Attendees at this weekend’s Mac-Off are likely to be exposed to a range of wild macaroni and cheese recipes by chefs trying to wow eventgoers — whose votes determine the People’s Choice title — with their creativity.
As an experimental mac evangelist, Stephanie Stiavetti strongly supports chefs thinking outside the blue-and-yellow box when concocting their entries. But the co-author of the forthcoming Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, written with fellow freelancer Garrett McCord, says any version of the iconic dish should be judged primarily on the quality of its ingredients.
“Our highest priority for superb mac-and-cheese is fresh ingredients,” Stiavetti says. “And don’t cook the personalities out of them.”
Stiavetti and McCord reject mac-and-cheese “taboos,” including the popular proscriptions on cheese with seafood and cheese with classically Asian ingredients.
“Granted, it takes a little bit of fiddling because these worlds don’t collide too often,” she says. “But we did some awesome lobster macs and a tuna noodle casserole with cheese.”
Other recipes in the book feature artisan cheeses, many of which weren’t designed to be melted down en masse.
“Cheesemakers engineer cheese to be enjoyed the way people enjoy them: On room temperature, sitting on a plate,” Stiavetti says. “That’s awesome. But when we told them we were elevating their cheeses beyond the plate, they were intrigued. We didn’t meet any resistance.”
Although the authors like small-batch cheeses, their primary goal is to encourage home cooks to play with different cheeses with macaroni as their canvas.
“Our biggest priority is to get cheese in the hands of the people,” Stiavetti says. “We wanted to push the idea of play. If you want to add spinach or chopped pecans to a recipe, go for it.”