It’s a law of nature that if you have mac ’n’ cheese, the people will come. Using this knowledge to enact change, the Times Union has partnered with other companies to hold an annual Mac & Cheese Bowl that raises money for the Regionial Food Bank of Northeastern New York. February 21 marked the sixth year for this #cheeseforchange competition.
The event was held at the Marcelle Athletic Complex at Siena College in Albany, N.Y., and featured mac ’n’ cheese samples from 30 local restaurants. All of the cheese used by the local restaurants was donated by Cabot Creamery Cooperative, and all of the pasta used was donated by Barilla. Upwards of 2,000 people were estimated to have attended the event, purveying all of the cheesy goodness in the name of charity. The number of attendees has only grown since it started—in just the first five years, the event has raised about $150,000 for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
To incentivize chefs to donate their time to the charitable cheese-a-thon, the cooking is turned into a competition. Guests who have paid the $20 admission fee can nominate their favorite mac ’n’ cheese sample to win a people’s choice award. There is also a panel of judges that have the hard job of taste-testing all the mac ’n’ cheese batches in order to announce a top winner.
This year, the people chose a new restaurant called Slidin’ Dirty as their favorite mac ’n’ cheese maker. Slidin’ Dirty started out as a food truck in 2012 and has found so much success making gourmet sliders that it opened up a storefront in Troy, N.Y., in November 2014. The crowd-pleaser has a menu that includes buffalo mac ’n’ cheese, caprese mac ’n’ cheese, chipotle mac ’n’ cheese, and fried mac ’n’ cheese bites. Last year, Slidin’ Dirty took home the top judges’ prize.
In second place for the people’s choice prize was Mazzone Hospitality in Clifton Park, N.Y. They made a mac ’n’ cheese inspired by the cherry-pepper nachos served in their restaurant. Behind them was Druthers Brewing, which will be opening a new location in Albany, N.Y., this spring. For the event, they made fried mac ’n’ cheese topped with hot sauce and guacamole.
The overall winner of the judges’ scrupulous mac ’n’ cheese consumption was Valente’s Restaurant of Watervliet, N.Y. This family-owned restaurant has been churning out carefully crafted food since 1958. Its menu includes Three Little Pigs mac ’n’ cheese and Perfect Storm mac ’n’ cheese with lobster and crab. Anyone else feel their stomach grumbling?
Home cooks were also able to compete in their own category. Kimberly LaBerge of Troy, N.Y., won the top spot for that competition with her creamy tomato & pancetta mac ’n’ cheese. To recognize her achievement, the Times Union will publish her mac ’n’ cheese recipe in the paper next week.
This year’s Mac & Cheese Bowl is estimated to have raised $40,000, which the Food Bank can use to make over 160,000 meals for those struggling in these cold winter months.
“That’s all money that goes to help the food bank do what we do every day, and that’s to collect donated food and to get it to food pantries and other organizations feeding hungry people in our community,” said Mark Quandt, Executive Director of the NY Food Bank.
Feature Photo Credit: Steve Barnes of Times Union