O-Town MacDown took place at the Orange County Convention Center. This event was a macaroni and cheese competition to benefit Give Kids the World, an organization that provides complimentary Orlando vacations to families dealing with life-limiting illnesses.
The event took place in the Orange County Convention Center’s massive West Concourse. The trek from the parking lot to the event hall was punctuated by cheese-colored signage, often featuring humorous slogans.
While Give Kids the World Village is often visited by furry friends from all of Orlando’s major attractions, it is also home to a few GKTW-exclusive characters, who were on hand to host the Mac Down.
Mayor Clayton & Miss Mary are long-time staples of the Village.
Recently the bunnies have been joined at the Village with two resident pooches, Rugby (L) and Reme. In addition to visiting with families who are staying at the Village, these characters are also featured on Give Kids the World apparel and in storybooks that are given to Guests of the Village.
This wishing well, evocative of much of the decor found at the Give Kids the World Village, was used as event decor, and to explain the resort’s mission to attendees.
A surprising number of entries featured meats. One was offered up by Yak & Yeti, a Landry’s restaurant inside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Their entry featured smoked beef brisket, a very popular ingredient in the competition. We were surprised with this choice, as it did not reflect Yak & Yeti’s Asian menu. Of course, they also don’t serve macaroni and cheese at Yak & Yeti, so maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising.
Our favorite of the meat-infused pasta creations was from Cib’s Smoke Shop, a new barbecue restaurant that recently opened at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin resorts. The Cib’s team not only used smoked beef brisket, but also smoked cheddar and gruyere cheeses. The meat was perfectly seasoned and cooked, and the smoky flavors were perfectly balanced with the creaminess of the pasta and sauce. This was one of the few meaty entries that gave a cohesive and complete impression, rather than seeming like someone had tossed the beef into the dish at the last minute. It definitely gave a positive impression, and we have added Cib’s to the list of restaurants we will be visiting soon.
WonderWorks was one of the local attractions that presented a vendor booth, despite not participating in the cooking competition.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville presented a french onion mac n cheese, pairing two classic flavors: creamy macaroni and cheese and savory French onion soup. The result was excellent, and it was a great option for folks who didn’t eat meat but who wanted to taste something a little more exciting than noodles with a cheddar sauce.
Boston Lobster Feast, a tourist corridor staple for nearly 25 years played to their strong suit by using seafood in their recipe. The “Southwest” aspect of the dish didn’t really come across for us, but the blend of crab, shrimp and lobster was impressive despite being extremely rich. We thought it was a cute touch that they used pasta “shells” instead of elbow noodles to carry over the aquatic theme.
The Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld had one of the tastiest offerings that didn’t stray too far from the traditional realm.
When we saw that Hard Rock Cafe would be participating, we were hoping that they would bring a rendition of the “Twisted” mac ‘n cheese that packs such a punch in their dining room, but instead of their signature spicy creation, they played it safe with an Alfredo-style cream sauce.
Fulton’s Crab House surprisingly didn’t feature any seafood, but they incorporated a very tender smoked pork belly into their recipe.
I-Drive’s Taverna Opa presented a Greek-style fritter filled with mac ‘n cheese and lamb.
The most original, and our absolute favorite was the recipe presented by Emeril’s Tchoup Chop. The Asian Fusion restaurant at the Royal Pacific resort at Universal Orlando. True to form, they went in a completely original direction, and thanks to expert execution and high quality ingredients, delivered a truly memorable experience. It was the only dessert entry.
Chocolate noodles served with a scoop of marscapone cheese ice cream and garnished with crushed pistachios and candied bacon. If this showed up on their menu, I would order it in a heartbeat!
Another Landry’s restaurant, T-Rex Cafe from Downtown Disney, offered a dish featuring sweet marscapone cheese and savory lump blue crab meat.
In addition to Give Kids the World’s in-house entertainment team, entertainment was provided by a couple of the sponsors as well.
This is Sir Kingston the bear and Styler the cat, characters who help promote the Hard Rock brand at a variety of events.
Holiday Inn Club Vacations sponsored a crafts area, where kids could make necklaces and pictures with macaroni noodles. Their both’s logo sign was created from dyed macaroni!
This chef was creating works of art from blocks of Tilamook cheddar cheese!
SeaWorld’s Groove Chefs performed on the main stage. This musical act featured in SeaWorld’s Waterfront area play a variety of songs with lyrics modified to involve food, such as “Girls” by the Beastie Boys, only their version changes the word “Girls” to “Grills”.
Shamu and Dolly the Dolphin from SeaWorld were also on hand.