A  Juiliano Cannuscio Blue Water Grill

Blue Water Grille will be participating in the Gala for the first time this year. Executive Chef A. Juiliano Cannuscio is a graduate from Atlantic Cape’s culinary program.

PROVIDED

It would not be an overstatement to say the Atlantic County dining scene is largely powered by the Atlantic Cape Community College culinary program. Its graduates are everywhere — present in nearly every staff in every restaurant in the Atlantic City area.

“First and foremost we have excellent partnerships with our community, and when I say community I mean the restaurants in our area,” says Jean McAlister, the dean of resource development and president of Board of Trustees operations at Atlantic Cape. “We’re always updating the curriculum to make sure it’s relevant, so when students get out, they get the job they’re qualified for. Nearly 100 percent of all graduates from our culinary program obtain a job.”

A statistic like that surely means Atlantic Cape has a good thing going — it gives students a top notch education and, like a self sustaining machine, the students then get high profile jobs at area restaurants, and give back to the college. A perfect example of this cycle of success is the annual Restaurant Gala, taking place 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center.

The crown jewel of Atlantic Cape culinary events, the swanky Restaurant Gala will feature 42 of the area’s best restaurants offering guests their specialty items. In turn, the Gala raises money for the program — past galas have raked in a cumulative $3 million for the Academy of Culinary Arts.

Though this is the Gala’s 34th anniversary, the event boasts a “golden” theme this year, honoring the 50 years the college has been open. Specialty cocktails, a photo booth, music by the band Central Park and a 5-foot golden cake will mark the occasion.

The Golden Gala is shaping up to be an Atlantic Cape love fest, with current students working to create desserts and items for cocktail hour, alumni coming back to help with the operations and others who are now working at the represented restaurants preparing dishes. The event is truly a testament to how wide-reaching the Atlantic Cape culinary program is.

Restaurants like Dock’s Oyster House, Girasole Ristorante and Lounge, The Smithville Inn, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Sofia Restaurant will be there, signature dishes in tow, including Dock’s crispy wasabi tuna with Asian vegetables and Smithville Inn’s seared date boat scallops, smoked gouda grits and house cured bacon.

“The food alone is reason to go,” McAlister says. “There will be Tito’s handmade vodka with ginger beer, the wine and beer will be free pouring. It’s all included in the cost. As for the food, I’m not talking about light stuff. I’m talking about really good signature dishes.”

Blue Water Grille and Valentina’s Trattoria Italiana are two newcomers to the Gala, joining an already stellar list.

“There can be nothing more meaningful, in our view, than enabling talent and to demonstrate support for youth pursuing their dreams with their natural-born talents,” says Restaurant Manager Samantha Beahon of Flagship Resort’s Blue Water Grille Restaurant. “It is, therefore, an enormous honor for us to get involved in helping shape the future of youth pursuing the culinary arts.”

Not surprisingly, Blue Water Grille also has a connection to Atlantic Cape.

“Our Executive Chef A. Juliano Cannuscio is a third-generation family member in the restaurant business and a graduate of Atlantic Cape Community’s College of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing,” Beahon says.

According to McAlister, the Gala will also include an “Alumni Row,” featuring the photos of area chefs that have graduated from Atlantic Cape. The “row” will surely be impressive — something for current students to aim to be a part of one day.

“They’re working hard,” says McAlister of the students, who have been prepping for the Restaurant Gala for a month now. “We’re very lucky. It’s nice to see the pairing of the alumni with the current students.”

Sign up to receive top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every Thursday.