How do you make friends and influence people to come to the shore in the dead of winter? Well if you're Executive Chef Paul Drew, you might consider inviting a few dozen people to dinner and hope your winning personality draws them back, along with a few of their friends.
That's pretty much the idea behind Phillip's Seafood's "Cook, Crack & Eat" ser-ies of culinary classes, led by Drew. The first, Phillip's Favorites, has Drew sharing the techniques behind some of the restaurant's best sellers, in-cluding stuffed flounder and shrimp, honey scallops and Chilean sea bass with ratatouille, accompanied by "a lot of wine."
"These classes are all about having fun. I'm not a stuffy guy," says the British expatriate. "A lot of cooking classes, the chef is all stiff; I want it to be more relaxed. I get a (George) Foreman grill and a little propane burner out here (in the restaurant dining room in The Pier at Caesars) and show the guests it's not about the equipment you have, it's about the passion you have."
And Drew's passion goes beyond just seafood. His next tutorial, "Prime Cuts," will show techniques for cutting and preparing prime cuts of meat, plus how to choose the cut without "getting ripped off." "You can go to the local butcher and ask for a 109 rib and cut it down to make ribeye and barbecue steaks a lot cheaper. I show them how you can get a lot of meals from one cut of meat," he says.
"With the 'Clam Bake,' I'll go to the Asian market and buy a double boiler for $12, just to show you don't have to go and spend $60 at a name-brand store."
Drew says the idea for the series came about a couple years ago as a way to draw more guests in the slow months. Keeping the gatherings small - a couple dozen of participants at most - allows for a more hands-on approach (guests may help mix crab meat for cakes while Drew discusses the merits and best uses for claw, jumbo lump or colossal crab meat) and encourages interaction both with Drew and amongst guests.
For example, he's seen two or three people from New York befriend a couple from Philadelphia and keep in touch between events, so they can meet up at the next one. A woman with a gluten allergy whom he met during one of the classes always takes care to email Drew whenever she is coming to town for dinner with her husband so he can prepare her a special meal - and they always bring two or three new guests along with them.
"Food Network was the best thing to ever happen to us because everyone loves to see a chef now," he says. "You create that relationship with 24 people and they come back and say 'Can I see Paul?' and they bring their friends. And that just makes me feel so good."
To make sure the guests also feel good, general manager David Schipper chooses a variety of red and white wines to match the dishes being served and sampled. And even though Phillips sells its famous seafood seasoning at $2.99 for a 6-ounce can, that's not all that's stuffed into the gift bags guests take home, "otherwise our regulars would have more seafood seasoning at home than I have in the restaurant," Drew says.
So obviously, the next best thing is goodies, such as more wine to take home.
Contact Felicia Compian:
'Cook, Crack & Eat'
Held 11:30 a.m. Saturdays at Phillip's Seafood in The Pier Shops at Caesars, One Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic City. Upcoming classes: "Phillips Favorites," March 16; "Prime Cuts," April 20; "Clam Bake," May 18. Cost is $75 each or $195 for all three classes. Register by calling 609-348-2273 or see phillipsseafood.com