Chef’s Corner: Celebrating Mac and Cheese Day 

With Mac and Cheese day last month, we compiled a few recent data points and asked our Chef Yury for his take on the most popular pasta menu item in America. What’s kept it so popular for so long, and what makes a great mac? What else belongs on the Oscars menu by Wolfgang Puck, and also on every kids menu in every segment!   

Chef Yury’s Mac-nificent Tips

  1. Instead of heavy cream, make a béchamel base with low-fat milk, butter and flour. Even with the butter, you’ll start out ahead on fat calories.  
  1. For kids menu versions (or even the adult ones!) use cooked vegetable purees blended into the sauce to cut the fat further and add flavor, color and richness. Think carrots, parsnips, cauliflower or sweet potatoes, and mix it up with the seasons.  
  1. Especially for adult Macs, use cheeses with added flavor punch, like smoked cheeses, pepper jack, or even blue. You can use less, and get maximum impact.  
  1. Mac and cheese is a great way to use animal proteins as a condiment — a bit of crispy prosciutto, crab or lobster, or braised lamb makes a Mac special even in small quantities. It’s better for food cost, and the environment too.  
  1. Mac and Cheese is an awesome veggie carrier! Everyone will eat their veggies if Mac and cheese is part of every bite. Robust, flavorful and firm veggies are best, like broccoli, cauliflower and squash. Avoid watery veggies like zucchini and peppers.  
  1. Don’t forget the crumbs! I love a breadcrumb topping on a Mac. It’s easy to have a breadcrumb mix on hand, even a gluten-free one. With fresh herbs, garlic and spices, a little goes a long way, and really adds to the eye appeal.  

Who Does it Best?  
We love the mac at emerging chain concept Fields Good Chicken. They blend cauliflower into the cheese sauce, and give it a panko breadcrumb topping. The Barilla cellentani (aka cavatappi) pasta is also the #1 growing pasta shape in mac and cheeses, so they’re right on trend here!  

For taking mac and cheese over the top, it’s hard to beat Chef Alex Hoefer’s smoked cheddar mac with crab and lobster. It’s rich, indulgent and premium, and Chef adds a touch of theater by serving it out of cast iron on a smoking cedar plank. White cheddar and smoked cheeses are in the top 10 for growth ingredients, so on trend again!  

Chef Tish Rodgers turns up the heat with her Mac, done Cajun-style with Nashville Hot Chicken Skins as a garnish. Poblano chilies and andouille sausage add some fire to the party, already flavorful from a 5-cheese blend. The crunchy, spicy fried chicken skins let the good times roll. Spicy ingredients like buffalo sauce make the top 5 in growth ingredients.  

Finally, our own Chef Yury does a take on arancini made with an orzo mac and cheese. Served with a Calabrian chile fondue for dipping, it adds an interactive and subtly spicy element that’s out of this world.