Guy Dunagan was shocked the first time his culinary students visited an inner city school to talk about fresh fruits and vegetables - only to learn that some of the children had never even seen basic, healthy staples such as broccoli or cauliflower.
"The first few times we did it … we were taken back by these kids saying they never ate these things before," says Dunagan, a chef instructor for the Atlantic County Institute of Technology's culinary arts program and a retired pastry chef for Trump casinos. "So, we bring these fresh fruits and vegetables in, we bring kiwis in, we bring watermelons in. Let them see this stuff, let them try it."
The Chef & Child healthy eating initiative, sponsored by the Professional Chefs Association of Southern New Jersey, is possible thanks in large part to the association's biggest fundraiser, Chefs at the Shore. The 10th annual fundraiser will take place 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at the Atlantic City Aquarium in Historic Gardner's Basin.
Part of Professional Chefs Week, the fundraiser attracts well-known local chefs from casino and regional restaurants, and features signature dishes from area restaurants, cooking demonstrations, live music and an open bar of premium beers and wines.
Proceeds from Chefs at the Shore are also used to fund scholarships for culinary students and for educational programming at the Atlantic City Aquarium.
"This year is going to be the best one yet," says David Goldstein, president of the Chef's Association. "We have more than 30 restaurants and bakers this year. This year, we're going to have some fantastic chefs doing demos, including chef Will Meyers doing a demo on molecular gastronomy."
Chefs at the Shore was born a decade ago, Goldstein says, back when his association held a few, small events to mark Professional Chef's Week. A colleague, he says, mentioned the idea of partnering with Atlantic City Aquarium to help raise money for both organizations.
The event is sponsored jointly by the Professional Chefs Association of South Jersey and the Atlantic City Historical Waterfront Foundation, which operates Historic Gardner's Basin and the Atlantic City Aquarium.
Proceeds also fund the aquarium's live diver feeding show and education program, Sister Jean's Kitchen and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch.
Demetrios Haronis, director of culinary operations at Tropicana Casino Resort and the winner of the 2012 New Jersey State Seafood Challenge (and the Professional Chef's "Chef of the Year" for 2013), will participate as well as Antonino Cannuscio of JoJo's, James Scarpato of Showboat Casino-Hotel, Willie Lewis of Kelsey's, Robert Hettmannsperger of Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Steven Klawitter of Capriccio at Resorts Casino-Hotel, along with many other locally-known chefs.
New restaurants participating this year include Cape May Smoke House, a Southern-style BBQ restaurant in West Cape May, and Ladle of Luv in Ventnor.
"You know what's really great about it? I've got chefs from so many restaurants, it really is chefs at the shore," Goldstein says. "I've got chefs from up and down the Jersey shore. And it's great you're getting to see all these chefs from all these great places."
When Chefs at the Shore first began 10 years ago, Goldstein never envisioned it would grow into what it has become, he says.
"Now we're getting 500 tickets sold and we have all these sponsors," Goldstein says.
"Really, where can you go for $60 and have a glass of wine, taste great food, meet great chefs? And we don't charge the participants to be in it, which is huge."
But the real proof of Chefs at the Shore's success is in the community programs and scholarships that would not exist without it.
"We've given out $5,000 to ACCC to sponsor their culinary team, we gave out scholarships and money for educational programs so our chefs can earn certification points," Goldstein says. "We raise money for the FoodBank, and then the aquarium also benefits."
In addition, there will be 15 of Dunagan's culinary students assisting at Chefs at the Shore, he says, where they will get real experience working a high-end event and interacting with professionals in the business.
That experience, Dunagan says, is better than anything they could learn in a classroom.
"I tell the kids … networking is everything," Dunagan says. "Here, they're getting their feet wet, meeting the chefs, seeing what's going on. The kids get to see the positive sides of the business - you see people enjoying themselves, and everyone has a great time. They're getting the experience; they're getting the exposure.
"My students have gotten jobs from doing this," Dunagan concludes. "They work one-on-one with the chefs. It's a great introduction for my kids for jobs. It's a great event for that. Doing things like this really helps to promote our program."