Alton's quotes are in green.
(dead link, kept for archival purposes)

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who makes the Best mac & cheese in town
Tofu? Leeks? Nearly 600 readers sent in recipes with special
favorite touches, but simplicity won out.

By Bob Longino
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

    Cooks in Georgia will put anything in macaroni and cheese.

    Like ketchup. Or tofu. Leeks. Or Ro*tel. Chicken gravy. Or a little spice called Texas gunpowder (actually, all-natural ground jalapenos).

    They'll stuff it with cheddar or Velveeta and every cheese imaginable.

    Gruyere, American, provolone, Monterey Jack, Gorgonzola, brie, Gouda (regular or smoked). Cottage cheese, too.

    But you know what makes the best macaroni and cheese?

    A simple recipe with simple ingredients: large elbow macaroni, extra-sharp cheddar and cream cheese. A little butter. Two eggs. Some milk (half-and-half, if you want to splurge). Salt. Pepper. And bread crumbs.

    Put 'em all together, bake it good and you've got a dish dubbed Mac's Mac 'n' Cheese. And it's a winner.

    Mac's Mac 'n' Cheese, submitted by Frankie McCafferty, 41, of Dacula, is the first-place winner in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent mac and cheese recipe contest, a celebration of one of America's favorite comfort foods.

    "Very tasty," exclaimed Glenn Powell, co-owner of Agnes & Muriel's and a member of our panel of seven judges (six expert cooks and one expert kid). Another judge wondered whether the addition of cream cheese steered the dish too far afield. "I like it, but is it mac and cheese?" asked Alton Brown, writer and star of the Food Network's "Good Eats." "Sure it is - hell, yes."

First place:
Frankie McCafferty submitted a recipe that uses standard ingredients.
The recipe

Second place:
Eunice Stephens' no-bake mac and cheese is made with Velveeta.
The recipe

Third place:
Jacqueline Sims has her late grandmother to thank for a simple, thrifty dish that spans generations.
The recipe

    McCafferty's recipe beat nearly 600 others submitted by readers from across North Georgia to win the $100 first prize. The 600 recipes were narrowed to 26 by AJC staffers, then the 26 recipes were prepared by culinary students at the Art Institute of Atlanta for judging by our select panel. Sometimes recipes called for unusual ingredients (yes, we did say chicken gravy). McCafferty's was one that stayed pretty much tried and true.

    "It's a no-brainer. You can't mess it up," says McCafferty, who got the recipe from her mother, Virginia Ziegler, formerly of Indiana. "Anything that is too difficult is not a weeknight dish at our house."

    McCafferty jokes that she loves mac and cheese and works at Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates in Lawrenceville. "Not exactly high fiber, is it?" she says.

    Finishing a close second and winning $75 is "No Bake" Macaroni and Cheese, submitted by Eunice Stephens, 69, of Gainesville. Her stovetop concoction, a recipe she got from her sister-in-law, includes making a roux and melting in two cups of cubed Velveeta.

    "Traditional. A classic," some of the judges raved. "Very flavorful, creamy, cheesy."

    Placing third and receiving $50 is Grandma's Mac 'n' Cheese, submitted by Jacqueline Sims, 26, of Virginia-Highland.

    Her grandmother, Josephine Sims, died a couple of years ago, and Jacqueline Sims was more or less put in charge of making the elder Sims' macaroni and cheese for family gatherings.

    "I've never won anything in my life," Sims says. "Oh, my god. I never imagined I would even place."

    She said her grandmother originally made the dish with spaghetti noodles. "The reason why it was concocted to begin with, Grandmother was raised in the Depression, so they would make spaghetti and overmake noodles and next day make mac and cheese with leftover noodles."

    Finishing just out of the money were two recipes receiving honorable mention: Spicy Macaroni and Cheese, with a few drops of Louisiana Hot Sauce, submitted by Thomas Duke of Jonesboro, and 100-Year-Old Macaroni and Cheese, with sliced cheeses and an optional 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, submitted by Lester H. Mann Jr. of Senoia.

    Mann's recipe is well over a century old. "It was used by Mrs. Pearl Starnes' Kitchens of Kennesaw and Marietta in the late 1800s," Mann says. "It was passed to her daughter Bertie Kitchens Mann of LaGrange in 1918, then to Lester and Annie Doris Mann of Senoia in 1959."

    One of the recipes that made the first cut had a pedigree, too.

    Chuck Stiles of Decatur submitted Best Macaroni and Cheese in the Universe, which touts bacon, scallions and Swiss cheese. "This recipe was given to me by a lady who claims to have seen Elvis naked," he says. "She said she made this recipe for him once but said he complained about the bacon not being burnt enough."

    And, yes, out of all those who submitted mac and cheese recipes, one soul - Andy Ozment, 21, a computer student at Georgia Tech - was brave enough to submit the One and Only Mac and Cheese Recipe.

    Here it is: "Buy 1 box Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (It's the cheesiest!). Follow stovetop directions on the box. Add salt. The salt is the key."

    The judges agreed. They ranked Ozment's dish a respectable No. 8.

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Here's the overview of the Judges: /cheese/judges.html
(dead link, kept for archival purposes)

Our seven experts and foodies tasted and ranked all 26 dishes on a scale of 1-10 (1 being lowest), taking into account flavor, texture and appearance. The recipes were prepared by culinary students at the Art Institute of Atlanta. The 11 top-scoring dishes were then brought back for another round. The resulting votes showed a tie for first place; a third-round tiebreaker was held to determine the winner and second-place finisher.

Alton Brown, writer and star of the Food Network's "Good Eats"
His assessment of one unlucky entry containing white wine: "Tastes like kissing a wino after he passed out in a vat of Taco Bell cheese sauce.  But the pasta was cooked nicely."

... {The other judges were covered in the full article.}

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010