I know this blog post is super late now, but the June 5-7 weekend saw the first Mac & Cheese Festival in Toronto. Hosted by Metro, this festival featured a number of local vendors in Toronto cooking up different gourmet mac and cheese creations in efforts to win the “People’s Choice” award. The festival also promotes and gives back to FoodShare Toronto, an increasingly visible non-profit organization that delivers healthy food and food literacy to schools and low-income communities.
What a crazy event, and in so many awesome and not-so-awesome ways. I went on Friday, the first day of the festival, and arrived to a fairly long line up just after it opened at 6pm. It had just stopped raining and it was still pretty early, so I really didn’t expect to see anyone there yet. The wait to get tokens (I spent $20 for 20 tokens for two people, and food items ranged from 2-5 tokens each) was already about 15-20 minutes long. That wait time would become close to an hour long shortly after and pretty much throughout the evening, so I’m glad I arrived when I did.
Tickets in hand, I entered the Liberty Market area, where there was a lazy lounge / beer garden and live music to greet me. Pretty nice set up. There was no map of where each vendor would be (there should be some kind of map!!), so I wandered around and saw mac & cheese offerings including anything from ice cream, Cheetos, truffles, udon, sushi, samosas, pop rocks, ddeokbeokki, and jerk chicken… and the list really doesn’t end there. o_o There was an area concentrated with vendors, but I wasn’t aware of it at first and actually walked over to a quieter section and just started spending my tickets!
MAC & CHEESE #1
OATS & IVY
rice and quinoa macaroni, butternut squash purée, organic cheddar and parmesan with zucchini salad and yam chips (gluten free)
This was a nice start to my mac and cheese adventure! Nothing particularly “out there”, but really enjoyable. It was also a pretty good size for 3 tokens. I especially liked the zucchini in combination with the mac and cheese, as well as the yam chip. I didn’t taste much of the butternut squash purée.
MAC & CHEESE DUCK DINEASTY
MERCI MON AMI
hot deep fried panko crusted macaroni and cheese puck topped with a cold barbecue duck wasabi and and ginger green onion macaroni salad garnished with crushed double smoked sweet and sour lemon zest bacon, organic pea tenders
Who knew a mac and cheese dish could be so exquisite and refined? I was super impressed with this on presentation alone. The vendors were really friendly and excited about being in the festival, and invited me to take as many pictures as I could of their dish. They also advised to eat it basically like a shot in one bite – it can get messy, haha, but the result was a beautiful burst of flavour and a whole new level of mac and cheese I had never experienced before. I especially liked the tenderness mixed with a softly satisfying crunch.
I gave this place my vote for best mac and cheese! We kept coming back here as at one point it was the only vendor whose line (from what we could tell) was actually still moving at all, but it really was my favourite mac and cheese concoction of the ones I got to try.
LOCAL BEER MAC N CHEESE
LOCAL PUBLIC EATERY
goose island honker’s ale and gorgonzola bechamel, cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, st. albert’s cheese curds, and monterey jack, panko-parmesan crumble with secret spices, red pepper-rosemary relish and parsley
So cheesy and creamy! It’s a heavy portion, too. This was the closest to traditional comfort-food-type mac and cheese that I had at the festival. I was curious about it having beer, but didn’t really taste much of it. The relish was a little too sweet for me, but the panko-parmesan crumble was great. This was a good choice to go with if you only had time to line up at one of the vendors since it’s filling enough to be its own meal.
FOR YOUR CAKE HOLE
flourless chocolate brownie with cross wind farms goat chevre cheesecake topped with a brown rice macaroni crumble
By the time I went back to the alley packed with the majority of the festival’s vendors, the line-ups had gotten pretty insane. I managed to snag a spot in line for dessert. It was delicious! It’s a brownie/cheesecake combination, so I had a hard time imagining how it could go wrong. The macaroni crumble was interesting, being nice and sweet. It was a little too hard though to be all that enjoyable, and I think I would have liked a softer crumble. Otherwise, a great go at a mac and cheese dessert!
KHAAS PAV BHAJI MAC & CHEESE
BOMBAY STREET FOOD
We didn’t get to eat anything again until a couple hours later, haha. The Bombay Street Food ladies offered a fusion mac and cheese. They had already run out of their curry to go with this, but it was still great! So many and such interesting flavours to go together! I would have loved to have had the intended product.
This festival, as no doubt many goers and media outlets have now said, was also quite the disaster. The organizers just weren’t prepared for the sheer mass of people who ended up going, and the venue of alleyways probably wasn’t the best choice for it. It got really crowded and really messy. There probably weren’t enough volunteers either, but it would have been good to see them do a little more damage control in limiting ticket sales towards the middle and end of the night: people were basically ticket-dumping just to get rid of their tickets and eat something after being in line for so long, and this resulted in even longer waits and disappointments for other people in line. They should probably look into devoting some efforts into informing line-ups when things were sold out (though it was just so hard to move around from even one meter to the next!) and possibly regulating how many of an item one person could buy. A map of where each of the vendors were would have been good too just so that people could (theoretically; ideally) plan out where they wanted to be. I also don’t think a lot of people knew about some of the few vendors that were off to the side and though busy, weren’t as crazy.
Having gone early on Friday night, my experience of the festival was definitely a lot better than what I could only imagine others’ to be. It was chaotic, but also delicious, and I hope they figure some more logistics out for a better event next year if they choose to have it again.