Elaine Seagrave, of Gibbstown, Gloucester County, is a restaurant chef for Harrah's Atlantic City. Seagrave is the chef in the Seven Stars Lounge where the menu is upscale bar food for the high rollers club.
Seagrave has all the duties of a casino chef and is the only female head chef in the building. She also has a little more on her plate.
For the past 2 1/2 years, Seagrave also has been the executive chef for the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's.
"It's a really fun, interesting place, because we have a different menu every day," says Seagrave.
Ethnic cuisines such as Thai, Japanese, Italian and French, or special themes cover the calendar. Winter Dinner Party, Parisian Dinner Party, Pizza Workshop, Italian Alfresco Dinner Party and Date Nights: Romantic Dinner or Love at First Bite, are all coming up this month.
Two or three classes run every day, especially on the weekends. Tuesdays are usually closed but sometimes a class will run on that day, too.
Class size is a maximum of 16 people and usually sell out.
"We do get a lot of hotel guests, but a lot come just for the evening or the afternoon, and they want to take a class to have the dinner and the experience," says Seagrave. "It's a really good mix of people."
That means people come down from Philadelphia, New York, central and north Jersey, and up from Maryland.
The completely hands-on classes generally run three hours long, where the guests prep and cook for two hours then sit down and eat for one hour.
The chefs don't cook any of the food, but instruct the students on what to do and how to do it. That way they get the full experience from start to finish.
The chefs give them the ingredients on a tray, then the students do all chopping, preparation and cooking.
Working in teams of four, they prepare the entire menu, usually four courses, sometimes more.
Classes may begin with an appetizer and a cocktail that the chefs prepare.
The menu then continues with a soup or salad, an entree and some extra side dishes.
Dessert is served with every meal, made in class or made by the chefs.
Students finish by sitting down to the table with the entire group, eating the food their team prepared.
"It's a really fun atmosphere, not a strict school; you can come in and learn something and really have a great experience and a great time," says Seagrave.
The chefs create a relaxed atmosphere where both the staff and the customers can have fun.
So much fun, in fact, that students usually arrive 20 minutes early, watching the chefs prepare the kitchen through the big glass windows in the hall.
Seagrave says they also get to work with the Food Network, private events and celebrity chef demos by Tyler Florence, Buddy "Cake Boss" Valastro, and local favorite Robert Irvine to name a few.
Celebrity classes are usually not hands-on classes.
Students get a copy of all recipes to take home, a discount in Viking's retail department and discounts on future classes.
The retail store offers everything from kitchen equipment such as knives and cheese boards to gourmet salts, oils, and even wine.
Seagrave loves the idea of being a teacher and a chef.
"I get to share a really wide range of knowledge that I have about food and I get to meet new people every day," says Seagrave. "You gotta have the knowledge and the personality because you are putting on a little show."
Seagrave's recipe for Hazelnut Brown Butter Scallops is one she made for the Atlantic City Seafood Festival, based on a recipe from her time as executive chef at the Old Swedes Inn. With the ability to write their own classes, this recipe will hopefully be in one of the new spring classes such s "Date night surf and turf menu."
Viking Cooking School
777 Harrah's Blvd., Atlantic City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays
For class schedules, see VikingRange.com