My Battle with Judging the Mac Battle Royale with Cheese



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Death by dairy: Mac Battle Royale w/ Cheese
​It's been more than 24 hours since SF Food Wars held its inaugural cooking competition at Stable Cafe (2128 Folsom at 17th St.). Even a day later, I am still weighted with quease for cheese, slogging through the day in a carbohydrate haze.

When organizer Jeannie Choe kindly asked me to be one of the guest judges for the Mac Battle Royale w/Cheese (aka mac and cheese battle), it sounded like a dream. I accepted without even thinking about it. Later, the reality set in: How exactly did I plan to handle sampling 20 different and incredibly eccentric entries, especially with a notoriously delicate tummy?

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Life's rough as a cheese judge.
The best solution available: An industrial-sized box of lactose intolerance medication, a vow to eat no more than two bites of each dish, a wing, and a prayer. For the most part, it worked, until the cavalcade of divergent flavors started to sink in.

Truffle. Peanut butter. Vadouvan. Fatback. Duck. Bourbon. Chicharrones (twice). Bacon (too many times to count).

Oh, and cheese. Did I mention cheese?

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Photographer's Choice Winners from Team Fromage.
​For a group of contestants with so much creativity in their concepts, many people still chose at least some form of cheddar -- or, in the case of Photographer's Choice winners Team Fromage, four kinds of cheddar. But there were other stars: Fontina, Gruyère, Gorgonzola, Jack, Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Second place winners Fat Bottom Girls' deceptively delicious vegan mac.
My fellow judges (Allan Hough and Kevin Montgomery from Mission Mission, and Beatrice Gomberg from MarketBar) and I were proud that our first place winner, KKR and Bike Basket Pies' Mac 'N Cheese Pies -- a sinful blend of blue cheese, walnuts, spinach, apple, shiitakes, and macaroni that made me break my two-bite rule -- also snagged the People's Choice category. We were also stoked to award second place to Fat Bottom Girls' Who Cares, a we-can't-believe-it's-not-butter vegan concoction that garnered creaminess from cashews, miso, and mustard; and third place to the Rachael RayGuns' Maryland Style Mac & Cheese, served with a rosemary-infused Bloody Maryland cocktail. The latter's sweet, comforting creaminess was my personal favorite.

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Team Dirty Swinechez: Oink vey!
​The next SF Food Wars battle will be the Mini-Cupcake Clash at Stable Cafe on October 18. Considering that yesterday's battle sold out and had more than enough entrants in less than 24 hours after being announced, odds are that this will also be a hot ticket.

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Judge's Choice and People's Choice winner: KKR & Bike Basket Pies' Mac' N Cheese Pies
My fingers are crossed that Choe will let me be a judge again, because that's one I know I can handle. But her great organizing skills led to an event that was clearly enjoyed by all, without excessive lines or having to fight for food (sadly an exception rather than the rule for these types of throwdowns), so I know I'd have a great experience going as a regular patron.
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KKR and Bike Basket Pies: Big macs.


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