Macaroni and cheese is a classic comfort food and a favorite guilty pleasure for millions of people. And while many simply go for the boxed stuff (and Dylan Dreyer says there's nothing wrong with that!), celebrity chefs often like to indulge in extra-special versions of this delicious dish.
Just ahead of National Macaroni and Cheese (which is July 14, but really it could be any day of the year), award-winning chefs, restaurateurs and Food Network stars told TODAY Food where they go to get their mac and cheese fixes.
Daniel Boulud — Owner, Daniel
“The most memorable mac and cheese I ever had was, undoubtedly, in Orlando at Jérôme Bocuse’s restaurant Chefs de France during one Christmas in the company of his family," Daniel Boulud, a James Beard Award-winning restaurateur, told TODAY Food. Boulud, whose eponymous restaurant Daniel boasts two Michelin stars, loves that his favorite version of the dish has a variety of luxurious cheeses.
Said the chef, "Jérôme’s version was made with a delicious combination of Vacherin Fribourgeois, Comté, and Gruyère cheeses, béchamel and little cubes of black truffle mixed throughout."
Hugh Mangum — "Beat Bobby Flay" guest judge
"Baltaire in Brentwood, California, makes the best mac and cheese dish I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, by a wide margin," said chef Hugh Mangum, a co-founder and pitmaster of Mighty Quinn's barbecue in New York City and a Food Network “Chopped” champion.
"Chef Travis Strickland hits you with a sledgehammer of molten cheesy deliciousness that — fair warning — might make you actually shed a tear of happiness. Their incredible mac and cheese dish is accented with a crispy, herbaceous bread crumb topping that adds the most perfect textural foil to the mouthwatering cheesy goodness underneath. As a chef who has tasted many a mac, all I can say about Baltaire’s version is ... [it's] total perfection."
Roger Mooking — Host, "Man, Fire, Food"
“The best macaroni and cheese was in Barbados, on the side of the road, from the back of some guy’s station wagon ... they [people from the Caribbean islands] call it Macaroni Pie," said the Cooking Channel star. "It is cooked macaroni, grated cheddar, milk, eggs, spices, pepper sauce [hot sauce] and a few other secret ingredients, all baked together in a dish till oozing and bubbling. Once the top becomes crunchy and the rest of the pie is cooked through, it is cooled then cut into large cubes the size of your palm."
Added the chef, "This dish is one of my comfort foods and is a staple of several islands in the Caribbean, although the Bajans are known for having perfected it."
Kevin Des Chenes — "The Great Food Truck Race" finalist
“Mama Lynne’s Nashville Hot Chicken Truffle Mac and Cheese from Nashville Underground in Nashville is innovative comfort with layers of flavor including the perfect balance of cheesy goodness, heat, a hint of truffle and crunchy garlic crumbs to finish it off. My favorite!” chef and author Kevin Des Chenes, who has appeared on Food Network’s "Beat Bobby Flay" and "The Great Food Truck Race," told TODAY.
Tim Hollingsworth — Winner, Netflix's "The Final Table"
“The truffle mac and cheese from The French Laundry is the best I’ve ever had," said the chef and owner behind Otium restaurant in Los Angeles. "It has both meat and cream elements to it, with bacon, ham, veal sauce, and truffles all baked together."
Judy Joo — Host, "Korean Food Made Simple"
"The best mac and cheese I ever ate was 'Mediterranean Mac and Cheese' from S’Mac in New York City on the Lower East Side," said chef and cookbook author Judy Joo. "What makes it so great is that it’s a goat cheese-based mac and cheese with spinach, olives and roasted garlic. The funk from the goat cheese goes so well with the roasted garlic. It is so delish!"
Jet Tila — Food Network star and restaurateur
“The best mac and cheese I ever had was from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in New York and Seattle. They make some of my favorite cheese so, of course, they make my favorite mac and cheese as well in their cafes!" frequent TODAY Show guest and Food Network star Jet Tila shared. "What makes their mac and cheese so great is the blend of their melty jack and sharp cheddar cheeses. It’s also simple, not too much fluff. And I like that they use penne as their preference because it holds more cheese."
Brian Riggenback — Winner, "Chopped" Season 24
Not every celebrity chef favorite is something super fancy. “I have the best memories of my grandmother Toot's mac and cheese, "chef Brian Riggenbach of The Mockingbird in Nashville, Tennessee, told TODAY. "Her mac and cheese game was strong and gooey, super cheesy with noodles that were perfectly firm! As I grew older and became more interested in how she’d actually make this noodle-ladened golden delight, I learned she would sneak in some stronger aged cheeses that played well with the iconic cheddar base. She would then finish her dish by topping it with breadcrumbs, which was pretty mind-blowing to me as a kid."
Added the "Chopped" champion, "Sometimes, no matter how many kitchen skills and attention to recipe details you may have, the best ingredient is the fact that your grandma took the time and care to make it especially for you."