Final stop before grabbing some shuteye on Friday was having a late night bite at Harrah’s Dos Caminos. The restaurant recently opening under the direction of Corporate Executive Chef Ivy Stark, who oversees all Dos Caminos restaurants. Dos Caminos offers authentic modern Mexican cuisine and is famous for its outrageously delicious guacamole, which is made at tableside according to the guest’s preference of heat. The late night snack of tuna ceviche and a mango margarita seasoned with ancho sea salt was a tantalizing treat before drifting off to sleep.
Saturday morning was an enlightening morning of interviews – first with Chef Ivy Stark and Anthony Amoroso, Corporate Executive Chef at BR Guest Hospitality (the parent company of Dos Caminos). Chef Amoroso is in charge of operations for BR Guest’s three Atlantic City restaurants – the other two are Bill’s Bar and Burger at Harrah’s and The Atlantic Grill at Caesars. Amoroso refers to himself as babysitter of the three head chefs and their sous chefs. An award-winning chef earning a coveted Michelin star as Executive Chef at Las Vegas Bellagio Michael Mina restaurant, Amoroso was named a Star Chefs Rising Star in 2008. As a triathlon athlete, his cooking focuses on dishes with organic and sustainable ingredients.
Chef Ivy Stark grew up in Colorado where Mexican and Latin cuisine had a marked influence on the culinary scene. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, she continued her interest in Mexican and Latin cuisine in California at Border Grill with Too Hot Tamales, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Upon returning to New York, she worked at two renowned restaurants, Sign of the Dove and Lespinasse before joining Dos Caminos.
After interviewing Chefs Stark and Amoroso, Pat and Gina Neely from the Food Network show, Down Home with the Neelys, held a roundtable discussion and talked about Southern hospitality as an expression of love. Filming is done in their Memphis home where their cooking follows the traditions of their mothers and grandmothers. It is the soul of the family, which brings them all together. The Neelys, who have just finished their 11th season on Food Network, are releasing their second book in November. Recently they opened Neelys’ Bar-B-Que, a Memphis-style barbeque restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side. The fun-loving – and loving – couple is joyful, humorous and totally in-sync with each other.
Next was an interview with Executive Chef Robert Irvine, whose shows Dinner Impossible and Restaurants Impossible are highly rated, popular shows on Food Network. He talked about how difficult it is to try and transition a losing restaurant into a winner and how the owners are totally resistant in the beginning. Winning them over and seeing the birth of a newly revised restaurant is extremely rewarding. Irvine also expressed his concern for healthy eating and nutrition and how he has worked with schools to have them improve their food service to provide better and healthier meals for the children.
With the interviews wrapped up, it was time for some wine tasting and education with wine expert, Michael Green. I headed to Caesars’ Mia Restaurant for his Wine Down 101: Fast Track to Wine Expertise program. The charismatic and ebullient Green is one of the world’s most recognized wine and spirits speakers who served as the wine and spirits expert at Gourmet magazine for 19 years. He is the founder of Wine Down and the wine and spirits director for this festival. Seated at a long banquet table with eight varying-sized glasses at each place setting was amazing. Green walked the guests through each wine’s color, nose and palate. We began with a champagne, Perrier Jouët Grand Brut, followed by a mellow New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Subsequent wines tasted were: a 2009 California Chardonnay and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2009 German Riesling, a French Burgundy, 2008 California Merlot and 2009 Italian Moscato.
Having not quite whetted my palate enough, I continued on to Green’s Champagne and Company program where I intended to be enlightened on the defining characteristics of champagne and sparkling wines. Green was as effervescent as the sparkling bubbles in the champagne as he bounced around Mia interacting with his audience. We started with a beautiful raspberry-colored Spanish Brut Rosé; then proceeded on to a straw-colored, creamy Ruffino Prosecco. Other bubblies tasted were: a French burgundy, Napa Valley Chandon Blanc, Perrier Jouët Grand Brut, Perrier Jouët Blason Rosé, Moët Imperial Vintage 2003 Champagne and G.H. Mumm Crémant.
Next on tap was Fire and Ice hosted by Robert Irvine in Caesars Dennis Courtyard. This event was a tasting of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres to showcase the talents of several Cooking Channel and Atlantic City chefs. Chef Irvine presented Habanero Bacon Crusted Tuna with black bean mole and mango puree and Chef Ivy Stark featured Dos Caminos’ famous habanero guacamole. Cooking Channel chefs’ offerings were: Ben Sargent’s Asian medicinal dish with red snapper and Roger Mooking’s shrimp and pork tacos with tomato salsa and creamed avocado.
After seeing the Chefs on Stage cooking demonstration with the Neelys, it was time to rest up for a much anticipated dinner at Luke Palladino’s eponymous restaurant at Harrah’s. His homemade pastas are divine and melt in one’s mouth. This night’s treat was Chef’s Soft Shell Crab Spaghetti Alla Chittara – sumptuous spaghetti and soft shell crab ragu with green garlic, calabrese chilies and heirloom tomatoes perfectly complemented with a glass of 2010 Italian Falaghina. Totally sated and satisfied, it was time to sleep soundly with thoughts mulling about tomorrow’s cooking demonstration with Chef Luke at Harrah’s Viking Cooking School. Details and photos about Luke’s cooking demo will be revealed in tomorrow’s column.
** For other stories covering food news, cooking and recipes, please visit my Shore Region Food Examiner page or on my website, TastefuLiving.net.