It just might be the tastiest example yet of Atlantic City broadening its horizons beyond being just another gaming destination.
Harrah’s Resort has opened a branch of the Viking Cooking School and is welcoming everyone from amateur cooks to passionate foodies into its gleaming, stainless steel classroom to hone their cooking skills from the professionals. There hasn’t been anything like it in the market since legendary Las Vegas chef Nat Hart had a branch of his gourmet cooking school at the former Caesars Boardwalk Regency in 1980.
“The Viking Cooking School is not a school where you come in and get to watch a chef do all the cooking and not have any hands-on interaction,” says Edward Batten, Harrah’s director of food services and executive chef. “At the Viking Cooking School, you’ll be carving the turkey and cutting the veal and peeling and chopping the garlic and making the sauces. It’s a complete interactive experience.”
With classes ranging from 90 minutes to three hours and a maximum of 16 people to a class, students will be split into teams of up to four and work at four professional-grade Viking ranges and prep stations in the well-equipped kitchen, which has a glass wall that overlooks the casino’s Waterfront Shops.
In the three-hour classes, instructors and their assistants will walk the students step by step through the preparation of a three-course meal, which the class will then enjoy in a private dining room in the school.
“You will literally prepare the meal and get to eat it,” Batten says. “The goal of the class is to not only prepare and enjoy the meal, but to be able to replicate the meal at home.”
The three hours may seem like a long time, but Batten promises the time flies by when the students and their instructors get into the preparation of the dishes.
Opening the Viking Cooking School was an effort by Harrah’s Resort to add yet another entertainment dimension to its property, says Jay Snowden, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Resort and its sister property, the Showboat Casino Hotel.
“The Viking Cooking School brings a unique, fun, social entertainment option to the city that is unlike anything else here,” he says. “We think there are so many cooking enthusiasts out there that we will have great success.”
Classes in the cooking school can be used for everything from a perfect first date ice-breaker to a corporate team-building retreat to just a fun night out, Batten says.
“We’re developing a variety of theme nights,” he says. “We’ll have a ‘Girls Night Out,’ which might be French bistro cooking, and a ‘Guys Night out,’ where they’ll learn grilling techniques.”
There’ll also be classes with various culinary themes and cooking influences, Batten says. “We’re encouraging people of every skill set to come to the classes, and it doesn’t matter if a class has people who know their way around a kitchen and people who don’t,” he says.
Batten adds that if a couple is spending time at the property and one of them is a gamer and the other isn’t, the school offers guests yet another non-gaming another non-gaming amenity, considered one of the keys to Atlantic City’s emergence as a true destination market.
Students won’t come away from the three-hour class as trained chefs, but they will certainly leave with improved skills and new ideas, he says.
Unlike the other 15 Viking Cooking Schools around the country that are operated by the high-end Viking Range Corporation, the Harrah’s classroom and a companion retail store are owned by the casino, explains Batten, who coordinated the project for the gaming hall.
“We’re not the biggest school and we’re not the smallest,” Batten offers. “We modeled ours after the new wave of [Viking] schools that they’ve built.”
Batten also helped select a group of highly skilled professional chefs, culinarians and chef-educators to serve as the school’s faculty. And Batten raised the bar pretty high when he went looking for instructors, too.
“I would hire any one of them for my kitchens, and in fact some of them have run kitchens at Harrah’s before,” Batten says proudly. “I’m very passionate about this project, because it really adds something unique to our property for our guests and for the community.”
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Atlantic City casinos have been thinking outside the box in order to draw more non-gaming patrons to their casinos. For foodies, one of the best ideas for expanding the range of non-gaming amenities has been cooking classes.