One of the area’s most popular preludes to summer, Chefs at the Shore, returns for the 12th year to the grounds of the Atlantic City Aquarium in Gardner’s Basin 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 18.

The aquarium has been among the event’s primary beneficiaries from its outset, and serves as the site for a wine- and craft beer-tasting open bar that is just one of Chefs at the Shore’s multiple components. Foremost on the list is a sampling of many of the most delectable dishes ever found in one place, including contributions from roughly 50 acclaimed chefs representing 35 local and regional establishments — a list that has grown steadily since the event’s 2004 founding.

“We get terrific chefs with great cooking styles asking if they can return and be a part of this from year to year,” says David Goldstein, president of the Chefs Association of Southern New Jersey (CASNJ), which co-sponsors Chefs at the Shore with the A.C. Aquarium. “The diversity in our area is just incredible, and this year more so than ever before. It’s all about diversity.”

Participating chefs donate their time and the dishes they prepare. Many also conduct how-to seminars on the signature entrees, appetizers or desserts they contribute, as well as a variety of other culinary-oriented topics. Chef Willie Lewis, a past president of the CASNJ, will conduct a seminar with Chef Kelsey Jackson, proprietor of Kelsey’s in Atlantic City, on how to prepare the crawfish etouffee they will bring that guarantees to be a hit at this year’s event.

“That’s a big seller (at Kelsey’s) and will be going fast, just like the shrimp-and-grits did that we brought last year,” says Lewis, a 32-year member of the CASNJ who has been part of every Chefs at the Shore event thus far, having started his career as an assistant to renowned former Smithville Inn Chef Earl Robinson in 1968.

“(Chefs at the Shore) has been our biggest event as far as raising funds for worthy causes, and so was the event we did at the (A.C.) Boat Show,” adds Lewis, referring to a VIP reception that the CASNJ hosted in February at the A.C. Convention Center called the “Captain’s Table,” which raised nearly $60,000 for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

The CASNJ serves as the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. Chefs at the Shore has become the association’s primary annual fundraiser for philanthropic organizations such as the FoodBank and others. Much of the proceeds from a $50-per-person cost also goes toward funding scholarships for culinary students and other educational pursuits, including several conducted at the A.C. Aquarium.

Among the featured chefs at this year’s event is George Kralle of Merion Caterers in Cinnaminson, who will bring roasted corn crab cakes with mango salsa.

“(Kralle) lives in Mays Landing and has worked in the Atlantic City-Mays Landing area most of his life,” Goldstein says. “For over two years he was also the assistant executive chef on ‘Dinner Impossible’ on the Food Network under (celebrity chef) Robert Irvine.

“The other chef we’re featuring is James Scarpata, otherwise known as ‘Jimmy the Butcher,’” adds Goldstein. “He’s got the chef’s background, but he worked for 20 years in Atlantic City as a butcher, so that’s really his forte. He’ll be one of our presenters, giving people tips on how to select the best-quality meats and things like that. He’s very popular with the crowd.”

Some of the other dishes guests can count on sampling include crispy shrimp tacos by Chef John “Danno” McMorris of Back Bay Ale House; whiskey BBQ salmon with pineapple by Chef Stephen Golden of Cellar 32 in Brigantine; soft-shelled crab sliders with avacado fries by Chef Bob Hettmannsperger of Golden Nugget Atlantic City; Sicilian vegetarian lasagna by Chef Francesco Bhuto of The Princeton in Avalon; clams Roberta by Chef Joe Muldoon of Roberta’s in Northfield; sushi by Chef Rayond Gao of Yama Japanese Restaurant in Ventnor, and many more.

This year will also feature live entertainment by the four-piece band Chef George and the Short Order, featuring Charlie Matson, Huey Tatlow, “Jersey Mike” Gatton and Chef George Fisher. The Chefs at the Shore emcee for the evening will be Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City.

CHEFS AT THE SHORE

When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 18

Where: Atlantic City Aquarium, Gardner’s Basin, 800 N. New Hampshire Ave., Atlantic City

Prices: $50 in advance, $60 at the door, $450 for blocks of 10. Tickets are available at the A.C. Aquarium.

More info: 609-348-2880 or ACAquarium.com

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