At a fundraiser for the Organic School Project, everyone mills about Goose Island Brewery, shoveling in spoonful after spoonful of mac ‘n’ cheese, throwing back brews and enjoying one cupcake (and then another). A wellness program created by Chef Greg Christian that works with the Chicago Public School System to get kids eating healthier, OSP plants organic gardens at schools, teaches youngsters about nutrition and works to combat obesity. Everyday, OSP provides Alcott Elementary with all organic, natural and made-from-scratch lunches.
This information, coupled with the images being continuously broadcast from the Goose Island TVs of OSP children eating organically and working in gardens, endows one with a creeping sense of guilt. Shouldn’t this event practice what it preaches? Nah, let’s try the Mac-tini. The Adam Seger-designed mac ‘n’ cheese-inspired cocktail made with cheddar cheese, maple syrup, fresh lime juice and CapRock vodka, flies off the bar and down the throats of fundrais-ees with surprising speed.
The fundraiser is, at its core, a competition, a test of culinary cajones, a cook-off of epic proportions. Time for the “Mac ‘n’ Cheese SMACKDOWN.”
Twenty celebrity, local and amateur chefs are pitted against each other to see who can make the best mac ‘n’ cheese. Stephanie Izard of “Top Chef,” Amalia Obermeier-Smith of Kuma’s Corner, Giuseppe Tentori of Boka and others all step up to the plate with mouthwateringly creative creations.
Attendees dive into the Mac Alla Vienza, Porky Love, Mac ‘n’ Jack, Smokin’ Mackin’ Cheese, Da Mac, Mac-a-rrific Cheesy Goodness and Peanut Butter and Jelly Mac ‘n’ Cheese with renewed vigor, placing tickets in cups in front of those they find to be the best.
“I just recently discovered mac ‘n’ cheese outside of Kraft,” gushes Chris Lam, basking in his post-mac glow. “And, honesty, I came here more for the mac ‘n’ cheese than for the cause.”
All votes finally accounted for, a winner is chosen, the Mac-Daddy of mac ‘n’ cheeses finally named.
“Scooby Snacks!” screams the emcee from the stage. It is Rockit Bar & Grill’s James Gottwald’s creation, an inspired four-cheese macaroni with burgundy braised oxtail.
In his acceptance speech, he informs us, “I just cook what I like to eat.” (Meaghan Strickland)