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Monday, August 24, 2009

My Battle with Judging the Mac Battle Royale with Cheese

Posted By on Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 5:33 PM

click to enlarge Death by dairy: Mac Battle Royale w/ Cheese
  • Death by dairy: Mac Battle Royale w/ Cheese
It's been more than 24 hours since SF Food Wars held its inaugural cooking competition at Stable Cafe (2128 Folsom at 17th St.). Even a day later, I am still weighted with quease for cheese, slogging through the day in a carbohydrate haze.

When organizer Jeannie Choe kindly asked me to be one of the guest judges for the Mac Battle Royale w/Cheese (aka mac and cheese battle), it sounded like a dream. I accepted without even thinking about it. Later, the reality set in: How exactly did I plan to handle sampling 20 different and incredibly eccentric entries, especially with a notoriously delicate tummy?

click to enlarge Life's rough as a cheese judge.
  • Life's rough as a cheese judge.
The best solution available: An industrial-sized box of lactose intolerance medication, a vow to eat no more than two bites of each dish, a wing, and a prayer. For the most part, it worked, until the cavalcade of divergent flavors started to sink in.

Truffle. Peanut butter. Vadouvan. Fatback. Duck. Bourbon. Chicharrones (twice). Bacon (too many times to count).

Oh, and cheese. Did I mention cheese?

click to enlarge Photographer's Choice Winners from Team Fromage.
  • Photographer's Choice Winners from Team Fromage.
For a group of contestants with so much creativity in their concepts, many people still chose at least some form of cheddar -- or, in the case of Photographer's Choice winners Team Fromage, four kinds of cheddar. But there were other stars: Fontina, Gruyère, Gorgonzola, Jack, Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano.

click to enlarge Second place winners Fat Bottom Girls' deceptively delicious vegan mac.
  • Second place winners Fat Bottom Girls' deceptively delicious vegan mac.
My fellow judges (Allan Hough and Kevin Montgomery from Mission Mission, and Beatrice Gomberg from MarketBar) and I were proud that our first place winner, KKR and Bike Basket Pies' Mac 'N Cheese Pies -- a sinful blend of blue cheese, walnuts, spinach, apple, shiitakes, and macaroni that made me break my two-bite rule -- also snagged the People's Choice category. We were also stoked to award second place to Fat Bottom Girls' Who Cares, a we-can't-believe-it's-not-butter vegan concoction that garnered creaminess from cashews, miso, and mustard; and third place to the Rachael RayGuns' Maryland Style Mac & Cheese, served with a rosemary-infused Bloody Maryland cocktail. The latter's sweet, comforting creaminess was my personal favorite.

click to enlarge Team Dirty Swinechez: Oink vey!
  • Team Dirty Swinechez: Oink vey!
The next SF Food Wars battle will be the Mini-Cupcake Clash at Stable Cafe on October 18. Considering that yesterday's battle sold out and had more than enough entrants in less than 24 hours after being announced, odds are that this will also be a hot ticket.

click to enlarge Judge's Choice and People's Choice winner: KKR & Bike Basket Pies' Mac' N Cheese Pies
  • Judge's Choice and People's Choice winner: KKR & Bike Basket Pies' Mac' N Cheese Pies
My fingers are crossed that Choe will let me be a judge again, because that's one I know I can handle. But her great organizing skills led to an event that was clearly enjoyed by all, without excessive lines or having to fight for food (sadly an exception rather than the rule for these types of throwdowns), so I know I'd have a great experience going as a regular patron.
click to enlarge KKR and Bike Basket Pies: Big macs.
  • KKR and Bike Basket Pies: Big macs.

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Tamara Palmer

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