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Atlantic Cape’s 40th Annual Restaurant Gala Celebrates Local Icons and Sponsors as a Record Amount is Raised for Culinary Scholarships

03/13/2023 | Media Contact: David Zuba, Public Relations Manager and Copywriter | (609) 343-4933
Students from the Academy of Culinary Arts present the Restaurant Gala check donation

MAYS LANDING — An elegant evening filled with delectable dishes from the area's finest local restaurants, delicious desserts and scrumptious spirits encapsulated the jovial mood by all at the 40th Annual Atlantic Cape Community College Restaurant Gala, which raised a record $284,575 to support the college’s Academy of Culinary Arts student scholarships, on March 9 at the Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center’s Avalon Ballroom in Atlantic City.

The highly-anticipated return of the Atlantic City Lifeguard boat with fresh seafoodWith four decades worth of memories, this year’s Ruby Gala fondly recalled those exciting moments as photographs submitted by guests from past events scrolled on the ballroom’s big screens. A long-standing favorite, the Atlantic City Lifeguard boat filled with popular local seafood favorites, made its highly-anticipated return to the delight of many.

“This is our most important scholarship event at the college because the students attending our Academy of Culinary Arts depend on you for your support,” Atlantic Cape President Dr. Barbara Gaba said to those in attendance. “This year we are honoring all of the icons that have supported the Gala over the past 40 years and we are very lucky to have such a caring community that supports the next generation of chefs, cooks and leaders.”

Atlantic Cape President Dr. Barbara Gaba and Gala founder Mrs. Frances FreedmanThe Gala’s humble beginnings began as a simple vision by Mrs. Frances Freedman to find a way to bring local casinos and restaurants together to support the needs of local culinary students. Freedman, who was at that time the the CEO and Publisher of Atlantic City Magazine, founded the Gala back in 1983 along with the help of James L. Cooper, Esq., whose daughter Cynthia attended this year’s Gala in her late-father’s memory. Freedman, who now resides in Florida and made the trip to New Jersey for this momentous occasion, reminisced about the event’s nascent days and marveled at what it has become.

“I wanted to do something that would make a lasting difference, not just a contribution, but something on-going. I was trying to think of one thing that would bring people together, food,” Freedman recalled. “The first Gala was successful, people came out, everybody had to pay and all of the proceeds went to the college, which is a perfect recipient, they are so appreciative and it has made such a difference. It’s amazing.”

Freedman originally came up with the idea while in Las Vegas when she witnessed a local community college there that had a large food and beverage course at the school.

“That became a model for me because I loved the idea of the local business people working with the casino industry,” Freedman said. “I thought to myself this could be my one thing to do for a non-profit and my legacy is all of the people that made careers out of this.”

Local icons are honored and pose for photo with Atlantic Cape President Dr. Barbara GabaIn recognition of the Gala’s illustrious 40 years and their continuous commitment to the event and the students of the college’s Academy of Culinary Arts program, sustaining committee members Ed Blake (Blake & Associates), Joseph Massaglia (Mama Mia’s Ristorante), Johnny “Scannicchio” Varalli (Scannicchio’s Restaurant) and the memory of Jim Cooper were celebrated along with long-time sponsors Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Tropicana Atlantic City, Bally’s Atlantic City, Resorts Casino Hotel, Dock’s Oyster House, Gregory’s Restaurant and Bar, Renault Winery and Resort, and The Historic Smithville Inn.

Local icon Ed Blake (second from the right) was honored at the 40th Annual Restaurant GalaFollowing a lavish, one-hour cocktail reception complete with hors d’oeuvres prepared by the culinary students, the evening’s festivities kicked off with the Mainland High School drumline serenading the crowd while making a grand entrance into the ballroom. Later they escorted the entire group of culinary students onto the dance floor for the presentation of the check donation.

John Koster, Caesars Entertainment Eastern Division Regional President, spoke about the importance of Atlantic Cape’s Academy of Culinary Arts program.

“We are very happy that Atlantic Cape Community College has such a wonderful culinary program because we are opening up a lot of food outlets at our three properties here in Atlantic City,” Koster said. “We need that culinary staff here and thank goodness for Atlantic Cape and for what they are developing.”

The formal dinner featured an eclectic mix of dishes to satisfy even the most discerning of appetites from Southern shrimp & grits, pastrami cured salmon and beef carpaccio to lobster risotto, Mama Mia’s What a Meatballs! and Scannicchio’s Classic Lasagna.

Sample beverages from popular local wineries, breweries and distilleries were a hit with craft IPA beers, red and white wines, champagne and more.

Local band, “Plaid Salmon” from Somers Point, provided an upbeat array of live pop, R&B, disco and light rock & roll musical entertainment during the evening that stirred the soul and sent many in attendance to the dance floor.

The 50/50 raffle raised $22,200 and the three winners split their share three ways with the first-place winner Denise Coulter receiving 30%, second place winner Judith DeStefano 15% and third place winner Paula Carson 5%.

Since its inception in 1984, the Atlantic Cape Restaurant Gala has raised more than $4 million for scholarships for students attending the Academy of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program, an emergency fund, special projects and Atlantic Cape Foundation operations.

View the 40th Annual Restaurant Gala photo gallery here.



About Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape is a comprehensive two-year community college serving the residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. The college offers over 40 career, transfer and workforce development programs to more than 8,000 students annually at three campuses in New Jersey: Atlantic City, Cape May Court House and Mays Landing.