Third annual Mac-Off aims to bring folks together with food

King Street Grill’s Macaroni and Cheese Eggroll at last year’s Mac-Off.

Editor’s note: Friday’s Mac-Off is part of a series of events presented by Charleston Scene.

By Abigail darlington

It’s hard to say who will have the greater challenge at the 2012 Charleston Mac-Off on Friday: the chefs preparing the mac and cheese or the attendees who have to choose which one is the best.

Charleston is known for its talented chefs and its knack for Southern food, so the cook-off is sure to be a tasty yet suspenseful affair.

Attendees will have the opportunity to sample the offerings from nearly 20 local restaurants and vote for the People’s Choice award while a panel of three judges will select their favorite for the Critics Choice award.

Poogan’s Porch won the Critics Choice award last year. Executive chef Daniel Doyle is hoping he’ll yield the same results by using the same recipe.

“Last year, we just brought the one from the menu,” he said. “It’s really pretty simple. And we won, so I don’t really want to mess with success on that level. I think we are just going to keep doing what we’re doing, but just do it really well.”

Doyle’s recipe is a smoked Gouda and country ham mac and cheese topped with green onions and a country ham dust. The dust, he explains, is similar to bacon crumbles.

“It’s something classic with a slight twist, which is what I like to do,” Doyle said.

Mount Pleasant’s Graze is going for something more eccentric for its first year participating in the competition.

“We’re calling it Southern Supper Mac,” Graze co-owner Bradford Bobbit said. “It’s going to be a white cheddar mac-n-cheese that has fried chicken and collard greens in it.”

The mac and cheese dish hasn’t been added to Graze’s menu — yet. Bobbit said the Mac-Off will be somewhat like a trial run for the new dish, but he’s confident that it’ll be a crowd favorite.

“It’s like a meal all in one place,” he said. “There’s more to it than just pasta and cheese sauce, and it’s nice how it all balances. The crispy fried chicken goes well with the vinegar in the collard greens and the cheese. It just really goes well together.”

While winning would be a plus for Graze, Bobbit said he’s just happy to be involved in an event with so many talented chefs. Plus, he’s excited to spend a day out on the Cooper River.

“It seems like a really fun event, especially with it being at the Waterfront Park there under the bridge in Mount Pleasant, and that’s right in our backyard,” he said.

In previous years, the Mac-Off has been held at the Charleston Visitor Center Bus Shed downtown. With the change in location, event coordinator Paul Farrell said he’s hoping for an even bigger turnout.

“This year, we’re doing some different things, and we want to make it bigger and bigger every year,” he said.

The event will center on mac and cheese tasting, but Farrell has a few other things in store, too. He’s booked two local bands, fire hula-hoop dancers and even a professional bull whipper to perform tricks.

For live music, Maybe Antebellum will perform mostly cover songs, and The Tarlatan Duo will perform acoustic rock.

In between all the mac and cheese tasting, you may want to grab a drink or two. Beverage tents will be sprinkled throughout the venue and will serve samples of moonshine and Firefly Vodka’s new line of java rum. Beer by Bud Light and Sam Adams, along with Angry Orchard Cider, also will be on tap.

“It’s going to be an action-packed time,” Farrell said. “I just want to bring people together, and mac-n-cheese is a good way to do it.”