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Restaurant Gala Celebrates 25th Anniversary, Recognizes Long-time Supporters

February 8, 2008

The Press of Atlantic City Restaurant Gala is celebrating its 25th anniversary at this year's April 3 event and will recognize the contributions of its founding supporters. South Jersey's premier black-tie fundraising event, the Gala has raised about $1.7 million in its history for scholarships at the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College.

The Gala committee named James L. Cooper Esq. the event's 25th Anniversary Champion. Cooper, of Margate, has supported the Gala since its inception. Former chair of the ACCC Foundation, Cooper naturally played an integral role in the Gala's long-term success. Over the years, he chaired the Restaurant Gala Steering Committee and helped grow the fundraiser from a small affair with a few hundred attendees to its current capacity of more than 1,000 people.

The committee also is honoring the dedication of Frances Freedman, Clare Sabatini, John Varalli and the late Vince DeFinis.

Freedman, founder and publisher of the former Atlantic City Magazine, conceived the idea of a restaurant gala as a way to showcase Atlantic City's burgeoning dining industry and community. She gathered movers and shakers in the casino and food and beverage industries to lend their support, and in 1984 the event took off. Freedman sold her magazine to The Press of Atlantic City in 1991.

Sabatini is a longtime resident of Ventnor and former owner of Sabatini's Restaurant. Freedman recruited Sabatini's to participate in the inaugural Gala. In addition to the restaurant's participation, Sabatini assisted with event logistics and secured sponsorships and donations over the years. She said she was drawn to the Gala because she thought it would bring publicity to the independent restaurants in Atlantic City.

Varalli began working at Scannicchio's in Atlantic City as a waiter and had worked his way up to manager when the restaurant participated in the first Restaurant Gala. He bought the restaurant 20 years ago and now has a location in Philadelphia with his sons. In the early years of the Gala, Varalli recruited restaurants to participate, and he continues to be active on the committee. He has stayed involved with the Gala over the years because "it is a great cause. I enjoy helping the kids get their education and it is that education that ultimately improves the future of the restaurant industry."

Definis, who passed away in November at age 91, was a friend to the Academy of Culinary Arts for many years, and a scholarship is awarded annually in his name. He was an internationally know hotelier, serving numerous presidents and dignitaries. He was committed to the restaurant industry and its future, and served as restaurant coordinator for the Gala committee for many years.

The 25th Anniversary Gala begins at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 3, at the Atlantic City Convention Center. It will feature hors d'oeuvres prepared by the students at the Academy, original dishes from 40 of the area's best restaurants, and a dessert extravaganza. Tickets are $200. For more information about the Gala, visit or call the ACCC Foundation Office at (609) 343-5674, 625-1111, or 463-4774, ext. 5674.