How could judging the SF Food Wars Mac and Cheese contest not be awesome? I did a lot of great events with my book, but I think this judging gig may have been the most fun. 16 macaroni and cheeses to taste? And the one vegan entry dropped out? What’s not to love?
I’m from a casserole culture, and as casseroles go, I will say I like my tuna noodle casseroles a little better than my mac and cheeses, but it’s a pretty close fight. Being an, ahem, cheese professional, I suppose I should switch my allegiance publicly to mac and cheese, but often mac and cheese is functional, a way to clean out my fridge of all those cheese samples and odds and ends.
Compared to other contests I’ve judged, this was a pretty loose: no score sheets, no comments, just eat and compare. Hey, you could even talk to other judges! Which was great because I was judging with Heidi Gibson from the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Tamara Palmer, “Resident Judge”.
Anyways, I’d say that I would have been happy eating a full plate of almost any of the dishes served to me. When one is put in the position of judging, you have to make some distinctions that you would never make if you were eating at a friend’s house, or even a restaurant. Side by side, one dish being a little more bready, or a little too salty is much more obvious than in real life. After tasting them all, and then re-tasting some of our favorites though, we were pretty unified in our decision that the Boffo Cart “Vermont Cheese Forest” was our favorite.
I will say that our 2nd place winner: Fowl Mouthed Ladies “Quack and Cheese” (with duck confit) stopped me in my tracks when I first tasted it. I would have been happy if this had been the winner as well. Our 3rd place winner: JazzyB’z Recipez “Pork Belly Mac” was really the most classic version we had, at least to us. I think Heidi was the one who suggested that if we did this again there could be prizes for classic vs. freestyle.
The People’s Choice winner was one of our favorites too. SF Delicious Catering made “Smoked Up Mac” that came with habanero-infused olive oil on the side and little jalapenos on top. Super good:
I really loved the pickled accompaniments with the runner-up People’s Choice award. I can’t figure out how to make a cent or euro symbol with my keyboard but they called it “The Crusty Vermonter” even though they admitted using mostly Velveeta after they won their award. Debbie Does Dinner’s Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese is also worthy of mention for making the one I would most likely copy for home use. I don’t cook a lot of meat at home, but I do love some squash and hazelnuts!
So anyways, an awesome time was had by all. If anyone out there is having cheese or cheese-oriented cooking contests, I’m available as a judge. Especially if there’s free beer.