If you’re a gourmand who can’t get enough of celebrity chefs, fantastic food and great entertainment, mark your calendars for Savor Borgata: Ultimate Food Experience Festival, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8 and 9, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Two days are planned for this culinary extravaganza, which will culminate with the main event in the ballroom 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday. More than 2,000 attendees are expected for this annual food spectacular, themed The Art of Food.
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“We’re very, very excited for Savor Borgata,” says Becky Schultz, vice president of food and beverage for the resort, as Borgata’s chefs celebrate the art — as well as the love — of food.
This year’s Savor brings with it a few new events. A DJ will get people in the mood to party on Saturday night in the ballroom, and a break dancing team — along the lines of Cirque de Soliel — will entertain guests with their powerful, athletic moves. The room will be decorated for this year’s theme, based on the painting La Grande Cuisine by Leroy Neiman.
Alex Guarnaschelli will be the guest chef. She will teach a course in making dishes that are perfect for the holidays. Savor Borgata hasn’t hosted a guest chef in the past four or five years, says Schultz, and as an Iron Chef, Guarnaschelli is in perfect company with the rest of Borgata’s all-star lineup.
A few spinoff events are new as well, notes Schultz. Among them are Moneyline Meatball Mayhem for meatball and beer lovers at Borgata’s Moneyline Bar & Book and Liquid Gold, a Johnnie Walker Gold event paired with small plates, at the Level One Cocktail Bar & Lounge.
And there’s the Schulson Collective spinoff in which lovers of Michael Schulson’s 12 restaurants get to enjoy his food at various stations at his signature Borgata restaurant, Izakaya.
“It’s a whole lot of fun,” Schulson says of Savor Borgata. “The best thing is being with the different chefs. We all have such complicated schedules. We’re never at Borgata at the same time. So this is a great chance to see everyone.”
Although the chefs used to celebrate Savor Borgata with a beer or a glass of wine after the main event on Saturday night, they no longer do so. “We’re all so busy that it’s hard to get together afterward.”
Because Savor Borgata has grown, the chefs bring their staffs from Philadelphia or New York to help them handle the crush of people. “We want to make sure we take care of the team members who come with us,” Schulson says of his staff.
Schulson was also anxious to discuss Alpen Rose, his “newest baby in Philadelphia.” The restaurant, a high-end steakhouse that opened in March, is an homage to his grandfather, who was a butcher in the Bronx.
Alpen Rose differentiates itself from other steakhouses in Philly in several ways. One is its size: It’s a 40-seat, 11-table boutique eatery, which makes for an intimate evening. Furthermore, all the meat is cooked over a wood-burning hearth, “like a fireplace,” Schulson says, noting that all the premium-cut meat is dry-aged in-house.
Another distinction is the way patrons are admitted to the restaurant; the door is locked. Upon ringing the bell, a panel slides open and a friendly face asks for your name and why you’re there. Patrons cross the threshold to enjoy a special experience, which fits Schulson’s vision for dining.
“For me, it’s about the whole experience from the time the person walks in the door,” Schulson says. “The music has to be great, the lighting just right, the cocktails have to be sensational, the desserts have to be fabulous, the food great.”
Schulson’s next new venture is Via Locusta in Center City Philadelphia with chef partner Jeff Michaud. This eatery will have 55 seats and feature seasonal, artisanal Italian fare. The restaurant is expected to open later this year.
With 12 restaurants to run and 1,500 employees, Schulson has a busy job managing his thriving enterprise, a task that often takes him away from the place he loves best — the kitchen.
Schulson still cooks, though: “I’ve got two boys at home who need me to cook for them tonight.”
Kidding aside, Schulson will don his chef coat at Izakaya, one of his signature restaurants, at Borgata. “I do get in the kitchen and spend time cooking and tasting,” he says. “For me, the excitement comes from watching the facial expressions on the guys in the kitchen,” he continues. “They look at me — the guy who has 1,500 employees, 12 restaurants and opening a bunch more — and I’m in the kitchen, talking to them, engaging with them. I’m like a father figure. They’re as excited to be in the kitchen as I am. We all share the same passion: food.”
Plan to share Schulson’s passion — and that of all the other renowned chefs — at Savor Borgata this year.
“You can get up close and personal with these wonderful, amazing chefs,” says Schultz. “You get to meet the people you idolize on TV, and you’ll eat incredible food. It is truly a wonderful event.”
Q & A with Alex Guarnaschelli
Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City, had a chance to talk with Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli on his radio show, “Off the Press with Scott Cronick” on 1400 AM WOND, to discuss her appearance at Savor Borgata. Below is a snippet. You can listen to the entire interview at ACWeekly.com.
Scott Cronick: Savor Borgata is truly a colorful showcase of all things culinary, what events will you be involved with throughout the weekend?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I am excited to participate in the big “Savor Borgata“ walk-around tasting event that Saturday evening. It’s also a competition, as a winning dish will be picked from all the offerings from the chefs. I am also doing a special class called “Lunch and Learn” Saturday afternoon and I will be cooking up a lot of fun small plates that will hopefully inspire great holiday menus!
SC: What do you think some of the best attributes are that an event like Savor Borgata: The Ultimate Food Experience brings for foodies?
AG: I always think it’s great when people get to interface with their favorite chefs. It’s obviously an opportunity for chefs in the public to get to know each other and have a great conversation about food.
SC: What do you personally like the most about hosting events like your Holiday Lunch and Learn?
AG: I like the intimacy that comes from a classroom type of experience where excited foodies and home cooks get to taste dishes from professional chefs. The line up of chefs is very impressive this year. I think it’s nice that there is a lot of fun and festiveness. I like it even better that there are also smaller scale events where people can do a deep dive on great food and good cooking ideas.
SC: Is there anything special about any event at Savor Borgata that you want guests to know about?
AG: The Lunch and Learn event is what I am especially excited about. I love that we are getting so close to the holiday season and going to be talking about what kinds of new dishes can be brought to the table. I love the Savor Borgata event too though. If I were a guest, I’d go to each table and eat one of each dish!
SC: Would you say the holiday season is one of your favorites for cooking? If so, why? If not, which season is?
AG: Without a doubt my favorite cooking of the year is done on Thanksgiving. I just love turkey and all the sides. I love to bake (and eat) pie too. The smell of cranberry sauce bubbling on the stove and pumpkin pie in the oven is like aromatherapy!
SC: You’ve said that you’re passionate about American ingredients, what are some of your go-to essential ingredients or recipes?
AG: Corn grits from the south. Tree nuts from California and Oregon. Lobsters from Maine. Those are some American essentials for me. Essentials for my cooking are Dijon and red wine vinegar. I can pretty much make anything if I have those hanging around my pantry.
SC: You have cookbooks, TV shows, a restaurant — what is next for you? Is there anything else you hope to achieve in the future?
AG: I’d love to open another restaurant. I am also coming out with a new cookbook next year. I am also shooting a second season of my Food Network show “Supermarket Stakeout!” In the meantime, I’m psyched for Savor Borgata!