Doing things differently…with mac and cheese


The late comedian George Carlin once had a skit that pushed the envelope of

Zingerman's Mac and Cheese (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

what the Federal Communications Commission would allow. Its title was “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

Equally, there are seven other words no one ever wants to hear. Singularly, they are harmless; strung into a sentence, they form a toxic cliché.

“But we’ve always done it that way.”

Any transformational change requires the banishment of that threadbare excuse for inactivity. Any change requires consideration of doing things differently.

Which brings me to macaroni and cheese. For many people, “mac and cheese” generally comes one of two ways:

  • Out of a box with an accompanying bag of orange powder and pasta that looks like the plastic wrap striped from electrical wiring, or
  • “Just like grandma used to make”…baked, possibly dried out and with burned pasta on the edge. I’ve had some that had a cake-like appearance (“Hey, cut me off another slice of mac and cheese, would ya’?”)

Has anyone thought of making mac and cheese differently?

Probably not because we’ve always done it the way we always do it.

Last night, I made mac and cheese for the first time. I generally do a fair amount of cooking (my wife says it’s pretty good…no food poisoning issues yet), but I had never made it from scratch before. The inspiration was a different way of making it.

My wife and I watched Alton Brown’s America’s Best: Top 10 Comfort Foods on Food Network the other night. Along with biscuits, mashed potatoes, french fries, fried chicken, grilled cheese, pizza, burrito, spaghetti and chicken soup, the show included mac and cheese. The best one comes from Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich.

What made Zingerman’s Macaroni and Cheese special was the way chef Alex

Chef Alex Young (Photo courtesy of Zingerman's)

Young prepared it. He didn’t want to serve a traditional baked mac and cheese that dried out during the day. He wanted ever customer to enjoy a freshly made serving. His version involved placing béchamel sauce, macaroni and cheddar cheese in a very hot cast iron skillet containing olive oil. The hot skillet caused the cheese to caramelize, and the sauce and cheese to cook throughout the pasta.

In case you are thinking Chef Young is as goofy as the Muppet Swedish Chef, chew on this…last year was his fourth consecutive nomination as a James Beard Award finalist. According to the James Beard Foundation Awards website, the awards “are the highest honors for food and beverage professionals working in America.” Hmm, guess Chef Young knows what he’s doing.

And yes, the mac and cheese was awesome. Best I ever had.

What have you done differently lately and did it succeed?

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