A Columbus-area chef is saying cheese to photographers after winning the Ultimate Mac and Cheese Recipe contest at the Indiana State Fair.

Executive Chef Alexa Lemley, known for her sweet confections at 240sweet and Artisan Foodworks in Taylorsville, was named grand champion by the American Dairy Association on Aug. 15 after preparing her Decadent Macaroni and Cheese recipe for the judges.

Lemley said she edged out an actual dairy farmer for the top prize, one of nine competitors she thought might have home-court advantage with the competition being held so near the state fair’s Dairy Bar.

But Lemley later learned the challenger’s recipe contained a processed cheese product rather than all-natural dairy — something you will not find in the Decadent Mac and Cheese recipe.

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Decadent Mac and Cheese is a “dairy-filled dairy explosion,” Lemley said.

The competitors had 30 minutes at the state fair Red Gold stage for recipe preparation, 30 minutes to cook the macaroni and cheese recipe, with another 15 minutes for presentation and staging.

Lindsay Reinholt, Fishers, earned second place, and Chip Huckaby, Greenwood, was third. Winners were selected by judges Liz Biro, a food and dining critic for the Indianapolis Star; Jennifer Bowman, a fourth-generation dairy farmer with her husband, Trent, in Henry County; and Chef Steven J. Oakley of Oakleys Bistro, Indianapolis.

Lemley wore a cow apron supplied by the dairy association during preparation, also a new experience for the chef.

Lemley and her partner Samantha Aulick have used the Decadent recipe in their catering business, because macaroni and cheese is a dish that’s often requested by customers, Aulick said.

Lemley didn’t venture a guess on the amount of calories in her cheesy recipe, but a check of ingredients shows that cream cheese, whipping cream, butter and sour cream are all on the list, and there is no fat-free or low-calorie suggestion to be found.

“I wouldn’t be calories-worried about it,” Lemley said. “It would be the sheer grams of fat. But in that state of ecstasy eating the mac and cheese, calories and fat don’t matter.”

For the win, Lemley received 36 pounds of butter, which she said is about a year’s worth for a home cook but probably less than half a year for a chef.

She also received coupons for 52 gallons of milk and a $150 gift certificate at a cheese store in Fort Wayne.

There was also a goodie basket and $250 in cash which Lemley joked that she used to buy a round of milk shakes.

The 240sweet and Artisan Foodworks owners are to be featured in an upcoming episode of Marcus Lemonis’ CNBC reality show “The Profit.”

But until that debut on the national stage, Lemley says the state fair win is only the first step in the recipe garnering even more attention in the future.

Decadent Macaroni and Cheese

Equipment needed:

2 gallon stock pot

1-quart sauce pans

Large bowl for mixing

Whisk

Rubber spatula

9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish

Food processor

Ingredients:

1/2 pound elbow macaroni noodles

8 ounces sour cream

8 oounces cottage cheese

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/4 pound butter

¼ pound cream cheese

1 pound sharp cheddar, shredded (reserve 1/4 cup)

1 pound queso chihuahua, shredded (reserve 1/4 cup)

1 sleeve Ritz crackers

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a stock pot, boil one gallon of water. Add noodles and cook for five minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water.

In a sauce pan, whisk together heavy whipping cream, butter and cream cheese until smooth while simmering. Remove the cream mixture from heat.

In a large bowl, stir together noodles, cream mixture, sour cream, cottage cheese, salt, pepper, ¾ pound sharp cheddar, ¾ pound queso Chihuahua with a spatula.

In a food processor, pulse Ritz crackers and remaining cheeses until a fine crumb.

Place macaroni mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish and top with cracker/cheese crumbs. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly.

Take a moment to smell the delicious cheesiness and indulge in while hot.

Serves 15 as a side dish, 8 as an entrée.

— Original recipe reprinted with permission of Chef Alexa Lemley.

Last chance for the state fair

Today is the final day of the Indiana State Fair.

Where: East 38th Street at Fall Creek Parkway, Indianapolis

Today’s special: It’s Pepsi Wild Cherry Gospel Day; bring any Pepsi brand can to the state fair and receive $2 off gate admission.

What’s on tap on the last day of the fair?

Last Blast: Unlimited rides for $30 from noon until 10 p.m.

Demolition Derby: 4:30 p.m., Hoosier Lottery Grandstand

Celebration of Champions: 7 p.m., Indiana Farmers Coliseum

On television

Executive Chef Alexa Lemley will be featured on a broadcast of IndyStyle on Indianapolis television channel WISH-TV at 9 a.m. Sept. 3. She will be making her winning Decadent Macaroni and Cheese  for viewers.

Hoosier Hospitality winners

Two Columbus residents received Hoosier Hospitality Awards Friday at the Indiana State Fair for outstanding contributions to the tourism industry.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann presented the awards to:

  • Samantha Aulick, co-owner and sales manager at 240sweet.
  • Melton Lightfoot, who works as a dining room attendant at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center and is a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry.
Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.