ATLANTIC CITY — There’s always pressure for chefs at high-profile events. But even more daunting is preparing meals for all your peers.

“With every big chef here, it’s very special — and it’s very stressful,” said Bobby Hettmannsperger, director of culinary operations for Golden Nugget Atlantic City. “But I’m glad to do it.”

The occasion was the 42nd annual Presidents Charity Scholarship Ball, held by the American Culinary Federation Professional Chefs Association of South Jersey. The finest chefs and food industry representatives in the region gathered at the Golden Nugget on Sunday to support the group’s charity work — and enjoy some great food.

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“The event raises money for educational programs, scholarships and community services,” said South Jersey Chapter President David Goldstein, of Northfield. “We have accomplished a lot of great things the last few years. At the Vineland Memorial Nursing Home, we feed 300 veterans just to say thank you for their service. We award scholarships to students, we’ve done educational programs at schools such as ‘Chef and Child,’ and we’ve helped many chefs get certified.”

The national organization has about 30,000 members, of which about 100 are in the South Jersey chapter. The ball is the group’s biggest chance to shine.

“It’s something we look forward to every year,” said treasurer Wolfgang Geckeler, of Galloway Township. “This is the culmination of everything we do all year.”

Among the delicacies served at rows of tables at the front of the ballroom were Peking duck, Asian-style roasted pig, king crab dumplings, whole roasted golden tilefish and assorted caviar with chef-paired premium vodka.

Serving the golden tilefish was Sam Burgess, 17, of Smithville, Galloway Township, one of the Atlantic County Institute of Technology culinary students on hand.

“This is a gorgeous event,” Burgess said. “I really like the SJCA, and it’s not the first time I’m helping at one of their events. I’m at the veterans’ home for brunches on different weekends. It’s just an honor to be able to work with other people in the industry, and we want people to know what they’re doing.”

Joe LaPorte, of Egg Harbor Township, is food and beverage culinary manager at Revel Casino-Hotel.

“It’s a great thing they do,” LaPorte said. “Helping kids, and not just at culinary schools, like with their cooking demonstrations for kids.”

“The food’s great, it’s a nice crowd — it’s beautiful,” said Joe James, director of catering at the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

There were also people in the food industry, such as Bill Gabriel, of Galloway Township, owner of Paris Produce Co. of Pleasantville, and Susan Cohen, of North Jersey, with AdvancePierre Foods.

“The food is spectacular,” Cohen said. “They just wow you with creativity and talent.”

Also in attendance were state Sen. Jim Whelan and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, both D-Atlantic, and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, attending his first culinary ball as mayor.

“I’m just delighted to be here,” Guardian said. “Certainly the food and displays are extraordinary, and I’m obviously delighted how there’s so many chefs in one community.”

Awards were handed out at the ball, including to Pastry Chef of the Year Terry Wargo, of Tropicana, and Purveyors of the Year Tony Panicelli of Tabasco and Daniele Merighi of US Foods.

As for the Chef of the Year, Goldstein said before the ball began that it would be none other than Hettmannsperger.

Contact Steven Lemongello:


@SteveLemongello on Twitter


More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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