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Chef caters to varying tastes, budgets

December 01, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Francis Verdier thinks there's a time and a place for fried chicken, but not necessarily at the special occasions for which he'll be cooking. As chef for Applause Catering at the Academy Theater & Banquet Center in Hagerstown, he's hoping to encourage clients to spread their wings when planning menus for meetings, weddings and special events.

"To celebrate something like a wedding, you need to have good food. You have to be proud of what you're serving. If it's a wedding, I want to give the bride a hug and see if she enjoyed what we served," Verdier said.

Academy Theater is in the old Tusing Warehouse at 58 E. Washington St. in downtown Hagerstown. It has a first-floor theater with sloped seating. The top floor is now home to a full kitchen and a banquet room that seats up to 150.

The building is the new home of the Potomac Playmakers.

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Verdier, 54, has been cooking since age 14, when he began a three-year apprenticeship in France. He got a diploma from the Cooking School of Paris in 1973, and spent several years working in four-star restaurants throughout France.

"An apprenticeship during that time in Europe was very intense. When you were done, you were just as good as chefs here. It was very tough conditions," Verdier said.

He moved to Houston in 1976. A job offer from a Washington, D.C., restaurant brought Verdier to this area.

His passion for food -- especially the notion that well-prepared, quality food doesn't have to be expensive -- will be showcased in his latest venture as chef at the theater and banquet center.

Verdier, known as "Chef," is a familiar name in Washington County. He worked as executive chef at Nick's Airport Inn from 1981 to 2004, and said he remains good friends with Nick and Paul Giannaris.

"Being a country boy, I wanted to leave the city," Verdier said of his job change from Washington, D.C., to Nick's.

After a stint at A Cut Above Catering in Frederick, Md., from 2004 to 2008, he is back in a Hagerstown kitchen, hoping to bring quality food at affordable prices to on-site and off-site events in the Tri-State area.

Verdier said Applause Catering owner Mike Guessford contacted him just as he was looking to make a change.

"We're a perfect match," said Verdier.

His experience in four-star restaurants means he'll also be able to cater to clients with varying tastes and budgets, from simpler menus to elegant, high-end menus.

Verdier said while he worked for A Cut Above, business doubled. He's hoping Applause Catering will be the first thing that comes to mind when residents of the Tri-State area decide to throw a family reception, business party or special event.

"The main thing is I want the people to know we're not here to be expensive. We can do elegant and expensive, but we can do good food that's good quality and not too expensive," Verdier said.

Verdier began work Oct. 1. The kitchen was operational at the beginning of November after passing its final inspection.

He lives in Hagerstown with his wife of 26 years. The couple has four grown children.

"I love cooking. If you don't really love it, you aren't going to stay," Verdier said.

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