Baltimore hosts a Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown, and we crowned our own winners!
A well-made mac ‘n cheese is one of the most important meals of the day, and Baltimore Vegan Drinks, along with PEP Foods, sought to deliver. The very first “Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown” happened on Saturday in West Baltimore at the Urban Business Center, and Ecorazzi staff and contributors were lucky enough to go. Competitors ranged from kitchen warriors to full-blown catering companies, and we spent the better part of our afternoon sampling it all, and picking our own three winners! Also, excuse the iPhone photos, as I was both taking pictures and cramming food down my gullet.
Voting commenced by dropping paper clips in a small box at each chef’s station for a People’s Choice Award, and official judges decided on categories such as Best Table Decor, Best Gluten-Free, and of course, a champion’s stand of first through third place. So, did the event measure up to the Facebook hype? Folks travelled from all over the East coast, expecting to sample some amazing dishes.
THE GOOD: Oh, my god. The food. The food was wild! I sampled the best mac I’ve ever consumed, in my entire life to date on Saturday. While some chefs went the Daiya route and spiced up a somewhat bland product, plenty cooked and cured their very own cheeses. Cashew cheese was a big hit this year, and definitely made me excited to try making it myself. One competitor had FOUR homemade nut cheeses in their pasta bake! Imagine that, and try not to drool all over your keyboard.
The organizers made the event accessible to people from all income levels by pricing it at a far $10 for pre-sale and only an additional $5 if you waited to purchase at the door. Kids got in for free, which made it an excellent family-friendly choice for a Saturday afternoon. The vendors were thrilled to be there, and the energy level for the first hour of the event was brilliant as we went from table to table and took all the samples we could get our hands on. A big turnout proves that 2016 is undoubtedly the year of the vegan.
THE BAD: I’m always thrilled for a great vegan success, but having helped manage and plan many events in the past, I was disappointed with the execution of the Smackdown. While as a door ticket buyer, I waited in a line of three people before getting in, my friends pre-ordered a month ago and ended up waiting twenty minutes in a line that would eventually stretch out the door.
On the Facebook event, Baltimore Vegan Drinks said they had planned for about 200 people, and 1,000 showed up. Yeah, let that sink in. While I am over the moon that so many people had an interest (go vegans!!!) the event just wasn’t safe, and I think attendees were fortunate that no health problems or accidents occurred in a space where one could not move their elbows or legs. Organizers on Facebook implored grumpy guests on Facebook to look at the positives, which I totally get. Volunteers worked their butts off to put on the event! Sadly, there wasn’t any real responsibility taken for overselling by hundreds and hundreds of people. The high numbers resulted in samples being cut by more than half as the day went on. I’m confident the event will run VERY differently next year, and remain hopeful.
THE BEST! How can Ecorazzi not choose their own Official Ecorazzi Winners?! We might not have fancy trophies, but we DO have a well-developed palate for creamy pasta goodness. The three most excellent macs, in no particular order:
Erin Longbottom and Charlie Girard of Drop the Mac had not only an incredible product (thank god they’re local to my city!) but the funniest decorations. Cooking under the names of Justin Brie-ber and Nicki Fromage, they delivered both puns and delicious food.
Flying Pig Labs won the People’s Choice Award overall, and also the hearts of Ecorazzi with their mad-scientist setup and scrumptious four-cheese blend I’m already missing.
Finally, we were all wildly impressed by Plant Power Couple, who made a booze-infused mac ‘n cheese that you could optionally top with salted “bacon.” Oh, my god. I need more, and I need it now.
I can’t wait to crown a few more winners next year, and see what organizers are able to put together! It was a wonderful afternoon, and a huge victory for vegan cooking.