Yesterday, I attended Mac and Cheese Takedown in Brooklyn. I had assumed the "takedown" was so named because we, as participants and superior life forms, would be taking some mac and cheese down by force of eating it. As it turns out, it was very much the other way around, and I will humbly admit to being taken down myself by the sheer quantity of noodles and add-ins presented to me. In essence, the event allows participants to try 25 different versions of mac and cheese provided by 25 local mac and cheese amateur chefs. Naturally, tickets were sold out weeks in advance.
On arrival, my friends and I were cocky. Twenty five mac and cheeses didn't sound so hard. We even made plans to stop at a nearby coffee shop for pie afterwards. How quickly we would realize our error when we hit the wall of our carb threshold a mere 40 minutes later. There were two lines, each passing by half of the competitors, so that you could get little plastic cups full of their entry. It was necessary to have two lines and make two separate passes because 25 little cups, even with carefully planned stacking, will not all fit on one plate. Unfortunately, it also meant that the first pass (in our case, samples 11-25) received a greater advantage than the second pass because at that point I still enjoyed the taste of mac and cheese and wanted to eat more of it. By the second pass, after 14 little cups of mac and cheese and one beer, I no longer really listened as the excited chefs told me which combinations of cheeses and add-ins made their recipe special. The last guy in line, sample number 1, was pontificating so much about his "4 mushroom mac and cheese" and how it was "such a delicate balance of flavors that it absolutely must be eaten as a shot" that I grew fed up and skipped his sample all together.
A sample of some of the spoils. This was from pass 2. The first batch, I was too busy eating to photograph.
The competition was fierce. There was mac and cheese with lobster meat and truffle croutons. There was mac and cheese with spare ribs and bbq sauce and another that tasted like a rueben sandwich. Naturally, there was bacon aplenty: bacon in the middle of a ball of fried mac and cheese, mac and cheese with duck bacon (or quack and cheese, as it was called), mac with two different kinds of bacon AND cracklings, and any numbers of entries where pork fat featured heavily. My personal favorite, and the one that received my vote, was one of the more simple offerings. I would never consider myself a mac and cheese purist, but surrounded by so many very busy food items, it was nice to settle on something comforting. The woman said it was her mother's recipe--a gruyere base with some white wine for complexity. So basically it tasted like fondue with pasta. Texture wise, it was the best by far. I have to give her props for managing that level of creaminess after traveling with it in a chafing dish and then letting it sit over a sterno. Not all of the competitors achieved that.
I wasn't the only one who enjoyed entry number 16. It was voted second among the crowd favorites. But what was the judges pick for best mac of the day? The verbose mushroom mac. I guess I should have sucked it up and tried it.