Kwame Onwuachi’s Favorite Mac ‘n Cheese Recipe

Kwame Onwuachi is a James Beard Award-winning chef, best-selling author, and celebrated restaurateur whose culinary roots span the African diaspora. While this Bronx-raised, Nigerian-American is based in New York, his roots stretch to Virginia, where he collaborated with Salamander Resort owner Sheila Johnson on the The Family Reunion, a celebration of diversity and excellence in the hospitality industry at Salamander Middleburg that attracted a slew of A-list corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola, United Airlines, and Wells Fargo.  

The Culinary Institute of America-trained Onwuachi, also a Top Chef alum and judge and the culinary world’s current “it” guy, says that one of his favorite holiday foods is mac ‘n’ cheese, which he sees as uniquely versatile. Not only is it comfort food that appeals to a variety of palates, he says, but it can also be served as both a main course and a side dish.“Quite simply, it’s delicious,” says this renowned chef, who views the dish as a “greatest hit” in Black cooking. Onwuachi shares his ultimate mac ‘n’ cheese recipe for the holidays. 

Photo credit: Scott Suchman

Mac ‘n’ Cheese Recipe

For the Mornay

2 sticks unsalted butter

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

8 cups whole milk, cold

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

8 oz. cream cheese

1½ cups shredded Gruyère cheese

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 cup shredded mild yellow cheddar

For the Breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons unsalted butter4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed1 cup panko breadcrumbs20 leaves parsley, finely chopped½ teaspoon kosher salt

For Assembly

½ cup shredded Monterey Jack

½ cup shredded Asadero (or low-moisture mozzarella)

½ cup shredded mild yellow cheddar

Kosher salt, to taste1 pound dried cavatappi pasta

8 cups Mornay Sauce 

Make the Mornay: In a medium pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant but don’t brown it, about 2 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly with a rubber spatula until it starts to turn a pale golden color, about 
5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, gradually pour in the cold milk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Stir in the pepper, the cream cheese, Gruyère, Parm, and mild cheddar, then transfer to a blender. Purée until smooth.

Make the Breadcrumbs:In a medium pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs, parsley, and salt. Cook, stirring often, until toasted and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the crumbs to a paper towel-lined plate or sheet tray to cool, then remove the garlic and discard it.

To Assemble: Heat the oven to 400°F. Combine the Monterey Jack, Asadero, and cheddar in a bowl.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook cavatappi according to package instructions until al denté. Drain the pasta well, return to the pot, then toss with the Mornay sauce and half the shredded cheeses.

Transfer to a baking pan and sprinkle the remaining shredded cheeses over the top. Top evenly with the breadcrumbs. 

Cover with a piece of parchment paper, then wrap tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the foil and parchment and bake another 20 minutes, until bubbling and browned.

Yield: 6 servings

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