2011 Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

From Spoon: An Atlantic City casino doesn’t seem like the place you’d run across a Grateful Dead cover band. But after a long, rainy slog down the Garden State Parkway on Friday night, “Wine Unplugged,” sponsored by the Village Voice and starring the Juggling Suns, was a mellow way to ease into the 2011 Food Network Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival. It was a bonus to meet Lauren Shockey, restaurant reviewer and blogger for the Voice, whose memoir, Four Kitchens, has just been published and is hopefully on its way to my office!

The Juggling Suns do The Grateful Dead

This was the third year for the festival, hosted by the Caesar’s group – Caesar’s, Showboat, Bally’s and Harrah’s casino hotels – and the first time we were invited to cover it. We stayed at Harrah’s in the marina district, about a 15 minute drive from the boardwalk, where the other three hotels – and all of the festival action – was. Despite the fact that this meant shuttling back and forth, we’ve stayed at Harrah’s before and are comfortable there. (And we love the amazing pool, though we never got in it on this trip!)

Our first event on Saturday was The Grand Market – a walk-around food/wine/beer sampling affair in Bally’s Grand Ballroom, sponsored by Robert Mondavi. Glasses of sparkling wine in hand – there’s no better way to start the day – we wandered from booth to booth offering chocolates, olive oils, spiced nuts and lots of wine. There were a couple of familiar faces in the crowd: chef Amanda Nahas, owner of Whip It Out! catering and personal chef services, and our instructor¬† at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah’s earlier this year (for that fun story, click here); and a crew from North Jersey’s South City Group of restaurants. Chef Erik Wicklund, who’s fairly new to the group and who runs the kitchens at Fire & Oak in Montvale and Jersey City and Bistro 55 in Rochelle Park, demonstrated a summery crab and vegetable salad as part of the Mondavi wine pairing seminar.

Chef Amanda Nahas

Chef Erik Wicklund of Fire & Oak, Montvale and Jersey City and Bistro 55, Rochelle Park

Lucky us to be at the right place at the right time when Guy Fieri came strolling into the room, flanked by a sizable entourage and immediately, a hoard of cell phone camera-wielding fans. He signed his “Knuckle Sandwich”-brand knives at the Ergo Chef booth and bantered with the crowd, staying longer than I think anyone expected. His “people” were very gracious to us, allowing Ted good photo access and agreeing to this shot with me. Easy to see why he’s become such a superstar.

In case you don't recognize him, Guy Fieri ...

We were on our own until the late afternoon, when the “Fire and Ice” event was to kick off in a pretty tented courtyard just off the boardwalk. Robert Irvine was the headliner here, and he was every bit as charming – and chiseled – as he appears on his Food Network shows “Dinner: Impossible,” “Restaurant: Impossible,” and “Worst Cooks in America.” He was joined by fellow Food Network stars Roger Mooking – of “Everyday Exotic” and Ben Sargent of “Hook, Line and Dinner,” who manned stations offering grilled food – the “fire” – accompanied by a variety of cocktails, beer, and wine – the “ice.” We found more familiar faces here – our friend Herb Karlitz of Karlitz & Company, who produces the AC Festival and a host of others, and chef Juan Placencia of the awesome Peruvian restaurant Costanera in Montclair! We also met a couple of the chefs from Atlantic City’s newest, and hottest, line-up of eateries: Anthony Amoroso, corporate chef for the new ventures by the restaurant group BR Guest in AC (Dos Caminos, Atlantic Grill and Bill’s Bar & Burger) and Ivy Stark of Dos Caminos.

Chef Robert Irvine at "Fire and Ice"

Chef Roger Mooking hams it up

Ivy Stark (far left) exec chef of Dos Caminos and Anthony Amoroso (second from left) corporate chef for BR Guest in AC

Chef Ben Sargent serves chowder to a happy crowd

Herb Karlitz of Karlitz and company

For dinner, we checked out the brand-new Scarduzio’s at Showboat, which to our surprise was not an Italian restaurant, but a steakhouse. Our meal was delicious, and it was a relief to sit down and eat with a fork and knife after all the finger food and juggling of wine glass, camera and notebook!

We capped off the long day with the Chef Party, which was scheduled from midnight to 2 a.m. at the Foundation Room night club at Showboat – a richly decorated, seemingly endless warren of rooms with the vague feel of an Arabian souk – with bars and a DJ. When by 1 a.m., no chefs had appeared, we called it a night.

Thanks to our hosts at Caesar’s Entertainment and DKC News and congratulations to everyone involved on a successful weekend!

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