Second-annual Austin Mac and Cheese Festival expands its reach

Grace Speas

Mac and cheese may be a simple dish, but it still draws crowds when done right.

Austin Food Magazine hosted 1,500 guests in its second-annual Austin Mac and Cheese festival on Sunday, a number which was triple that of last year. Facebook users were scrambling for resale tickets in the days before the sold-out festival.

“Because the demands are so crazy, we may have to do multiple days of the festival in future years,” said Hayden Walker, editor-in-chief and director of operations for Austin Food Magazine.

Patrons filled the outdoor festival grounds in front of the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts from 12 to 4 p.m., gorging themselves with mac and cheese and craft beer. Guests bought tickets starting at $20 to taste mac and cheeses from over 30 different vendors competing for the best dish variety.

“When I started thinking about doing a food festival, I thought about my own favorite food,” Walker said. “Barbecue was already taken, so what about mac and cheese?”

Festival-goers each cast one vote for the best vendor after sampling mac and cheeses sprinkled with jalapeño, brisket, lobster and bacon. Official judges from restaurants, breweries and media outlets also attended to taste test.

“I figured, stick with something simple and let the chefs get creative,” Walker said.

Journalism senior Mary Layne Strieber, an intern for Austin Food Magazine, said the event gives good exposure to local restaurants.

“(People) go and eat amazing mac and cheese at a certain restaurant’s booth and then they think of that restaurant again for date night, even though they may have never heard of it before the fest,” Strieber said.

Courtney’s Catering marketing manager Taylor Key said the company also participated last year, and the event is bigger, more televised and more organized this year.

“We’re known for our mac and cheese,” Key said. “Lines for the booths vary, but the one for our booth is wrapping around others.”

Greenhouse Craft Food won the People’s Choice Award and the judges chose their own favorite — a bacon mac and cheese quesadilla from Punch Bowl Social.

“A big announcement about the festival will be coming in the spring,” Walker said. “For today, as long as everyone leaves full, I’m thankful.”