The cherished casserole deserves to be celebrated, and it will be for the fourth year in a row this November 17th, in Brooklyn. Cooks from all five boroughs converge in Gowanus for the Mac Off, an annual competition hosted by [the claque], an arts and performance organization based in the city. Why mac? “Because mac and cheese is home, it's your best first date ever, it's playing with a puppy, it's the smell of bacon.” says Nick Leavens, the organization's Founder and Artistic Director.
Like many great debates, the Mac Off began on a pair of bar stools. Leavens and a friend got a little, shall we say, bent out of shape over which of them made the better mac. “It was fun because we got the whole bar we were at into the discussion.” They got them into the debate too – Mac Off was first hosted at the location of their disagreement, Huckleberry Bar. “We kept growing to the point where, in our fourth year, we needed to move to a bigger venue.”
And move it did. The fourth annual Mac Off has grown into a new home at Littlefield for their biggest gathering yet – with more space to chow down, more chefs and – best of all – more mac. “We have an increasing number of professional chefs entering each year, but the playing field is always level because people really care about their mac,” Leavens says. “They'll spend weeks perfecting the recipe and making sure everything is right.”
According to the event’s producer, Samantha Sembler, this year's contenders are a healthy mix of culinary students, professional chefs, food bloggers and general food enthusiasts. “The culinary students actually make up a good amount of the contenders,” she says. “They get really excited about having the chance to do what they want and feed actual people.” (Count us in.)
Hoping to take home the trophy? Leavens gave us the scoop on what it takes to have a winning dish. “Much like Captain Planet, a great mac and cheese is made with five ingredients,” he says, offering us this bona fide list:
1. MacThe top three last year? Southern Picnic Mac came in first place and featured a
2. Cheese (*Naturally*)
3. Creativity. (Word on the street is one year someone fried Mac n’ Chee balls with octopus and broccoli – we couldn’t make that up if we tried.)
4. ‘Back-homie-ness’ (Leavens says, ”Keep comfort food, comfort food.”)
5. Heart (Because a li’l bit o’ love makes all the difference.)
Tickets to the Mac Off are $20 at the door or $15 in advance. All mac-fanatics get to try every dish, wash it all down with a free brew from S.K.I. Beer, then vote for the best cheesy pasta in the land. “Come hungry,” Leavens says. “We'll have over 25 chefs this year. And yes, it is as much fun as it sounds.” We can’t wait to dig in.