Whether it’s made with gruyere and basil a la Ina Garten or whipped up from the classic blue Kraft box, mac and cheese is a comfort food millions of Americans enjoy.
Executive editor and co-publisher of Austin Food Magazine, Hayden Walker, decided to bring mac and cheese enthusiasts together with the first annual Austin Mac and Cheese Festival.
On Nov. 13 at the Historic Scoot Inn, almost two dozen eateries will compete for the title of best mac and cheese in Austin. Attendees will be able to vote for their favorite versions of the dish, and die-hard mac and cheese fans can opt for the VIP ticket and gain access to unlimited food tastings, early entry and specialty cocktails.
“At some point, we decided to come up with something weird and something that people love to eat, because Austin loves weird and people love the go-to simple foods,” Walker said. “The first thing that popped into my mind was mac and cheese, because I’ve always loved [it].”
Mighty Bird, which has appeared at Austin City Limits Music Fesival and Formula 1, will be one of the restaurants participating this weekend. Owner Brendan Puthoff is excited for the opportunity because it helps get the restaurant’s name out into the community.
“A lot of people don’t get to make it up to Anderson Lane, so we get to bring it to different corners of the city to kind of show what we can do,” Puthoff said. “We heard about it because we keep our ear to the ground on all sorts of different city-wide events, and we try to participate in them whenever we can.”
Puthoff said Mighty Bird’s smoked cheddar mac and cheese will be unique for attendees.
“Hands down the biggest thing people will notice about our mac and cheese is our mac and cheese is gluten-free,” Puthoff said. “I think it will be appealing to people who are both gluten intolerant as well as not.”
Much of the advertisement for the festival was conducted through social media platforms. Public health freshman Smrithi Mahadevan, who likes to get mac and cheese at food trucks and Littlefield Cafe on campus, found out about the festival through the Facebook event page.
“[Mac and cheese] is a comfort food that I’ve always loved,” Mahadevan said.
Like Mighty Bird, Pink Avocado Catering also decided to add a twist to his traditional mac and cheese entry inspired by one of executive chef Brenton Schumacher’s favorite comfort foods growing up.
“We are doing a reuben mac and cheese with our own corn beef, sauerkraut, three really awesome cheeses from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and rye bread crumbs,” Schumacher said. “It’s kind of like our take on our favorite sandwich in a mac and cheese form.”
Walker said the festival has sold out and that next year, Austin Food Magazine hopes to extend the festival to two days so more people can attend. In the future, they hope to bring the festival to other parts of Texas and the country.
“I hope [attendees] have a great time, the first and foremost thing,” Walker said. “Also, I want them to walk away full and happy. If you’re not happily miserable when you’re walking away from a food festival, then we didn’t do something right.”
Austin Mac and Cheese Festival
When: Nov. 13 at 12:30 p.m.
Where: Historic Scoot Inn
Admission: $30 General Admission; $65 VIP