I was stumped about what to get my husband for Christmas this year, so I asked At the Shore editor Scott Cronick whether there were any celebrity chefs in town, hoping to get him tickets. There weren't - but Scott suggested a class at Viking Cooking School at Harrahs.

So I got tickets to Chicago Steakhouse night, which we finally attended Saturday night. It was a terrific, different kind of night out - cooking several courses under the direction of the entertaining and informative Chef Deborah, then sitting down and eating what we had cooked. Scallops wrapped in bacon with apricot sauce. Rib-eye steak. Chopped salad. All good.

But what surprised me was this: Most, if not all, of the 16 people in the class were locals. The class is divided into pods of four, and we cooked with an Egg Harbor Township couple who lived a few blocks from us. There was another couple from Brigantine, someone else from Egg Harbor Township and the farthest people, I think, came from Pittsgrove.

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A few came in, drink in hand, having already been to the tables or bars. Several went off to gamble after the dinner was over.

I don't know how much casinos market to the local area. Usually, I hear that the resort needs noncasino attractions that will draw more tourists spending a few nights.

But the surrounding southern New Jersey area is also full of people who may not be motivated to come to A.C. to gamble, but would try their luck if they are in a casino to do something else that night. They may or may not spend the night, but I guarantee they'll spend some money.

The cooking school is just one of those kinds of attractions that turns locals into tourists.

Thanks for the tip, Scott.


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