The Culinary Arts Macaroni and Cheese Cookoff March 17, 2012

At Mount Royal School: The Kitchen Magpie, or Super Mommy (in my humble opinion) spearheaded this fundraising event!

When Karlynn asked me to be a judge for her latest initiative: The Culinary Arts Cookoff, I was honoured and delighted. Cooking with kids is my raison d’être – well, one of them! After retiring from Edmonton Public Schools after thirty years of immersing myself in the lives and learning of our youth, I am committed to seeing that our youth learn to cook and eat good wholesome real food. And that is after dedicating my life to teaching reading, writing and English Literature. Talk about getting back to basics!

Karlynn partnered with one of our well loved, local community minded chefs, Chef Shane Chartrand now at Murriata’s, to carry out her all encompassing plans. Together, they hit the pavement and went knocking door to door within the Edmonton Restaurant community to garner enthusiasm for this friendly little competition: The Culinary Arts Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown! Almost every door they opened stepped up to the plate and welcomed the opportunity to raise to this challenge in support of Mount Royal’s local community school.

And that isn’t all. The entire community also became involved. A kaleidoscope of vibrant colours embraced me as I entered the school on Saturday. Students had made macaroni art, sculptures, paintings and magnets to sell to the public. Teachers had hand painted pasta bowls; parents had knitted funky caps and Karlynn had acquired a host of small and large useful and artful items to be sold in the live auction, or the silent auction, or through the raffle. I had to buy an adorable little magnet immediately.

Studying the art, I gushed to a parent nearby, “Look at this vivid piece! It is so powerful and confident!” Her face lit up and she pulled over her son, “That’s my son’s piece!” Oh, my! What a lovely moment that was. And I got the artist’s photo, too!

Mrs. Magpie had a incredible support system. The entire school was teeming with volunteer parents; everyone so warm and welcoming. Mr. Magpie was also working intently behind the scenes putting up signage, below.

These knit caps were adorable! I had my eye on the large pasta bowl, below, to the right. They all went for over a hundred dollars. The bowls were each hand painted by the teachers and this is a school whose parents are 100% behind what they do! One went for $350.00. Clearly, I did not come home with my bowl.

Teresa Spinelli is definitely a Local Edmonton Hero. She is one of the most community minded and supportive individuals I have ever met. For this event, her Italian Centre Shops donated four massive trays of yummy cookies to sell. I confess, I did bring some of these home and am now pulling my jean up over them.

I caught Mrs. Magpie herself, below, left, looking ravishing, considering she had already been up with the other magpies, at dawn, to be on morning television before this event.

As people entered, they purchased small bowls for one dollar each: a dollar a bowl, and you got each filled with the macaroni sample of your choice. Most people bought 9 bowls and tasted all nine samples! There were raffle tickets for the last judging spot, too! Many were there early for that one!

And who contributed to the taste and success of this day?
Patrick Saurette, himself, represented The Marc not at all worried about plating for this competition; Chef David Omar, from Zinc, sporting the only house made pasta in the room. Chef Richard Toll is missing in this photo!

Chef Andrew Parker, personal chef and Chef Danielle Majeau from e4c are next in the line up.

Chef Lindsay Porter and her team from 4th and Vine sure know how to have some fun: some piggy porky fun as their mac ‘n cheese has lots of yummy puuuullled pork added to it!

The Shaw Conference Centre sent two lovely and lively young Chefs who are currently unidentified. Sorry fellows! Larry Stewart brought an entire team from The Hardware Grill.

Chef David Heard and his wife from Unheardof had the luck o’ the Irish with ’em this day, and last, Liv Vors from Battista’s Calzone.

The four Mac ‘n Cheese Student judges are below with Assistant Principal, Kerri-Lynn Cayen, tucked in under her fine green hair. Throngs of people from the school community and Edmonton’s food community came out for this event.

Elaine Wilson from Allium Foodworks, below, won the raffle to be the fourth judge! I spied Joveena, then the infamous @Baconhound and @Joyfulfollies and David Dudley also attended. And Steve and Twyla! There were more. Many more. I have participated in fund raising events at schools my entire life, and this was an incredible success. I could feel it before the money was in the bank.

Whooshed into the judging room, all was calm, quiet, and cool. Quite a welcome reprieve, really, from the cheesy frenzy just outside the door. Chef Stanley Townsend, Program Chair, Culinary Arts at NAIT,  is another Local Food Hero, in my books. Did you read what he wrote about his last supper here? You must. He, myself and Liane Faulder were judging alongside the newly appointed Elaine Wilson.

Macaroni and Cheese Plate #1 was delicious in its pork and bacon fattiness. Ah, but we had a rubric to use, as you see above. And all restaurants were aware of the criteria ahead of time. Unfortunately, this very comforting quintessential dish of mac and cheese could not get points for plating. However, even though it was our first tasting of the day, it was noted as really yummy: great flavour, texture, cheesy without being heavy or gluey and lovely and moist. I ate my whole cup. (The Marc)

Talk about out of the box thinking! Chocolate pasta, mascarpone, yogurt and cream filling with Crème Anglaise and Crème Frâiche garnished with sour Evan Cherries: wholly classic pairing creamy glory and goodness. Great little dessert. Didn’t come close to the classic mac ‘n cheese comfort of expectation that #1 did, but that requirement wasn’t on the rubric so we didn’t worry about it. This was mighty tasty.(Zinc)

Dish #3 wasn’t pretty. It scored the same as dish #1 in the plating department. The squiggly wiggly shape used would be fun for the student judges. Smart move. This had boar bacon which was a novel idea. The chunks were hard and didn’t contrast well in the mouth with the soft cheesy macaroni. I do like raw onion with mac ‘n cheese. Some judges didn’t. This was one very hot onion which was unfortunate as it really didn’t compliment the dish, and the thickness of the chunks made the addition of it just unappealing. A very thinly minced, sweeter onion could have added a sparkle to the dish as the boar bacon may have if also sliced thinner and fried only until soft. (Chef Andrew Parker)

This was a fine looking plate of mac ‘n cheese. See how easily we are impressed? A tidy little bundle in the middle of the plate with a garnish is enough. In this case, the pasta was very creamy and cheesy which was a welcome change, but the chopped ham and okra didn’t really add any appeal or any significant compliment to the structure of the dish. The sauce was creamy, but not very cheesy and there was a lack of depth of flavour in the sauce. The okra was nicely cooked, but why was it there? There was a nice smoke flavour which did add appeal, but no specific spice or herb to tie this to the South or make it a Southern take on mac ‘n cheese that we could determine. (e4c)

Ah! A vegetarian mac ‘n cheese! This was the first of its kind in the competition. Also, the first to be topped with cheddar and to have mushrooms in it. Creamy. Artificial – ness. Hmmm… The creamy texture held a luxurious mouth feel similar to the last sample, but there was an off putting artificial something. Were the mushrooms canned? Had they been canned? The sauce did seem to be homemade. If the mushrooms had been fresh, pan seared in a hot pan with butter and added to this dish (Elaine’s suggestions) – then it would sing! (Shaw)

Platting does matter. Even with a mac ‘n cheese smackdown. Look at the lush and lively dish below. A touch of green for St. Paddy’s day – and that touch of jalapeno pepper jelly added so much to this dish. That little perk really picked it all up! The pasta was perfectly cooked and creamy. We did all mention that it was difficult to determine what cheeses were used as none of us could taste any cheese flavour. The pulled pork had Chef Stanley diving into the platter for seconds. Some found it too sweet when added to the pasta. I loved a touch of it with a touch of the jelly and a bite of the pasta. A novel change that is welcome come dish #6. (4th and Vine)

Such a simple plating idea: a bowl with a Parmesan cracker in it. Gorgeous in its simplicity. And, we confess. We didn’t miss the lobster chunks or the umami laden scent of the white truffle oil lingering in the air as the bowl was placed before us. The sauce was creamy and velvety with a rich complex cheesiness; the pasta was a bit el dente. The lobster was generous and luscious and sweet which paired well with the aromatic chives and the bold flavour of the Parmesan crisp. We just looked at each other and the silence was rippled with rounds of lip licking. Some had seconds. (Hardware Grill)

Plate number 8 was a little retro number to me. The parsley leaf and tomato wedge on the side were reminiscent of the 60’s and yes, I am old enough to remember the 60’s. Barely. Neither was necessary as the garlic laden bruschetta was a delightful compliment to the cheesy pasta. There was a balsamic reduction under the mac ‘n cheese as well that was a novel addition. Judges noted that this pasta was much too soft – over done. It was really a strong dish when mixed with the bruschetta. (theunheardof)

All of us sat up straighter when this board appeared with four mac ‘n cheese calzones on it. All were enamoured by the creativity and couldn’t wait for a taste. I have been to Battista’s and the calzones their are worth the trip. Deadly delicious. However, this one was – sadly, flat. An acute disappointment. It looked gorgeous. The idea was brilliant. The flavour: not there. Not even any seasoning on the inside. We had quite a discussion about this one as we all saw potential in the concept and were so disappointed with the result. Always rooting for each participant to succeed, ideas of a brightly seasoned tomato sauce accompanying the macaroni, not cooked too much as it would also be baked – with a much bolder cheese added to the pasta might work. Kudos to the chef for the concept. (Battista’s)

And the winner was: Hardward Grill. No doubt about it. Without the rubric, we all agreed that The Marc had the best all round mac ‘n cheese and that Zinc and Battista’s really thought out of the box and that we would forget neither for a very long time. But, the Hardware Grill went that extra mile and added that little extra “somethin’ somethin'” that made all the difference.

Liane Faulder announced Larry Stewart’s win and presented him with an outstanding macaroni art piece done by the students of this school. Brian Mason, the MLA for Highlands and the leader of Alberta’s NDP official opposition, then introduced The People’s Choice: The Marc!

The student pick, a third gorgeous work of macaroni art, went to 4th and Vine.

John Berry started the live auction almost immediately. People were hopping. Paper plates with big numbers on them were waving frantically throughout the room.

Sweet Chef Townsend just knew that Karlynn needed a little holding up by this time of the day!

And I found myself in the Silent Auction room. More to look at!

Ah! I had spied one of Chef Stanley’s aboriginal wooden Spirit carvings in his office one day and have hoped for one ever since. I suggested Karlynn hit him up for one for the auction. He supplied three… and I came home with my favourite. His name is Hank. They all have a name and the Art Card Reads: Wild Bill’s Woodcarving, Stanley W. B. Townsend, “a whittle bit cwazy”. Don’t you love it?

Now hanging at my front door to welcome visitors and ward off evil Spirits.

The school raised over 14 000 dollars on this day and tightened the circle of warmth within our city just that much more through the time and service of all who participated to make this happen. Well done!


  1. Joveena says

    You captured it beautifully Valerie – this Blog is perfect! Your vibrant pictures and accompanying stories are a wonderful remembrance of an outstanding event. If Karlynn was to thank everyone who in any way participated in the event, we’d still be there today 2 days later. That is what made it so memorable – the participation of an entire community, to each give what they could. I was never so proud to be an Edmontonian and to call this City my home!

  2. Judy says

    What a wonderful day! The only thing missing is a picture of my beautiful sister, Val. Next time make someone take a picture of you!!

    Now, I think I’ll go have some mac and cheese………..


  3. says

    Beautiful post Valerie, I am going to share it everywhere because I couldn’t write it better myself!! Can you share all your photos with me again please? Thank you SO much for coming and helping us all out! I owe you! MWAH!!

  4. Richard Toll says

    It was truly amazing and an absolute honour to work with such inspiring people. I will be there with whites on for the next one and any other things you thro out there. Thanks again to Valerie and Karlynn for everything. Edmonton should be really proud.

  5. Alison Mitchell says

    Thank you so much for participating so fully in our event! I’m going to share this blog post with my friends and family who couldn’t make it so they can see what we did. It was a school event that extended for beyond our school-we couldn’t believe the support we got from the community and the entire city. Thanks again for your presence, and capturing the day in words and pictures on this posting.

  6. says

    What a wonderful recap. I wish I could have been there, but sadly had guests to look after. Hopefully there is going to be a next year, and Karlynn, I am pretty much perfecting my gluten free mac n cheese for it :)

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