Sneak peek at Indy’s first festival dedicated to mac and cheese

Return of the Mac and Cheese entry for Thunderbird Indy. (Provided Photo/Thunderbird Indy)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As the community prepares for Indy’s first festival dedicated to mac and cheese, so are the participating restaurants. Some of the chefs are giving cheese-lovers a preview of what to expect.

There will be two sessions on Jan. 8 for Return of the Mac: Indy’s First Mac and Cheese Fest, after an overwhelming demand for additional tickets by the community. The first session is at 1 p.m. and the second session is at 5 p.m.

Attendees will get a chance to taste the cheesy creations from 26 different restaurants.

Some of the participating restaurants spoke with 24-Hour News 8’s Melissa Turpin about the event.


Pictured: ClusterTruck's Chef Tim McIntosh showing his cheesy creation entry for Indy's first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/ClusterTruck)
Pictured: ClusterTruck’s Chef Tim McIntosh showing his cheesy creation entry for Indy’s first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/ClusterTruck)

ClusterTruck is a delivery-only business that makes its food from scratch. It opened in April 2016.

Tim McIntosh, Executive Chef for ClusterTruck, will be sent to compete in the cheese-inspired festival.

Gwen Ragno, the Digital Marketing Specialist, said mac and cheese may seem simple, but there is more that goes into the process than most would think.

“ClusterTruck is participating in Return of the Mac because we, like every person in that twice-sold-out crowd, are obsessed with mac and cheese. Our baked mac and cheese dishes are consistently best sellers, particularly the Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese,” Ragno said. “So when we were invited to take part in this event, we couldn’t resist! We relish any opportunity to get creative and give people a chance to taste something new, so it really was a no-brainer.”

Ragno said ClusterTruck will be serving Smoked Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese, baked with a crispy Parmesan crust. The dish features Tyner Pond Farms pulled chicken, smoked and then tossed in spicy buffalo sauce.

Pictured: ClusterTruck's Chef Tim McIntosh mixing mac and cheese entry for Indy's first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/ClusterTruck)
Pictured: ClusterTruck’s Chef Tim McIntosh mixing mac and cheese entry for Indy’s first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/ClusterTruck)

Chef McIntosh based this creation on the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese that’s on the restaurant’s regular menu, but he kicked up the flavor by smoking the chicken first.

Ragno said everyone should come with an open-mind and an empty belly.

Anyone who stops by the ClusterTruck booth at the event can pick up a discount coupon to use on their first ClusterTruck order, as well as a coupon for Tyner Pond Farm.


(Provided Photo/CharBlue)
(Provided Photo/CharBlue)

CharBlue is a local restaurant that specializes in farm-to-table organically grown products and prime beef.

Rickey Hatfield, Executive Chef for CharBlue, will be entering his mac and cheese that has been on the restaurant’s menu for the past six months.

Hatfield created his mac and cheese in hopes it will become the best in Indianapolis.

“CharBlue is excited to take part. Our mac and cheese is crab stuffed and available every day at the restaurant.  If we win then great, should someone else win then they had some darn good mac and cheese,” Hamman said.

Jeremiah Hamman with CharBlue and Prime 47 Carmel said attendees should expect a great time, a full stomach and a lot of cheese. He suggests attendees try all the samples from each chef’s creation.

Second Helpings:

Second Helpings rescues prepared and perishable food from wholesalers, retailers and restaurants to prevent waste. The food rescued is used by volunteers and staff to create 4,000 meals each day. The meals are then distributed to 80 social service agencies that feed people in need.

Chef Vincent Kinkade and Chef Scott Lawson will be representing Second Helpings at the festival to get the word out about the business and the work it does for the community.

The two chefs have been working on their creation since the event was announced. They have tried different recipes but said they finally found one they think will be a winner.

Kinkade said attendees should expect to taste three cheeses for their dish. He said the cheeses are a little smokey, a little garlicky and have a lot of creaminess.

“We’re already winning by having the chance to get the word out about the great work that we are doing at Second Helpings,” Chef Kinkade said.

Second Helpings said winning the competition would be more like cheese on the macaroni rather than icing on the cake.


Return of the Mac and Cheese entry for Thunderbird Indy. (Provided Photo/Thunderbird Indy)
Return of the Mac and Cheese entry for Thunderbird Indy. (Provided Photo/Thunderbird Indy)

Thunderbird has been located in Fountain Square since it opened in 1950. It’s a restaurant with Southern-inspired food classics.

Attendees will get the chance to try the cheesy-masterpiece created by Executive Chef Kristen York, and the Chefs de Partie Zach Dove and Ben Latimer.

York said at first the cooks expected 500 attendees, but now there are expected to be over 2,300 people. She said once she was informed of that kind of volume and a bigger budget, she and the other chefs went nuts.

Thunderbird has always made mac and cheese, as well as poutine.

York suggests guests take their time when tasting the samples.

“Don’t eat breakfast? Don’t feel like you need to try every sample. When I go to stuff like this, food shows, etc, I make a lap. Then I pick out what I want to try the most, and make another round. I usually end up sharing bites or taking smaller portions because by the end of the day, you’ll just die,” York said. “It’s not about the portions, it’s about all of the weirdness you’ve ingested! So take it slow. Although, I did hear rumors of a Lactaid and Pepto table for those who just wanna get stuffed.”

If you aren’t able to make it to the event, Thunderbird will be featuring their Return of the Mac entry on their menu from Sunday, Jan. 8 through the end of Devour Indy.

Cerulean Restaurant: 

Cerulean Restaurant offers creative meat and seafood entrees, along with wine and cocktails.

The Executive Chef, Alan Sternberg, will be representing the restaurant with his cheesy concoction.

Sternberg describes his concoction as having a lot of cheese with a subtle sweetness of braised pork cheeks.

His advice for the day?

“Make a game plan and get to the places you want early. You’ll probably get the most bang for your buck that way,” Sternberg said.

Tulip Tree Creamery:

Tulip Tree Creamery uses traditional European recipes and adds a twist to them. The business purchases its milk from Lot Hill Dairy Farm in Seymour, Indiana and makes all products by hand.

Katy Williams and Maddison Benecke are the cooks participating in this year’s first mac and cheese fest.

Williams said it was a “no brainer” for Tulip Tree Creamery to enter since they make artisan cheese, which she says is the best cheese for the best mac.

The original recipe was inspired by Williams’ friend from Savannah, Georgia. Williams said last year she added Tulip Tree Creamery’s funky Foxglove cheese with some leftovers from a party. She said it was the best grown-up mac she has ever had.

Williams has been perfecting the the base recipe since 2009.

Attendees should expect a buttery pretzel crunch, malty mellow beer notes, gooey slightly funky cheese and a sweet finish with Tulip Tree Creamery’s dish.

Williams said, “Tulip Tree Creamery’s should win the competition because the mac and cheese is made with our award winning cheese, butter, and love.”

To view their Instagram page, click here.

Sangrita Saloon:

Sangrita Saloon is driven by modern Mexican cuisine and offers craft agave spirits. The menu is prepared from scratch daily by the restaurants culinary team.

Head Chef Joshua Huffman is the creator of the restaurant’s mac and cheese entry.

Huffman said Sangrita Saloon is participating because hot cheese and carbs are the last true bastions of freedom. He said the restaurant intends to defend them at all costs.

Since the moment he was born, he says he has been working on his cheesy creation.

“The mac was always destined to return, and I knew I had no chose but to answer it’s call,” Huffman said.

He was inspired by “the natural untamed force that is present in all true artistic expression, as well as the conceptual transformation of queso fundido into pasta and passion.”

Huffman said attendees should expect to be rendered incapable of rational thought upon consumption.

“Be prepared to evolve beyond your present human form. Also, probably wear comfortable shoes,” he said.

Rooster’s Kitchen:

Rooster's Kitchen ma and cheese entry for Indy's first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/Ross Katz, owner of Rooster's Kitchen)
Rooster’s Kitchen entry for Indy’s first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/Ross Katz, Owner of Rooster’s Kitchen)

Rooster’s Kitchen is a restaurant that offers American comfort food classic, as well local Indy beer.

The owner of the restaurant Ross Katz will be entering his best selling mac and cheese.

Katz has been working on his creation since August 2016. He said he was inspired by a recipe he developed during college.

He said when attendees try his creation, they should expect a unique taste that keeps the “home-style feel.”

Katz suggests those attending to look at the vendor list ahead of time in order to not miss out on something.

“We should win because we take an honest home-style approach to our recipes. We don’t use pre-packaged sauces. Everything we are bringing will be from scratch and made with love,” Katz said.

Joella’s Hot Chicken: 

Joella's Hot Chicken mac and cheese entry for Indy's first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/Bruce Rosenblatt, Director of Operations at Joella's Hot Chicken)
Joella’s Hot Chicken mac and cheese entry for Indy’s first mac and cheese fest. (Provided Photo/Bruce Rosenblatt, Director of Operations at Joella’s Hot Chicken)

Joella’s Hot Chicken is a classic southern chicken restaurant that makes its food from scratch. The restaurant will be opening a location in Indianapolis soon.

Bruce Rosenblatt and Jeff Lahman are the creators of their cheese-filled dish.

“We are participating so the citizens of Indianapolis can get a taste of what Joella’s Hot Chicken is all about. It’s about our freshness and commitment to quality by how it’s made from scratch sides and dressings on a daily basis. Rosenblatt said. “Our promise is to offer 100 percent service and quality of our product.”

Rosenblatt said the recipe took two years to master. They started working on the recipe in March 2015 and finished the final recipe a few weeks ago.

“It took this long because we are our biggest critics. We push ourselves every day to master every one of our products. Our mac and cheese has become one of our signature products here at Joella’s Hot Chicken,” he said.

Rosenblatt suggests attendees try every chef’s creation and then decide which one you prefer to have on a daily basis.

In addition, Josh Baker with do317 said he came up with the idea a few times when running into friends.

“Who doesnt like mac and cheese? We talked about it for almost a year, off and on until we finally pushed forward with a plan in November,” Baker said.

The name of the event came to be after the Mark Morrison song Return of the Mack was stuck in their head. He said attendees can count on that song being on repeat during the event.

“We plan on expanding the event to include satellite events in Hamilton County and Bloomington this year.  We will be announcing more dates after this Sunday’s event,” Baker said.

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