Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development
Mac and cheese moves from classic to modern with a clever use of heat elements. Here, fire-roasted jalapeños stud the cheese sauce, and the dish is topped with a Mexican chorizo-spiced chicharrón crumble.
Mac and cheese moves from classic to modern with a clever use of heat elements. Here, fire-roasted jalapeños stud the cheese sauce, and the dish is topped with a Mexican chorizo-spiced chicharrón crumble.

By Rob Corliss
February 28, 2022

Mac and cheese is a perennial menu favorite, thanks to its secure positioning as familiar comfort food. And of course, chefs keep it relevant and interesting with trend-forward culinary touches. Introducing creative elements of heat is a way to dial up the crave factor and appeal to a broad swath of consumers who seek it out regularly. Mac and cheese’s creamy profile acts as a soothing counter to everything from prickly to scorching heat, served up in modern sauce builds, intriguing garnishes, signature dusts and seasonings in crusts, and so on.

Here are five flavor strategies that factor modern heat into the mac and cheese equation.

TRY THIS:
Angry Pimento Mac and Cheese: Rigatoni pasta tossed with creamy habanero pimento cheese sauce and charred Vidalia onions, topped with crispy bites of Buffalo-candied smoked bacon

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Green Chile Queso Mac: Cavatappi pasta enveloped in creamy white queso studded with fire-roasted Hatch chiles, roasted garlic and chopped pickled banana peppers, topped with a sprinkling of Texas Pete Original Dust Dry Seasoning

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Moroccan Mac Bites: Bite-size crispy baked miniature appetizers of elbow noodles tossed with harissa, goat cheese sauce and seasoned ground lamb

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Boosted Mac: Chickpea penne tossed with sautéed tri-color bell peppers and a grated Mexican-style four-cheese blend, swirled with ancho chile pepper crunch

TRY THIS:
Pub Mac: Orecchiette tossed with Fontina beer cheese sauce, topped with toasted pretzel bread crumbles and Aleppo pepper flakes

Adding a touch of heat to proven menu winners like baked pasta dishes makes for relatively easy and inviting signature tweaks.

Adding a touch of heat to proven menu winners like baked pasta dishes makes for relatively easy and inviting signature tweaks.


ON THE MENU:
Trend-forward examples from restaurants across the country

Jalapeño Popper: Classic mac infused with jalapeño oil and topped with house-fried jalapeño popper dip and potato chip-panko crunch
Mac Mart, Philadelphia

Jerk Chicken Mac & Cheese: Five-cheese mac and cheese with grilled jerk chicken, jerk alfredo sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs; baked until golden brown
House of Mac, Miami

Short Rib Mac & Cheese: Rigatoni in a short rib- and jalapeño-infused béchamel with Gruyère, aged Gouda and Havarti, then topped with a pickled jalapeño-herb cornbread crust
Beauty & Essex, Las Vegas

Mac n Queso: Cavatappi pasta tossed with a cheese sauce made with sautéed onions, garlic, roasted green chiles, coriander, cumin, oregano, Monterey Jack, Cotija and white melting cheese, then topped with Cotija, cilantro and crushed spicy tortilla chips
Huahua’s Taqueria, Miami

Macaroni and Cheese: Elbow macaroni with sharp white cheddar, milk, cream, onion, garlic and hot sauce, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbed breadcrumbs
Cochon Butcher, New Orleans

About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 30 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and owning the culinary consultancy ATE (All Things Epicurean) since 2009. Based in Nixa, Mo., ATE has an energizing passion focused on flavor innovation and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness. Rob is also a regular contributor to Flavor & The Menu. [email protected]