The first hint that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary cooking class were the glasses of fine champagne handed out at Fornelletto by the restaurant’s general manager, Robert McIntosh.

The second clue was the unusual mixture of meatballs and Hurricane Sandy. Stephen Kalt, Fornelletto’s chef and operator, talked of making meatballs while his class members expressed relief that they had finally escaped the stresses of the Oct. 29 storm.

Kalt’s Mad About Meatballs cooking demonstration was part of a food festival at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on Saturday, including special appearances by celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay.

Savor Borgata, as the event is called, is an annual affair, but this year’s edition had special significance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s huge blow to the Atlantic City economy. Borgata executives said all of the Savor events were sold out, suggesting that tourists are returning to Atlantic City and that the struggling casino industry may be headed for a comeback.

“Savor Borgata is so important to us because it shows that people are back to doing what they want to do,” said Tom Ballance, Borgata’s president and chief operating officer. “People are finally starting to think about something other than what went wrong.”

Kalt acknowledged that business at Fornelletto has been slower than usual following the hurricane. He said it remains difficult for many people in storm-ravaged areas to even travel to Atlantic City. But he characterized the crowded Savor Borgata events as a “new beginning” for Atlantic City.

“I think that we’re all hopeful that people will get their lives back together and they will start to come back here,” Kalt said.

Eager for some diversions from hurricane-related woes, Borgata customers who participated in Kalt’s cooking class said they simply wanted to start having fun again.

Karen Olsen, of Northvale, Bergen County, explained that her home was without power for an entire week.

“I wanted to get away from having no electricity,” she said.

Maryann Truhan, of Toms River, Ocean County, debated whether to enjoy the weekend at Borgata while people are still trying to recover from the storm.

“I wasn’t going to do it because I felt bad about other people, but I just had to get out of the house,” Truhan said.

Both Olsen and Truhan didn’t seem to have any regrets after tasting Kalt’s meatballs. Kalt cooked up some Neopolitan-style veal and pork meatballs that were flavored with butter, lemon, capers and other seasonings.

“They’re excellent,” Truhan said. “I want to take him home and have him cook for me.”

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258