Well, it’s been an interesting week- I flushed my cell phone down the toilet- yes, seriously), and the recent thunderstorms took out our DSL modem. Now that we are back online, we thought it would be a great time to kickoff a series of posts that feature the excitement of Atlantic City’s upcoming Food and Wine Festival (July 29- August 1st). Food Network is a big sponsor, and will feature events with many of their celebrity personalities like Paula Deen and Guy Fieri. Since Harrah’s is hosting the whole shebang (and have been hosting since they launched the basic idea at their casino hotel back in 2007), we thought it would be interesting to start out by talking to the guy who has the biggest, busiest to-do list for this event: Harrah’s Director of Food Service and Executive Chef, Edward Batten.-Lisa
J&L: What made you want to be a chef?
Chef Edward: I got my first job in a diner when I was 12 ½ years old as a dishwasher, and not long after, by the age of 16 or so, I was a cook and practically running the kitchen. I came to the point in high school when I asked myself, “What am I going to college for?” I went to culinary school, thinking it was something I could always fall back on- but despite later getting a degree, I discovered that I always wanted to come back to it, and that I loved it.
J&L: What are the joys and challenges of being a chef for a large Atlantic City casino?
Chef Edward: I find that it’s the same joys and challenges as a smaller restaurant or hotel. You work long hours-nights, weekends, and holidays- while other people are playing, and you have in your power to bring in and train the best team possible (the better your team, the better YOU will be at your job). On the other hand, the scope is so much broader. For example, let’s say you have 12 restaurants and 11 may be running perfectly on all cylinders- but one may still be having problems. In addition, you have different venues such as banquet services and in-room dining. You can’t be narrow-minded, you need to watch things on a grand scale. I love that you’re always doing so many things, and never the same thing twice, it’s never boring! But, in the end, it always comes down to that you are only as good as the people that you have under you.
J&L: Are you able to use local ingredients at the Harrah’s restaurants?
Chef Edward: We try to use as many local “Jersey Fresh” ingredients as possible , as well as sustainable sources (with the correct carbon footprint), and organic foods, when available. That’s the beauty of being in New Jersey- we love to stay close to local farmers and producers and ask about getting those beautiful Kirby cucumbers, Jersey tomatoes, blueberries, lettuces, peppers, strawberries…The challenge is that for some items, the season is so short (like peas, it’s only 3 weeks), so we like to run specials in our restaurants with the focus on the ingredient.
J&L: Other than Harrah’s restaurants, where do you like to eat in the Atlantic City area?
Chef Edward: There are so many places to go in Atlantic City, and sometimes I like to go to the Borgata or The Chelsea. But I love the “mom and pop” places, like the Clam Bar in Somers Point or the great food at Charlie’s Bar, or 2825 on Atlantic Avenue for great Italian.
J&L: In what capacity are you involved with the Viking Cooking School, and what do you think makes it special?
Chef Edward: Well, Viking Cooking School is extremely unique- there are only 16 in the country, and ours is the only one located in a casino hotel. It’s also the only one is South Jersey. They are well-done, structures classes that have a broad appeal, from entry-level to high-end lessons. For example, you can take a basic knife skills class or enroll in a sushi workshop. We offer everything from fish cookery to Thai food, and they run from 90 minutes to 3 hours; but these are not chef demos. You are making everything, hands-on: chopping your own tomatoes, trussing your own chicken. And at the end, you sit down with some wine with your classmates an teacher and eat what you’ve made. Plus, they’re very intimate classes- no more than 16 people at one time, max.
J&L: In what direction do you see the restaurant scene in Atlantic City heading? Are there any particular trends you see developing?
Chef Edward: Well, there are always food trends and they are always changing, some of which go fast. I think that no matter where you are, you can’t get too caught up in them. But there are some trends that are not going away, such as South American and Latin food. It’s not just street food anymore, and everyone seems interested in cuisine from areas from Mexico to Brazil. Also, the “Superfoods” that are healthy and give lots of energy (blueberries, acai, rhubarb) and organic food keeps gaining momentum.
J&L: Speaking of Brazilian cuisine, tell us about D’Zio, and why you think the time was right for a rodizio (Brazilian barbecue)?
Chef Edward: Well, this is a current trend, but the concept has been around for a long while- these places have been in major metropolitan markets for years. While it’s not new, we saw an unmet need: no one else in Atlantic City is doing it. And it appeals to our core customers, as well as the 20/30-somethings looking for something different.
J&L: What are you most excited about regarding the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival?
Chef Edward: The thing I’m excited about is that we are able to highlight Atlantic City’s offerings in the same way as New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco. South Jersey tends to get ignored, and it’s a great way to get the word out there that we have great food that is unique to our area. We’ve [Harrah’s] been hosting it for a while now and it gets bigger every year- and to have the Food Network personalities here is a wonderful showcase of talent.
J&L: What would your last meal be?
Chef Edward: I’ll have to answer this in 2 parts, depending on if it’s summer or winter! For summer, it would be fresh, homemade mozzarella, Jersey tomatoes, and the most phenomenal cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. For winter, a real hearty dish like paella or beef bourguignon. But if someone asked me what the East coast lacks that the West coast has, it would be In and Out Burger. So, if I were out on the West coast, that’s what I’d have!
Stay tuned for more interviews to come- you might just be surprised who we get to talk to!