The Golden Noodle: A Mac 'N' Cheese Smackdown
I should have worn my stretchy pants. I should have known better. Yet, there I found myself, trying macaroni and cheese after macaroni and cheese with no end in sight, trying harder and harder after every bite to keep a poised, ladylike posture while simultaneously using every inkling of strength to suck my stomach in so as to not cause the button and zipper of my slacks to burst, flashing everyone present.
Hearsay Gastro Lounge Head Chef Nick Banaszak with his smoked gouda mac and cheese -- winner of the Golden Noodle in the "traditional" category.
Luckily, I didn't steal the show from macaroni and cheese -- the subject of the second annual National Association for Catering and Events "Golden Noodle" competition, in which 13 different macaroni and cheeses competed for the "Golden Noodle" award in three categories: traditional, creative and dessert. Entries were submitted mostly by local restaurants and catering and event companies, with judging carried out Iron Chef-style at the conclusion of the event by Chef Monica Pope, Chef Michael Nguyen of Master Chef Catering and Chef Chris Carey of Cafe Natalie, along with the audience, who cast votes for the "people's choice."
The catch? The teams had to cook their noodles -- boiling of pasta and béchamel-making excluded -- in 45 minutes, on premise, as event attendees -- mostly catering-industry professionals and supporters -- walked from booth to booth observing and chatting with chefs about their creations. Forty-five minutes may seem like a long time, but it put extra pressure on the chefs, who were dealing with a very limited cooking space, crappy portable cooktops and distractions from people like me.
Photos by Carla Soriano The Golden Noodle showed off mac 'n' cheeses from around the city like you've never seen before. This one, from the Westin Galleria & Oaks, had a mascarpone cheese sauce, spiced apples, cinnamon, granola and whipped cream, for good measure.
Nonetheless, every team was able to successfully feed the more than 150 people in attendance, in a timely manner, each producing a special version of one of this country's food staples.
In the traditional category, contestants had to adhere to using only noodles and cheese, and two groups battled it out for the prize. Hearsay Gastro Lounge served their thick and creamy smoked gouda mac and cheese. It was as traditional as macaroni and cheese gets, but so good that it made you melt inside and almost shed a little tear of joy. (In fact, I will go visit Hearsay Gastro Lounge because of it.) Max's Wine Dive submitted their max 'n' cheese -- cavatappi pasta tossed in truffle cream with provolone, gruyère and parmigiano-reggiano, which was quite heavy on the truffle cream, making this mac a little too in-your-face, especially for one that was supposed to be "traditional." This may have been why Hearsay deservedly took the Golden Noodle in this category.