Ken Calemmo admits his palette has gotten slightly more simplistic with age – but he is not about to sacrifice taste when he dons his chef’s hat for the 13th time at The Pool at Harrah’s Resort on Thursday.
“What could be simpler than a bucket full of oysters, some butter, some milk and some spices?” says Calemmo, who will prepare his “Old-Fashioned Ken Calemmo Oyster Stew” as part of South Jersey’s Men R’ Cookin’ event, a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City.
Calemmo will be one of 70 participating chefs in the 13th annual event, taking place 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at The Pool at Harrah’s Resort.
The Press of Atlantic City is a title sponsor for the event, along with 100.7-FM WZXL and Harrah’s.
“The Boys and Girls Club has always been a great organization, but when you start combining cooking and opportunities for people to eat, how great can that be?,” says Calemmo, who has volunteered as an amateur chef since the very first Men R’ Cookin’. “I thought it was one of the neatest ideas that had come along for a fundraiser.”
For Calemmo, who only half-jokingly refers to himself as “the most interesting chef in the world,” the fundraiser is an opportunity to do something he enjoys – cooking for others.
“Food is always an event in a household of Italians,” Calemmo says. “You don’t get away without a meal that takes three hours.”
The evening features a mix of volunteer “chefs” from the community – local business professionals, casino executives, attorneys, media personalities include At The Shore Editor Scott Cronick (preparing BBQ shrimp and pulled pork) – as well as professional chefs serving a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Professional chefs will include Austin Chafer of Amada at Revel Casino Hotel (preparing pork belly montando), James Huntzinger of the Knife and Fork Inn (preparing banh mi-style pork belly sliders) and Chris Bellino of the Smithville Inn (preparing ahi tuna). In addition to Calemmo, amateur chefs will include Scott Fuerman of Fuerman Optometry (preparing pepperoni bread) and Guy Hackney of Cape Bank (preparing cinnamon-raisin pecan bread pudding).
The event is the largest fundraiser of the year for Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, benefitting youth development programs for more than 1,400 school-age children at seven sites in Atlantic City and Pleasantville.
“In order for us to build some awareness about the importance of our youth programs, we have to have friend-raisers and fundraisers to get people more involved,” says Michele Musto, a member of the resource development team with the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City. “Our goal is to have a party-type atmosphere, but to also get those participants to come back to the club – to volunteer, to mentor, to join a committee.”
This year’s theme – “Recipe for Success” – honors their community involvement and recognizes the achievements of the Boys & Girls Club as one of the largest youth-based programs in the area.
This year’s Men R’ Cookin’ fundraiser may be the Boys and Girls Club’s most important event yet. The club was forced to close its Sovereign Avenue facility in the Chelsea section of Atlantic City last week, due to both a shortage of funds and a surplus of kids to serve.
Youths who were attending the Chelsea club will now all go to the club’s main building on Pennsylvania Avenue, just as they did last year when the Chelsea club suffered significant water damage following Hurricane Sandy.
“(Men R’ Cookin’) could not have been held at a better time,” says Mekos Denson, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City. “With our announcement of the temporary closing of Chelsea … it’s going to take the community’s involvement to get back on track and open the facility in the next several months.”
Denson says he hopes to re-open the Chelsea club in September. Fundraisers such as Men R’ Cookin’ will help to make that goal a reality.
“It’s been our premier event,” Denson says. “Last year we had between 600 and 700 attendees. It’s definitely critical that we continue that number, but also bring in others maybe not as acclimated (with the organization). The crazy thing about our situation is … our success has been our detriment. We increased our membership by 62 percent this year, and that has increased our operating expenses.”
Denson says programs such as the Boys and Girls Club are critical for Atlantic City’s youth, particularly after a January shooting resulted in the death of a Pennsylvania Avenue school seventh-grader.
“Our mission is to provide a safe place and structured programs for kids,” Denson says. “It’s been a challenge to stay ahead.”
“We are an extended home, and we became such a resource for families and children after that incident happened, that we had to put policies and procedures into effect,” Musto says. “Boys and Girls Club is an important business in Atlantic City, and it’s been historically here for so long. We can’t (stay open) without our supporters becoming larger advocates for us. Men R’ Cookin’ is a great avenue to have that conversation.”