Most of you who follow this blog know that for the past couple of years I have been a regular competitor in a series of cook-offs here in NYC known as The Takedowns. However, it occurred to me the other day that for all of my blog posts announcing competitions and updating you on what happened at each one, I have never actually written about what it’s like to prepare and compete in one.
In contrast to what one might think, there is no cooking on site; the venue just isn’t set up to accommodate that. Rather, all the cooking happens at home and then the competitors — known collectively as the Takedowners — tote their creations to the venue about an hour early to stake out a table and set up the tastings. The tastings are open to the ticket-buying public — not just the judges — which means that each of us has to prep about 250 1-oz. samples for everyone to taste.
If 250 1-oz. samples sounds like a lot, it is! The majority of Takedowners do multiple test runs before deciding on a final entry, and most try to plan ahead so that they are not scrambling at the last minute to put together something that is both tasty and winsome.
I wish that I was one of those people, but partly due to my schedule and mostly due to my inability to get organized early, I am usually the Takedowner pulling out her hair and freaking out less than 24 hours before the event. I do console myself by thinking that stress and time constraints are the mothers of invention. Sometimes it works in my favor like last summer when I brought home two ice cream makers for my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet.
Sometimes it just results in something damn weird that I am still damn proud of like my Miso Awesome Cookies.
I had a couple of ideas for this year’s Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (pizza mac and cheese? garlic bread-inspired mac and cheese? chocolate mac and cheese?). Ultimately, I decided that a baked mac and cheese was the way to go.
My entry for this year’s Brooklyn Mac & Cheeze Takedown? Mac-sagna, the heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese and lasagna.
Using a gallon of homemade, three-hour pork and beef Bolognese, a gallon of béchamel, four pounds of macaroni, two pounds of shredded mozzarella, two pounds of grated Parmesan, and half a pound of garlic and parsley-buttered bread crumbs, I made two gigantic 21 x 12 inch trays of mac-sagna for champions.
It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating it like this:
Sadly, there were so many other excellent mac and cheeses that I did not win. I did, however, get to see and spend time with good friends, taste a lot of amazingly creative and imaginative dishes, and be part of another
drunkenly excellent Takedown. That alone is worth every sweaty second in the kitchen.