It is rare that I am impressed by macaroni and cheese in a restaurant.
I know, as a foodie, I am supposed to turn my nose up at ordering such a childish dish, but come on now…we all know that a great bowl of mac & cheese has the ability to act as a time machine to easier days. It fills us with the warmth from the cook who made it just for us, our moms, or grandmother, an aunt. Macaroni and cheese is a magical potion, if only for the few moments it graces our tongue and coats our grumbling bellies.
I am not ashamed to order it. Anywhere.
For many restaurants, the fanciful chefs are trying desperately to put their own spin on the pasta dish we all know and love. A variety of hard to pronounce cheeses replace the orange powder or Velveeta, truffle oil gets dashed in, an abundance of expensive butter oozes from each noodle. Some chefs succeed, but I’m rarely blown away. I’ve never been a fan of this dish made with a roux…I can’t get past the floury taste and the gritty cheeses. Sure, it’s still good, but it’s not the comfort food I crave. It’s almost like they are trying too hard.
Heck, my mother is the best mac & cheese maker. She can make it with her eyes closed, I bet. She doctors up a box.
So, when I saw the menu at the fabulously acclaimed Fearrington Granary, I knew it was something I had to try. I wanted to see how Chef Colin Bedford, the 5 Star, 5 Diamond chef I had heard about ALL DAY would tackle this fairly primal dish. Everything on his menu was just the right amount of fussy, while incredibly humble, and the side dish of macaroni and cheese was one I just had to get a spoonful of.
Could this man, this award winning and Iron Man running enigma that had been touted to myself and my girlfriend Melanie all around the town of Pittsboro for hours (Oh, wow, you get to eat at Chef Colin’s??) be someone who could take a simple dish, spin it, and make it stellar cuisine?
Despite my almost desire to be UNimpressed, indeed, he definitely could.
While everything on Chef Bedford’s menu was absolutely delicious, from the tomato salad (such care, no detail overlooked) to the fried chicken (perfectly crispy, perfectly juicy), it was the macaroni and cheese that had Melanie and I in puddles around that table. We spent a lot of time analyzing each and every bite, trying to guess the variety of cheeses. This macaroni was creamy, and subtle, yet full of flavor. The crisp of the panko topping added a nice bite to each spoonful, and while it had the creaminess of your favorite Velveeta, it had the flavors of special cheeses, like fontina and white cheddars. But how? What on earth had he done to achieve that? There was no roux…it was nothing but buttery, creamy, cheesy goodness.
I didn’t realize Chef Colin Bedford was the devil until he sat down at our table, though that macaroni had me convinced he at least had a pact with him. Tall, broad shouldered, and quite the presence (well, that accent doesn’t hurt a bit, either), he makes you equally dumbfounded and yet he is so engaged and humble you can’t help but feel important in his midst. He really is someone you find yourself eager to know.
Chef Bedford is originally from Great Britain, and how he found himself in small town Pittsboro, North Carolina, I’m sure I could Google. But the fact is, he is a luxury, and luckily, he shares his talents with everyone who is fortunate enough to dine anywhere in Fearrington Village. The Granary is a nice, all around casual yet upscale dining venue, and it was exactly the kind of meal I find myself craving most often. For those more interested in finer dining, that, too, can be had at the Inn. Pizza? Fearrington and Chef Colin have that too, so expect the best.
I was fortunate enough to convince Colin to share his outstanding recipe with me, and thus, you. Sure, it does call for a boat LOAD of cheeses, as well as an ingredient you will likely not find in your pantry – Sodium Citrate. I was able to find it both online and at a local gourmet shop, and believe me – it is worth seeking out. After serving this same macaroni to a group of hungry tailgaters at last weekend’s Hokie game, I was pronounced the best Mac & Cheese Maker EVER, by a stranger.
And yes, I took all the credit. Sorry, Chef.
Mac & Cheese with Toasted Bread Crumbs
By: Executive Chef Colin Bedford
Serves 6-8 (these are large servings)
- 3c Elbow Macaroni, dry
- 1c Water
- 1c Wine
- 1c Cheddar Cheese
- 1/2c Fontina Cheese
- 1/2c Comté Cheese
- 1.5oz Sodium Citrate
- 1c Cream
- 1tbsp Sugar
- Salt & Pepper
- 2c Panko
- 1c Clarified Butter
- 3oz Grated Parmesan
- 1/2c Cheddar Cheese
- 1/2c Fontina Cheese
- 1/2c Comté Cheese
- 4tbsp Chopped Parsley
- On medium heat melt clarified butter in frying pan. Add panko to pan and toast. Stir constantly to promote even coloring until golden brown. Place on lined tray and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, combine with chopped parsley and parmesan. Combine the topping cheeses to finish and divide.
- Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until almost cooked, then strain.
- For sauce, bring wine and water to a boil. Whisk in sodium citrate. Then whisk in cheddar, comté and fontina cheeses. Continue to whisk, adding cream. Bring back to a boil.
- Add sugar to sauce, stir. Add cooked macaroni and stir. Once pasta is fully coated, add half of the panko/cheese mix. Fill your chosen vessels.
- Top each container with the remaining panko/cheese mix and broil until golden brown. Garnish with panko and serve.
Notes from Chef Bedford
It is best to transfer cooked pasta immediately into completed sauce. You can also refrigerate the pasta mixture and bake at 350 degree F for 15 minutes, remove to add remaining cheese and panko, and then bake again for 15 minutes.
Recommendations, try substituting the comté cheese with swiss cheese, adding mustard to the mix, cooking homemade bacon bits.
I substituted in Blarney Castle from Kerrygold for the Comte. It’s not a swiss, it’s more gouda-like, but it worked wonderfully.
Also note – Sodium Citrate is NOT Citric Acid. Do not substitute one for the other.
Disclaimer: A huge thank you to Chef Bedford and the entire staff of Fearrington Inn and the Granary. Our meal was wonderful, and I can not wait to return. I also appreciate your time and effort in getting me this recipe and for the follow-up to make sure I had everything I needed. While my trip to Fearrington Village was sponsored by VisitNC, all thoughts and opinions are my own.