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Mac and cheese draws crowd to Community Harvest fundraiser

October 14, 2018

Whether it’s dressed up or dressed down, mac and cheese might be the ultimate comfort food.

That’s why Jamie Turner thought it was the perfect centerpiece for a fundraiser benefiting Community Harvest Food Bank. The sold-out, first-time Mac & Cheese Fest brought 1,000 pasta and cheddar lovers to Headwaters Park on Saturday afternoon.

Turner, the assistant catering director for Shigs in Pit and Mad Anthony Brewing Co., said her mother frequented the food bank while raising Turner and her sister on the city’s south side.

Participating in the event was her way of giving back to the organization.

Shigs in Pit, a local barbecue business, was among those competing for the crown of best local mac and cheese. Other participating restaurants were Bagger Dave’s, Biaggi’s, Bill’s Smokehouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Club Soda, D-Lightfuls, Eddie Merlot’s, Park Place on Main, Ruth’s Chris, Trubble Brewing and Ziffles Rib Bar.

Katie Savoie, Community Harvest’s grant writer and the event’s coordinator, said tickets were limited to 1,000 to make sure everyone got enough to eat.

Before the event was even halfway finished, she was already thinking about next fall and the second annual event. Depending on feedback, the festival might be even bigger, she said. 

Savoie’s motivation is the 90,000 people served each year by Community Harvest in a nine-county region.

“Every dollar of ticket sales will provide four meals for a family in need,” she said, adding that the organization expects to reach its goal of raising $25,000. That translates to 100,000 meals.

Community Harvest organizes an annual fundraiser each March, but that formal gala carries much higher ticket prices. The idea behind the Mac & Cheese Fest was to include more of the community by making it more affordable to support the food bank.

Adult tickets were 10 for unlimited samples.

“It’s just amazing how far the food bank can make $25 go,” Savoie said, adding that 98 cents of every dollar donated goes to programs. That includes the value of food donations.

Turner, who remembers childhood dinners of basic boxed mac and cheese, prefers the green-chili-spiked version that Shigs in Pit sells as The Mac Attack.

“It has that little bit of a kick to it, but it’s still nice and creamy,” she said while taking a break from dishing up sample-sized servings.

Ashlee Campos fell in love with Shigs in Pit’s take on mac and cheese. The mother of 2-year-old Raegan plans to visit the restaurant on Fairfield Avenue the next time she has a craving.

Ronda Huff was wowed by another offering.

“Club Soda rocks. Club Soda is the best,” the Ligonier woman said. “It was warm. It was spicy. I don’t know what they put in it but, man, it was good.”

Ramon Navarro, a manager at Club Soda, was happy to share the secret to the downtown restaurant’s version. Although mac and cheese isn’t on the dinner menu, it’s available for catered events, he said.

The cheeses are a blend of cheddar and gruyere, which “just has such profound flavor,” he said. Add to that a bit of Parmesan; Italian dry-cured pancetta; and Hatch green chilies grown only in New Mexico.

“It’s quite simple,” Navarro said of the recipe. “But in its simplicity lies the brilliance.”

sslater@jg.net