Why have one type of mac and cheese when you can try 24? On Feb. 27, the annual Mac & Cheese Fest took place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Downtown Binghamton Holiday Inn on Hawley Street.
This year marked a special celebration for the organizers of the Mac & Cheese Fest, as it was its fifth anniversary. The event was initially conceived in 2016 as a fundraiser for the Binghamton Philharmonic and has continued ever since.
This year, the Binghamton Philharmonic changed the way it ran the show by bringing in an event planner, Elisabeth Faughnan, ‘12.
“[My role is] looking at the way people enter an event, the way that the restaurants are greeted … making sure everybody all around has a really good experience from start to finish,” Faughnan said.
The layout had voting ballots in the lobby, and two of the hotel’s convention rooms had tables set up by the restaurants. The tables were all given their own space, and the layout of the event prevented long lines from becoming an issue. Buying a $25 ticket entitled an attendee to samples from all the restaurants and alcoholic beverages from the five breweries present.
Madison Haynes, 17, of Vestal, has attended the last three festivals and said she thinks the organizers put on the best rendition of the festival yet, focusing on efficiency.
“The rooms aren’t as crowded, and it’s definitely more regulated than last year,” Haynes said. “They have a better control on how it’s flowing.”
Bringing in a new event organizer seemed to pay off, and Faughnan said she was very happy with how it went.
“We’ll be doing this again next year, and hopefully I’ll be on board for it,” she said.
A key part of the Mac & Cheese Fest is the awards given out at the end. This year brought a new award called the Winner’s Circle, where the only restaurants eligible to compete were winners of awards from past years. The four-cheese penne mac and cheese from Food Fusion Bar & Grill won the Judges’ Choice award. The rest of the awards were voted on by the attendees. The Classic Mac award also went to Food Fusion Bar & Grill. One of the biggest awards voted on was The Big Cheese award, which went to Social on State’s Mediterranean mac and cheese. Contributions to the event were diverse and went beyond a typical mac and cheese dish, including a dish with leeks, scallions and Japanese cherry blossoms from Kampai Japanese Steakhouse. Food & Fire BBQ-Taphouse had buffalo sauce, shrimp and sour cream with their entry. The Colonial had a “Big Mac” mac and cheese that included hamburger meat and mayonnaise.
The large variety of mac and cheese was accompanied by a large variety of people, with children, adults, high schoolers, Binghamton University students and BU alumni enjoying the festival. BU’s Cheese Club was there volunteering for the event. Andrea Carey, interim executive director of the Binghamton Philharmonic, emphasized the value of the attendees’ diversity.
“What we really wanted to do was come up with an event that would be intergenerational, and really would appeal to all facets of the community,” Carey said.
Hailey Freilich, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a dedicated fan of mac and cheese. She ate all 24 samples there, and noted her excitement for the event as well as her hope that the festival continues to stick around.
“Mac & Cheese Fest is the highlight of every year so far,” Freilich said. “It should be a holiday.”