There are plenty of options for dining out in Atlantic City. But there is only one place where dinner is an interactive experience that includes learning how to make a meal, then enjoying your creations: the Viking Cooking School.
Since opening in May, the nationally-renowned cooking school, located at Harrah's Resort, has attracted everyone from the clueless gourmet to couples looking for a different kind of night out to bachelor and bachelorette parties.
By the end of the culinary journey - there are 90-minute and three-hour classes available - guests leave with a head full of knowledge and a belly full of great food.
"It's about having a great, fun experience," says Harrah's Executive Sous Chef Jack Whelan. "But it's also about being able to go home and trying to replicate the meal you made at the school. When people come to Viking and they sit down to eat their creations, they say, 'Oh, man. I never thought I could do this. I have to try this at home.' That's the whole idea."
Viking Cooking School starts by going online or calling the school to see which classes are being offered. Shawn Fair, assistant restaurant chef and lead instructor, says Viking has about 200 classes programmed, with Harrah's offering about 175 of those, ranging from sushi, steakhouse and pizza workshops to Italian dinner and tailgating parties.
"My goal is to pass on that passion for food that I have," Fair says. "When they give me that, 'Ahhh …' when I show them something, that is an awesome feeling."
Consideration also has to be paid to the length of the class. Less expensive, 90-minute "best of" classes are almost what you would see on the Food Network, because all of the ingredients are pre-cut and prepared, and guests basically combine and cook ingredients into a small meal.
The more pricey, three-hour course is more extensive. Guests are given raw vegetables and proteins they manipulate to create three- to five-course meals.
Each class can accommodate a maximum of 16 people grouped in pods of four. If you sign up with friends, you will be grouped together if that's what you desire. Each pod works together, beginning on prep by cutting, dicing and slicing vegetables and seasonings, then graduating to the four stainless steel ranges and ovens, where dishes are completed.
Of course, there is plenty of fun to be had along the way, including the staff treating the class to complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres before the class begins.
The instructors also pour complimentary wine during the meal, as well.
"Every class begins with the basics: sanitation; learning about knives and how to hold them when cutting; performing basic slices and dices," Whelan says.
"Then you finish the prep and go to the stove to cook, saut�, roast, braise or whatever you need to do. Then, you go back to the table to start the next course. The timing is like an art. It's very structured, but very fun."
The jackpot of the night is when guests sit down to enjoy what they created, which should be fantastic if they followed instructions carefully. Upon exit, there is a fully stocked Viking Cooking School store that includes everything you just used in the kitchen - from pots and pans to garlic presses to zesters to the wine that was served at the meal - for those who hope to continue their cooking journey at home.
Guests leave with a handout of all of the recipes created in the class, a Viking apron and, most importantly, confidence.
Since beginning last Memorial Day, the Viking Cooking School gradually built an audience of devoted chefs and customers.
"In the beginning, people were very intimidated by the whole thing," Whelan says.
"But as time went on and people were looking in the windows and pressing their noses on the glass and seeing other people cook and have fun, they wanted to try it. They realized how great an experience it is. Now, people are returning and having private events in there. It has become a really great thing that people look forward to."
Friday, Jan. 21: Date Night in Paris, 6 to 9 p.m., $119
Saturday, Jan. 22: Tailgating Party, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., $89
Saturday, Jan. 22: Chicago Steakhouse, 6 to 9 p.m., $119
Sunday, Jan. 23: Italian Seafood Dinner, 6 to 9 p.m., $119
Monday, Jan. 24: Best Of Class: Thai, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., $65
Monday, Jan. 24: Girls Night Out: In Rome, 6 to 9 p.m., $109
Tuesday, Jan. 25: Fish Cookery 3, 6 to 9 p.m., $109
Wednesday, Jan. 26: French Bistro, 6 to 9 p.m., $99
Jan. 27: Cupcake Vineyard Wine Pairing with Mr. Cupcake of "Cupcake Wars," 6 to 8 p.m., $39
Jan. 28: Date Night: Romantic Dinner, 6 to 9 p.m., $119
Jan. 29: Champagne Brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., $99
Jan. 29: New York Steakhouse, 6 to 9 p.m., $99
Jan. 30: Tuscan Dinner Party, 6 to 9 p.m., $109
Jan. 31: Best Of Class: Tuscany, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., $65
Jan. 31: Girls Night Out: The Original, 6 to 9 p.m., $109