Jerry Edwards is a natural born Foodie (He tackled his first Beef Wellington at age 13!) and an innovative entrepreneur. His acclaimed Chef's Expressions catering firm,celebrating its 25th anniversary and currently grossing in the millions each year, began in 1982 as a humble sandwich shop in the basement of a Towson office building. Jerry sums up his success with one simple phrase: "You've got to stay just ahead of the pack."
Back in 1982 his sandwich shop seemed to have garnered all the loyal customers its off-the-beaten track location was ever going to capture. "I realized that I wasn't going to make the living I wanted from the 80 people in that office building. I wanted to be a chef. I'd worked in other restaurants and I wanted to get involved... move into more elegant and interesting cuisine somehow. But of course I had to find a way to finance that move."
Jerry decided to begin offering free lunchtime deliveries. "Nobody was doing that then. I don't think Domino Pizza was even around!" Jerry recalls. It worked. The day after he promoted his lunch deliveries around Towson his business doubled! Within a year's time he decided to open a gourmet food store in Timonium.
"We opened "Gourmet by Chef's Express" and we sold gourmet foods and prepared lunches and dinners to go, basically what you see now in the gourmet shops and the 'Gucci Giants', if you will... We were way, way ahead of the times. This was 20 years ago!"
And it was hard work. "Both businesses were going strong. I'd get up at 4 in the morning and go get the case ready for the gourmet shop, run up to Towson and do the lunch there, run back to Timonium... OH! It was rather a nightmare!" he recalls with good humor.
As his business expanded, requests from his customers eventually led Jerry to open a full scale catering kitchen in the back of the shop. "I had people coming and asking me if I could do a party at their home. After a while I began to see that I could either make $2,000 doing a private party or make much less than that sitting here waiting for people to come into the shop!" Within two years he closed down the retail entirely to focus exclusively on catering. "We became what we are today -a full service, upscale caterer."
In that capacity, Jerry has been able to fully indulge his creative side. "Our plates of food are like works of art", he explains, "We constantly experiment and innovate. We seek to set the standard, not just for quality but for presentation and food design."
Working so much out in the public eye is also important stimulation for creative ideas. "A great chef has to be ready to change. A great chef must get out of the kitchen, get out the door, see what's being done, visit other countries and keep abreast of fashions in food."
John Walsh joined Chef's Expressions four years ago. John, formally the owner of The Left Bank in York, Pennsylvania, was born and raised in France by an American father and a French mother. He and Jerry work together closely on all of Chef's Expressions menus. "I'll come up with an idea and John will execute it beautifully," says Jerry.
Both men take an approach that is firmly based in European techniques. "Cooking to me is all technique. Our techniques are very European but our flavors are a combination of so many traditions. For instance, we'll use an Italian technique but create the dish using Asian ingredients," John explains.
Jerry agrees, "You must have the technique down. You can combine all kinds of crazy things but if you don't know your technique it's not going to work!"
Last summer Jerry and John spent five fun days visiting with John's family and friends in the Loire valley. "Every Frenchman is a gourmet you know..." Jerry laughs, "and they tend to have a low opinion of American cuisine. We introduced them to some New American food, like a watermelon and pork belly salad... They were startled at first but soon they were eating it up... clamoring for our recipes!"
With several paragraphs worth of accolades, awards and "Best Of's" accumulating year after year, it's obvious that Jerry Edwards moved to the head of the pack some time ago.
He was recognized by Special Events Magazine as a top 20 industry leader to watch in the year 2000; by Catering Magazine as "Wedding Caterer of the Year 2000" and by The Academy of Tourism and Travel as "Caterer of the Year 2000." He was nominated as "Industry Leader of the Year 2004." In 2004, he also won the Washington DC's "Iron Chef" competition. Just last month Chef's Expressions won "Most Beautiful Display" at the annual Chocolate Affair gala held at the M&T Stadium.
Jerry's main kitchen is in Timonium where he employs as many as 80 people depending upon the season. On a chilly Thursday afternoon the place is bustling. There's preparation going on for a bar mitzvah that weekend, two more events coming up Saturday and a cooking class to host that evening. In addition to this kind of a breakneck schedule Jerry hosts his famous monthly six-course Wine Dinners at Gramercy Mansion. "The wine dinners give us a wonderful opportunity to experiment, to introduce an idea that we're excited about and see what people think of it."
His current focus is on beautifully presented small plates, "We'll do an entire buffet of these. It offers people a great way to try a lot of different tastes."Another new project is his recent launch of Centerpiece Wines, a line of blended California wines developed exclusively for the catering trade. "I wanted to design a wine that will maintain top quality, vintage after vintage, at a price point caterers can sell."
Jerry's also in the process of finishing up his first major cookbook focused on regional cuisines around the world.
Ahead of the pack, constantly expanding and innovating... Jerry Edwards will always be a fellow to keep your eye on!
9526 Deereco Road
Timonium, MD 21093