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Casino chefs going on the hunt for local produce

By Juliet Fletcher

Article from

If you're hitting a local farmer's market Thursday, watch out: You may be rubbing shoulders with four of the area's premier chefs.

Checking out the local produce at the market in Margate will be Rolf Weithofer, who heads two restaurants at Bally's Atlantic City.

And joining him on the treasure-hunt for local produce will be Keith Mitchell, of Caesar's Atlantic City, Ed Batten of Harrah's Resort and Robert Schoell of Showboat Casino-Hotel.

"We're out to find the green beans grown in Hammonton that no one knows about, the lettuces grown in EHT no one knows about, the asparagus from Swedesboro that no one knows about," Weithofer said.

As head of The Reserve steak and seafood restaurant, and Arturo's, which offers Italian dining, Weithofer says he might go through 100 pounds of tomatoes on a busy weekend - blended for pasta sauces or chopped into hearty seafood dishes.

And in the search for good quality produce at high quantities, he knows he's not alone.

"Every one of the four of us make some sort of salad using tomatoes," he says.

But while Weithofer often finds himself browsing a produce stand and dreaming of how to serve locally grown ingredients, he said it is often hard to source local produce through licensed food distributors.

A solution, he says, presented itself when Cookie Till, of Steve and Cookie's By the Bay restaurant in Margate, started hosting a Thursday farmer's market in her parking lot last year.

Local food distributor Jerry Ambrogi, of Ambrogi Produce, not only supplies all four of the intrepid restaurateurs but also buys some of his produce from those local farmers directly.

So on Thursday, the chefs will arrive at the market, all set to meet the farmers directly and to start discussing ways of getting their hands on farm-fresh produce in large enough quantities for 300-seat dining crowds.

As Weithofer sees it, this is the start of an experiment that could both increase his creation of dishes that are both seasonal and local.

Diners, who should expect to see the local produce appearing on menus on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, have started paying attention to local sourcing.

"This creates a narrative for our customers, about where their food is coming from," Weithofer says.

E-mail Juliet Fletcher:

[email protected]


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