Robert Irvine for three days. I learned so much because in the world of food preparation there is always something new to learn."
From Canton South, Jerry did not go the traditional route of a culinary arts school. Instead, he elected the hands-on approach and went to work at his family's Krauss Pizza shop. His next stop was Shady Hollow Country Club, where he worked for a number of years.
"I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up to executive chef. I really learned a lot there," remarked Jerry. The next stop was The Quarry. "I began as the sous chef and gradually became their executive chef."
When the Foltz Center decided they wanted to launch their new dining programs, Jerry was high on their list of candidates to be their chef.
Kathy Foltz, a board member of the Greater East Canton Community Development Association, made contact with Jerry. Soon, discussions were in progress.
"When we first started talking, I did not even realize they had a kitchen," Jerry said.
Plans quickly evolved for a pair of endeavors. One is the Friday Night Grill, which has now run three consecutive weeks having started on Oct. 26. The first week saw 20-plus customers and the second saw an explosion to over 70. " We actually had to add staff to handle the needs," said Clapper.
Friday Night Grill has a great concept. For a cost of $6.50, the customer gets a sandwich, fries, cole slaw or apple sauce, beverage, and a cookie. The sandwich list runs from a huge build-your-own burger to Philly Cheese Steak and several other entrees. A chicken fingers selection is also available.
Dinner is served in a comfortable corner of the Foltz Center replete with candle lit tables. Service is prompt and friendly; the fare is excellent. Clapper brings fresh life to his treatment of standard sandwich fare, making the meal a great option for Friday nights in East Canton.
The other endeavor is a Sunday brunch that runs on alternating Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first had over 50 customers off of primarily word-of-mouth advertising. The next is Nov. 18.
The $10 menu offering is extensive. It includes an omelet bar, and yes, your omelets can be made to your personal specifications. A bar has the standard breakfast fare of bacon, sausage, potatoes and a selection of pancakes, waffles or French toast. The hot buffet will also have three dinner entrees, a vegetable of the day, a potato of the day and a carving station, which could have ham, roast beef or another type of meat. A salad bar, fresh seasonal fruits, assorted breakfast bread and a dessert table round out this meal that is sure to please and fill up any Sunday diner.
"Our customers seemed very pleased with our initial offering," said Clapper. " We think the brunch has a great future because it gives customers an affordable brunch with a wide variety of offerings."
The kitchen staff at the Foltz will gradually take over most events. They will do the Erik Loy Benefit Dinner on Nov. 17. They will also be doing smaller weddings and other events as the Foltz extends its range of offerings.
"Our hope is that people will gradually see how many events they could host at the Foltz Center, and the center will be able to provide the services to see them well done in an affordable manner," noted Clapper.
It was a 20-year jump from that couch to the Foltz Center for Jerry Clapper. Sandwiched in between was the challenge of spina bifada that he has dealt with from childhood. However, Jerry, a postive, friendly and hard-working young man has made that leap, and the Foltz Center and clientele look to be the beneficiaries of his well-developed expertise. Area residents now have two additional quality dining options.