In the restaurant business there's pressure, and then there's "fun pressure," which is sometimes even more pressure-filled than its unfun companion.
Fun pressure is what the staff at Eastwind Chinese Restaurant at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City will be feeling Thursday as they participate in this year's Atlantic Cape Community College Restaurant Gala.
The gala is being held at Bally's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino and features 40 of South Jersey's top restaurants, each serving entrees designed to wow the tuxedo- and gown-wearing guests and guarantee their offering is the most memorable of the evening.
But if - like Eastwind - you are one of three restaurants making its debut at the gala, well then the expectations and the interest get dialed up a few extra notches.
That is fun pressure, or at least fun pressure as defined by Edward Batten, the executive director of food and beverage at Resorts.
"This is the kind of thing chefs love to do, they live for this," Batten said. "They will be in front of hundreds of diners. They will get the instant gratification of seeing people react. It is the kind of pressure that makes you certainly want to offer - and execute - a great offering."
This is the 31st year for the gala, which raises money for scholarship's at ACCC's Academy of Culinary Arts. The event is the highlight of the culinary year for many attendees, and many of the participating restaurants return year after year.
In addition to Eastwind, new restaurants at this year's event include Arturo's Ristorante at Bally's Atlantic City and Princeton Bar & Grill in Avalon.
Sending Eastwind to the gala is a way to raise the restaurant's profile and get diners interested in checking out the eatery's "fantastic Asian offerings," Batten said.
In past galas, Resorts was usually represented by Capriccio, the casino's gourmet Italian restaurant.
But with Capriccio recently pulling down some high-profile awards and participating in Atlantic City Restaurant Week, it seemed a good idea to turn the spotlight on another venue.
"We thought we wanted to do something different. A lot of people in town have noodle bars, but we think ours stands up to the best in the city - so we wanted to highlight that," Batten said.
The restaurant's menu offers meals inspired by Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. At the gala, the chefs will be serving Singapore Noodles and General Lobster - a seafood dish inspired by the popular General Tso's Chicken.
"It's straightforward, but different enough to be really good. It's not on our regular menu, but we run it as a special often," Batten said. "We chose (the noodles and lobster) because it is a blend of good flavors - the crispiness from the lobster and the spiciness from the noodles,"
Arturo's is participating in the restaurant gala just as the Italian eatery has been racking up honors at places such as Open Table and Trip Advisor.
While The Reserve Steakhouse has represented Bally's in recent years, it seemed like a good time to promote Arturo's, said Joseph Giunta, vice president of nongaming operations for Caesars Entertainment, which runs the casino.
"Arturo's is a Bally's icon. We are really proud of that and we want to share it," Giunta said. "At the gala, we get to reach many folks who we don't get to touch on a normal basis. We know we have a great product, we want to get that out there."
The gala attracts diners from throughout southern New Jersey. Arturo's is so popular with Bally's guests, that nonplayers sometimes have a tough time booking tables at the restaurant. Others from the area never think of casino restaurants when making dining decisions.
Participating in the gala can make the restaurant a place local foodies will make a point to check out later, Giunta said.
For the gala, Arturo's is serving a Dayboat Scallop Crudo - chilled dayboat sea scallops served with blood orange vinaigrette, Sicilian sea salt and microfennel.
"I think there is always pressure to delight the guest. We want to make sure we dazzle," Giunta said.
Chef Jeff Staino will be cooking Thursday night for the Princeton. While it's the restaurant's first time participating in the gala, Staino has been to the event many times before when he worked for other restaurants.
He's looking forward to helping the Princeton, which will be serving Asian Beef Tacos, make its debut.
"I enjoy it. I look forward to it. It's one of my favorite days of the year," said Staino. "It helps out the students, so it's a good cause. It's fun to make stuff and get out of your element."
While Staino is working at a new venue, he's hoping to see a bunch of familiar faces at the gala.
"In the past I've seen a lot of the same faces. I'm hoping they recognize me and stop by," he said.
While the gala is popular with local diners, it's also very important to students at the Academy of Culinary Arts.
Event organizers are aiming to raise at least $150,000, with all of that money being distributed in $500 scholarships to culinary students.
If additional funds are raised, the money will be put toward an endowment for future scholarships, said Sean Fischer, executive director of the Atlantic Cape Community College Foundation. The gala has raised more than $3 million for scholarships since 1984.
Most second-year and beyond students get financial assistance because of the gala to help with the $7,765 annual cost of attending the academy.
"The No. 1 barrier to student success is not having adequate financial resources - so this helps," Fischer said, "As a student, having someone invest in your success is meaningful."
Students participate in the gala by preparing and serving hors d'oeuvres. Chef Tree McCann, of the Academy, is working with Chef Deborah Pellegrino, of Caesars Entertainment, to prepare the dessert reception.
Performance ice sculptor Peter Slavin, an Academy of Culinary Arts graduate and owner of Fear No Ice Philly, will demonstrate his skills during the cocktail reception.
Other entertainment includes music by Don't Call Me Francis, The FM Band and Lenny Mitchell.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
If you go
Atlantic City Restaurant Gala held 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Bally's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino. Tickets are $225. For more information, contact Torrina Bennett-Michael at 609-463-4672, email@example.com or visit atlantic.edu/gala