Aspen Mac & Cheese Fest story goes viral on |

Aspen Mac & Cheese Fest story goes viral on

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Aspen got a ton of free marketing last week – but not because of its revered ski’s “Blue Ribbon Hunter” video feature series that highlighted September’s Aspen Mac and Cheese Festival has gone viral, pulling in more than 1 million views since it was unveiled Nov. 26. It was posted on Yahoo’s main page last weekend.Keith Bulicz, the city parks and recreation supervisor who founded the festival in 2011, said he was told it was the Yahoo Shine division’s third-most watched feature of all time. The division is devoted to women’s lifestyle pieces.The exposure is good for Aspen and the local restaurants and chefs participating in the festival, Bulicz said, adding that promotion of the community’s culinary offerings was one of the primary reasons for holding the event.”We plan on doing it every year,” he said of the city-sponsored event. “It’s crazy; people really love mac and cheese. The Saturday after Labor Day is the day we’ll continue to try to go with.”The 2012 version of the festival drew 3,500 people, an increase of about 2,000 over the event’s inaugural year of 2011.The small portions that local restaurants and caterers provide to the patrons are free and unlimited. A contest is held in conjunction with the festival, in which people vote for their favorite dish. Rustique restaurant on South Monarch Street has won the competition two years in a row with its concoction, which uses strazzapreti pasta, white truffle oil, wild mushrooms and Gruyre cheese.The video prominently features Rustique chef Tico Starr, stating that the reason his dish has won the event for two consecutive years is that “It tastes really good.” He holds the Golden Macaroni Award as the Yahoo reporter asks, “Can I pet your noodle?”Sexual innuendos aside, the show delves into the secrets of Aspen’s macaroni-and-cheese makers. Finbarr’s recipe – involving a Guinness beer cheese sauce, slow-roasted pork, green chilis, roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions – is posted in its entirety. A Meatball Shack chef explains his deep-fried “tater tots” filled with macaroni and cheese, bacon and jalapeos.Bulicz said if there is a concern from festivalgoers about how to make the event better, it relates to the availability of beverages. He’s considered having beer and beverage vendors setting up shop at booths near the festival location on East Hopkins Avenue’s “Restaurant Row,” but that would defeat the purpose of trying to steer people into the various restaurants that participate in the event.”As long as it’s on that street, I want the businesses there to be able to profit from alcohol sales,” Bulicz said. “If I brought in an outside beer vendor, the money from those sales goes outside of the community.”Perhaps one day, the event will grow and move away from Restaurant Row, he said, mentioning Wagner and Rio Grande parks as potential sites.For now, Bulicz said he’s enjoying the Yahoo feature and that he plans to monitor the website for comments and suggestions. He envisions a scenario in which other communities will want to try their own versions of the event, with the winners coming to Aspen for a final competition that will truly determine the nation’s best mac and cheese.”I’m hoping (the Yahoo feature) ruffles some feathers with people around the nation,” he said. “And then we would say, ‘You can have your own regional festival, or you can participate in ours, and then we can have the big throwdown in Aspen to say who’s got the best mac and cheese in the United States.'”

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