For a long time, I was reluctant (especially among my foodier friends) to admit how much I like to make macaroni and cheese. But the more I talked with chefs I know, the clearer it became that macaroni and cheese is exactly the kind of food that they like to cook for themselves, for family, and for friends on nights off. I started fantasizing: Just how would a chef put his or her own special signature on this dish to make it deluxe?
I asked three chefs to create their own favorite version of macaroni and cheese. Each chef gave me a deliciously different take: Not only are the flavors different, but each version is bound and thickened with a different method: with a white sauce, with a savory custard, and with cream.
Ben Barker brings it together with a classic white sauce
This mac and cheese, a luxurious version of a traditional southern accompaniment for ham, is equally good as a main course with a simple salad. I like to use Maytag Blue, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, and Parmigiano Reggiano—cheeses that might not be traditional for macaroni and cheese but that I love for their robust flavor. I start with the traditional binder for classic mac and cheese: béchamel, or white sauce—really just a mixture of butter and flour into which you whisk hot milk and cook slowly until thickened. There’s no question that this combination of classic béchamel and bold mix of cheeses creates an over-the-top mac and cheese. So, as a main course, I recommend serving it with an arugula salad tossed with a straightforward vinaigrette. Sparkling wine or Champagne is the perfect drink to accompany the dish since it counters the richness. —Ben Barker
Robert Del Grande makes a savory custard with a Tex-Mex kick
On my night off, I like “cocktail food”: not weiners on toothpicks, but food I can prepare and then let simmer or bake for 40 minutes or so—long enough to relax and have a cocktail before dinner. It’s the antithesis of what I do during the week, which is to stand behind a line and cook under pressure.
With mac and cheese as the goal, I thought of comfort and nostalgia. Comfort food in Texas means cheese and chiles and their creamy-zingy combination. And then, I thought, what about corn tortillas? So, I chopped some up, along with the chiles and cilantro, for added texture and aroma. Eggs that form a savory custard seemed a natural way to bind it all together.
I love the anticipation that builds when preparing this dish. You smell the chiles as they char and think, oh, this is going to be good. Then when you pulse the chiles and cilantro together, you notice that the bright green color is pretty great. And when the dish starts to bake, the aromas build, and you know you’re in for something really good.
This casseroleis so full of flavor that all you’ll need to serve with it is roasted pork loin or roasted chicken, simply seasoned with salt and pepper. To drink, I like rustic red wines—Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache—or a full-flavored beer such as Pilsen or pale ale. —Robert Del Grande