Before star chefs Guy Fieri, Gordon Ramsay and Jose Garces brought their brand-name culinary wares to Atlantic City; before top-tier restaurateurs Stephen Starr and the Cohen/Gutin team opened shop in AC; there was Borgata, partnering with big-name and locally up-and-coming chefs for its then, still-building casino enterprise.
That was 15 years ago. “Borgata was my start,” said Philly chef Michael Schulson who made his owner’s restaurant debut in Atlantic City with a Japanese-focused Izakaya, and currently owns Double Knot, Harp & Crown and more. “Izakaya at Borgata was, and is, the baby of the enterprise, of everything we’ve built since.”
Shortly after Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa opened, they began a grand culinary meet-and-greet and seated dinner party that blossomed into a weekend of diverse tastes and eating soirees featuring celebrity chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Wolfgang Puck, Schulson and more, with a bang-up finale featuring those aforementioned greats behind separate stations preparing their wares for strolling diners.
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That’s what’s happening Nov. 9 and Nov. 10: 18 events under the umbrella, Borgata Savor, The Ultimate Food Experience
Schulson’s first restaurant co-ownership of Izakaya was at the Borgata starting 10 years ago (“12 years if you include the build out”), and currently, he and his wife/partner Nina are one of the area’s busiest owner-operators.
Schulson’s “head is spinning,” while working on two new restaurants, the first of which — a 1523 Sansom Street partnership with Termini Bros bakery for the fine Italian food find, Giuseppe & Sons — should be ready within 18 days from today. “I’m standing on dirt-patch under scaffolding with workers going at it, 24/7,” he says. “The culinary team is rocking and rolling, and I’m right in line cooking with them, and we’re doing full-fledged training for the front of the house today.”
That same enthusiasm and preparedness Schulson has for Giuseppe & Sons now is how he sounded opening Izakaya, and starting a relationship with Borgata. “It still seems like yesterday when they said, ‘Let’s build a restaurant together.’ I was blown away. I can honestly say — and this is something I swear I can’t say about my own restaurants — that there has never been fights or nastiness between me and the Borgata. You can’t ask for better business partners. I’m part of a team that includes Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Wolfgang Puck.” Schulson can still be found working the sushi rolling line at Izakaya on occasion.
From that culinary foundation — for Schulson as well as the other name chefs — came the Savior fest as a way to celebrate the Borgata’s dynamic culinary enterprise and the Atlantic City dining community who had welcomed such chef-ery with open arms.
“Savor was the first thing I did with Borgata before we opened
Izakaya,” said Schulson. “I got a great joy from being with those chefs — we’re all friends now — and working as a team in the same space. It brings back great memories. AND then, and now, it is a great fun event which brings real energy and is good for Atlantic City. Savor puts AC on the food fest map.”
"Mixing it up" in Atlantic City
This year, Izakaya will do bao buns (“Peking duck and pastrami”) rather than roll-your-own sushi. “We’re mixing it up.”
The Borgata’s vice president of food & beverage, Becky Schultz, says mixing it up is not only good, it is the whole point of creating the Savor weekend in the first place.
“We’ve forever been handsomely represented in the culinary world when you consider that, with our chef-partners, we have more Iron Chefs under one roof than anyone else in the country,” said Schultz. “The Borgata has offered a compelling product when it comes to the diversity and quality of the food, service and the facility from our start.”
To further celebrate that excellence and its culinary team (“even wine and liquor pairings,” she said), the Borgata started the “Women & Wine” event nearly 14 years ago.
“Our wine director, all of our sommeliers, and the wine makers were women and we celebrated that. As we evolved and added more food, it morphed, until, 11 years ago, we changed the named to Savor Borgata,” she said. “We wanted Savor Borgata to go beyond the wine and beyond the food into all that the Borgata is about within the culinary world. We always try to keep it fresh and new — the finale used to be a sit-down dinner, now it is reinvented as a walk-around event — and have the food be the star.”