Church cooks up Mac ‘N’ Cheez Mania event

Church cooks up Mac ‘N’ Cheez Mania event

by Jennifer Nixon
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

It’s a beloved comfort food. A cheesy, starchy concoction that can take anyone back to childhood.

What better way to fight children’s hunger than by dishing up mounds of good old macaroni and cheese?

That’s what Trinity United Methodist Church is planning on for its inaugural Mac ‘N’ Cheez Mania on Saturday.

Church member and volunteer Debi Barnes explains that the idea first came up as an alternative to a fundraising rummage sale.

“This is definitely much bigger than that because it is a communitywide event,” she says. “It’s all something new and different. I don’t think there’s any age limit on liking macaroni and cheese.”

Food-specific festivals and fundraisers have been springing up all over Little Rock in the last few years, with celebrations dedicated to cornbread, cheese dip, soup and even bacon. There’s no reason macaroni and cheese shouldn’t get the same attention.

Barnes says, “We would love to get as many people as possible because we see that this event could really grow to be something that all of Little Rock would want to come out for in the years to come.”

Everyone who attends gets to sample the various cheese-laden creations from area restaurants, local groups and individuals.

The noncompetitive Chefs Showcase will feature dishes from Lost Forty Brewing, Diamond Bear Brewing Co., Franke’s Cafeteria, Red Door Restaurant, Oceans at Arthur’s, MarketPlace Grill, DownHome Restaurant & Catering, SO Restaurant and Copper Grill. Loblolly Creamery plans to have a cheese-flavored ice cream.

Meanwhile, organizations and individuals will dish up samples in hopes of winning the Home Style Competition, a macaroni and cheese cook-off where they will compete for the top three prizes, chosen by a judging panel, and the People’s Choice Award.

Entry for competitors is $20 (free for child chefs) and while the official cutoff has passed, people are still welcome to enter.

That sounds like a lot of cheese and pasta, but the professionals and amateurs are welcome to put their own spins on the recipes, and macaroni and cheese does lend itself well to experimentation.

Barnes says, “We’re going to have plenty of macaroni and cheese for people to try out and I think we’ll have some pretty creative recipes as well.”

Money raised at the festival goes to several Little Rock area organizations and nonprofits that support children’s hunger relief, education and health. One such organization is the Our House homeless shelter, and Barnes says that not only are they benefiting from the festival, they will have a very visible (and tasty) presence as well.

“There’s a group of alumni from Our House, former residents,” she says. “They’ve put together a team and they’re going to be serving. They call themselves FRESH [Former Residents Educating Society about the Homeless].”

Mac ‘n’ cheese is the highlight, but there will be more for people to do than gorge themselves. Bands including Wing Band Reunion, Old Tyme String Band and Messenger 7 will perform during the festivities. Children can make crafts, get temporary tattoos and receive crazy creations from the balloon man.

“This is a very family oriented event so they’re going to have things that will generate a fun environment for everyone of all ages,” Barnes says.

Festival organizers are hoping for clear skies and predicting “Sunny with 100 percent Mac ‘n’ Cheese,” but since the activities are scheduled to be in the protected East Concourse, the event will go ahead regardless.

Correction: Swing Band Reunion will play at the Mac ‘N’ Cheez Mania event Saturday at War Memorial Stadium/AT&T Field. Because of incorrect information in a press release from the organizers, the band’s name was wrong in this article.