This weekend marks the third annual gathering of chefs at the shore for the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival. Paula Deen, Robert Irvine, Anne Burrell and other culinary bigwigs will host a series of events at area casinos, including all-you-can-eat crabs at Bally's and sunset sushi on the pool deck at Caesars. You can also stroll through a Grand Market featuring over 100 food and wine vendors, cooking demonstrations, tastings and the latest in kitchen gadgetry.
Andrew Zimmern, host of The Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, will emcee Friday's cheesesteak tasting party at the Showboat. Zimmern, who remembers visiting a mostly desolate Atlantic City when he was a child, calls the present-day scene "vibrant." When asked if he'd consider New Jersey for a future episode, he rhapsodizes on the humble pork roll. "I've got a regular pipeline from the Pork Roll Express people in New Jersey who keep me well-stocked in Taylor ham."
Representing native talent this weekend is personal chef Nicole Gaffney, also known as The Dinner Belle (www.the-dinner-belle.com). Gaffney, who was born and raised in Egg Harbor Township, has witnessed the area's culinary evolution first hand.
"The local movement is really starting to catch on now. Lots of great restaurants in the area are taking full advantage of the farms and the great seafood that we have -- I mean, New Jersey is the Garden State."
Gaffney will be demonstrating a dish showcasing some of this local bounty, Thai-style clams with zucchini ribbon salad, at the Grand Market this Saturday at noon.
"We've got killer littleneck clams that come out of the bays here -- and also the summer squash. I know it's going crazy in my garden right now."
For tickets and information, visit www.harrahs.com/acfoodandwine.