This weekend a bucket list item was realized for me as I attended a macaroni and cheese contest. Making this life goal even sweeter was the fact that I just didn’t merely walk around as a spectator; rather, I served as a judge.
The Surf Dreams Foundation Mac-N-Cheese Cook Off was held today in Surfside, South Carolina. Many area restaurants, organizations, and neighborhood chefs participated by serving up their special macaroni and cheese recipes. The event was staged to raise funds for the Surf Dreams Foundation so they can continue to serve their mission of helping local children enjoy the sport of surfing. With the event occurring on a Sunday and with a terrific local organization benefitting, I made sure not to miss it. After earning the privilege of judging the cook off via a social media contest, I knew it was going to be a fun day.
Although I didn’t need to arrive at the site to begin my judging duties until noon, Sidney and I made sure to show up right when the cook off started at 11 a.m. I mean come on, what better date is there than attending a mac and cheese contest?! Romance aside, I wanted to make sure to arrive early so I could have an eating partner who would help me pace myself and so I could also do my small part to support the Surf Dreams Foundation.
With sample tickets $2 each, we entered Macaroni and Cheese Heaven by paying the mere price of $20. With the tickets in hand, we ate ourselves silly visiting ten different vendor booths while tasting a diverse array of mac and cheese dishes. As we consumed spoonful after spoonful of my favorite food, we took short breaks visiting the tents of non-mac and cheese vendors. You see, the Surf Dreams Foundation Mac-N-Cheese Cook Off had more than just cheesy pasta. On site you also had crafts, jewelry, kids entertainment, music, a dude on giant stilts, and much more.
But don’t get me wrong, this was a day that was all about the macaroni and cheese. While Sid and I walked around, we enjoyed quite the selection. Bacon mac and cheese. Jerky mac and cheese. Crab mac and cheese. Collared greens mac and cheese. Breaded mac and cheese. Fried chicken mac and cheese. We even enjoyed macaroni and cheese egg rolls topped with a delicious tangy sauce!
But for Sidney, her favorite was the booth serving macaroni and cheese balls! This particular vendor rolled up yummy mac and cheese, enclosed it in a deep friend shell, and topped it with a cheese sauce. For most of that first hour we politely took turns eating the samples but when it came to the macaroni and cheese ball she was rapidly stabbing it with her fork getting as much as possible as I gripped the container it came in.
Noon arrived and it was time for me to judge. The event organizers gathered samples from all the vendors and ushered us judges into a private location, which just so happened to be a car wash garage. We were presented with three big tubs that had the top of the lids covered with white cups containing the samples. We were then given the go-ahead to start fulfilling our judging duties. The six of us started to take the cups off the lids and going to work.
I did my best to carefully taste and thoughtfully contemplate each entry. My fellow judges chatted aloud about what they were tasting and their feedback mostly helped to cement what I was thinking myself. With so much macaroni and cheese in front of you, it is impossible not to get full. To ease the stress on your stomach, it is wise to only eat a couple bites of each sample. However, a couple entries tasted so incredible that I betrayed what my belly was telling me and I ate the whole thing. Those would be my personal winners.
As judges we were told to pick our two favorite macaroni and cheese dishes. With that said, here are my top choices…
One of the samples that I ate to the last bite was a macaroni and cheese dish that was cooked on a grill. When you took a bite, it had that flame grilled magical taste you would expect to enjoy on a steak or a piece of chicken. Believe me, it tasted just as good on that macaroni and cheese as it did on those two pieces of meat I just mentioned. I had never experienced mac and cheese like that before and I rewarded it as my favorite dish.
Coming in a very, very close second for me was a chicken macaroni and cheese dish. Not only did it have chicken but it also had a perfect combination of seasonings and spices. To me, it almost tasted like there was a kick of pesto in it. Just like with the other dish I recognized, the flavor was so distinctive. I was pleased to recognize the chicken mac and cheese as my second favorite dish.
After we gave our feedback, we were released to go out and enjoy the rest of the day. Because of this, I did not stay long enough to hear which dish was crowned the Surf Dreams Foundation Mac-N-Cheese Cook Off CHAMP. However, if word gets back to me after I publish this blog post I will let you know.
One last thing: Remember how I mentioned we performed our judging duties in a car wash garage? That was because the event director was Phil Jackson, owner of Surfside Shine Car Wash. The event took place in the parking lot of his business. I want to congratulate Phil for running a spectacular event and thank him for choosing me to judge. It was great to meet him and I admire how he organized and executed such a fun day.
Some of the judges mentioned they probably won’t be able to eat macaroni and cheese for the rest of the year. Not me! Hey Sid, I got an idea for dinner tonight… 🙂