This year's Fourth Annual Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Contest finals took place Thursday in Portland, Oregon. As with last year's event, six contestants from all over the country battled in front of a live audience for the glory of having their recipe declared the best of this year's crop. The event was quite the party, with wine, beer and food flowing freely and attendees (by invitation only) enthusiastically cheering for their favorites. Former Top Chef winner Ilan Hall served as Master of Ceremonies and performed a short cooking demo of his own version of Mac n' Cheese with shaved truffles.
Judges included local luminaries, food critics and TV personalities such as Stephanie Stricklen of KGW, Rebekah Denn of the Seattle P-I,Rob Widmer of Widmer Brewing, and others including me, twenty four in all. We were tasked with the difficult job of tasting and rating each dish in categories like presentation, taste, cheesy-ness and the like. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it, right?
This year's Grand Prize winner was Angie Phillips from Tarzana, California. Angie's recipe, Carmelized Sweet Potato, Garlic and Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese, was flavorful and cheesy with herby rosemary undertones. The People's Choice winner (selected by voters online) was Melissa LaCaille from Kirkland, Washington who won with her Cornbread Topped Apple Macaroni and Cheese. I did not expect to like this version with apples but it proved to be quite tasty, with the apples (chopped into small bits) providing an appealing texture contrast. Phillips took home $5,000 and 25 lbs of cheese; LaCaille took home $2,500 as well as 25 lbs. of cheese. Both will certainly bask in the glow of their wins for quite some time.
For more about the contest, rules and recipes for all six finalists, see the web site here. Below is a slide show compilation of shots from the event.