ASPEN - Aspen celebrated macaroni and cheese in all its gooey goodness Saturday, consuming thousands of pounds of the ultimate comfort food before crowning local restaurant Rustique the competition winner.The inaugural Aspen Mac & Cheese Festival drew hundreds of eager mac and cheese fans to a block of Hopkins Avenue on a perfect fall afternoon. Organizer Keith Bulicz, city of Aspen recreation supervisor, vowed the event would return next year after Saturday's crowd wildly exceeded his expectations.He ordered 10,000 small biodegradable cups in which to serve up samples, and 3,000 tiny "sporks" (diners were each handed one of the biodegradable utensils and expected to use it repeatedly). An hour into the two-hour serving frenzy, the event had run out of both.The Red Onion was serving its mac and cheese concoction in Dixie cups before it was over. The St. Regis ran out of its allotment of cups, but it also ran out of mac and cheese, with about 10 minutes left to go, said Jason Adams, executive chef. That's despite preparing 35 pounds of dry pasta and 8 gallons of sauce for their dish, which featured pablano peppers, avocado, corn, Irish cheddar and a squeeze of lime. Jimmy's served up eight pans of its signature Jimmy Mac in the first 30 minutes.Bulicz said he warned the dozen or so participating eateries, plus Clark's Market, to prepare for 300 people. In reality, they needed servings for three to four times that number, he concluded.Lines of mac and cheese fans snaked though the festival site. Savvy diners collected one dish and chowed it down while they stood in the next queue."I am so full," declared Beau Benda of Aspen. "I've eaten at least 12 of these [little cups]. I'm full and I'm loving it."The event drew a mostly local crowd, but Mickey Beller-Young came over from Summit County just to take part. "It's a good excuse to ride a motorcycle over Independence Pass and eat food," she said.Locals appeared unanimous in their desire to see the festival become an annual celebration."I love it. This absolutely should become part of the repertoire," said Aspen resident Phil Golden.Along with a spork (a combination spoon and fork), diners each received two tickets and were instructed to use them to vote for their top two favorites, dropping them into boxes at the serving stations.Rustique won with 506 votes, followed by Jimmy's with 417.The recipes were as varied as the selection in general. Clark's prepared 47 gallons of mac and cheese made with five different Wisconsin cheeses, bacon and Guinness beer. The Red Onion put out the mac and cheese that's on its menu, with three cheeses, bacon, roasted jalepeos and gemelli pasta. Ute City incorporated duck confit, white cheddar, French comt (a cheese) and smoked gouda into its version, while the Caribou Club was serving up mac and cheese with lobster.Perhaps local Justin Rudebusch summed up it up best: "Any mac and cheese is good mac and cheese."firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to www.aspentimes.com/photos for more of the action at the Aspen Mac & Cheese Festival.