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The mac and cheese at the North Fork Roadhouse (credit: Felicia LaLomia).

For many, mac and cheese elicits feelings of nostalgia and home. It’s something mom made over the stove as the aroma of melty cheese filled the kitchen. For Jeni Raymond, the new chef at the North Fork Roadhouse, this isn’t any different. 

“I’ve always loved mac and cheese,” she said. “It’s always been one of my favorite foods ever since I was a kid and my mom, even when we were younger, always made homemade mac and cheese. Mac and cheese has always been one of my things.”

When she came to the Roadhouse in August, she knew she wanted to create an amazing mac and cheese that could be a signature for the restaurant. Most traditional mac and cheeses start with a bechamel sauce.

“It’s butter and flour, cooked for a few minutes to get rid of the floury taste and then you add milk to it and add seasoning,” Raymond said. She adds nutmeg, white pepper, black pepper, dry mustard, garlic and onion powder. “Once that comes to a simmer and thickens, then we add our cheeses to it until they melt.”

The journey to finding the perfect cheese blend took a few trials.

“We started with a mild cheddar and didn’t think it had enough flavor,” she said. “We tried it with a mozzarella which is too mild, but it makes it really cheesy so we just kind of played around with it.” Eventually she ended up on a blend of parmesan, monterey Jack and cheddar, but said finding what cheese blend works for you comes down to personal preference. At home, she likes sharper blends like gouda — plus trying new combinations is a good excuse to test out more mac and cheese.

Although it’s traditional to use a macaroni elbow pasta, Raymond wanted to use something a little bit different. “We use cavatappi pasta,” she said. “I didn’t want to do a regular elbow. I wanted people to be able to be like, ‘Oh, this is made here because of the shape of the noodle.’” 

After the pasta is cooked, everything is stored until an order comes in. Once it does, the pasta is dunked in boiling water for 30 seconds to reheat it, tossed in a bowl with a ladle-full of cheese sauce and fresh shredded cheese, poured into a cast iron dish and topped with toasted breadcrumbs. Then, it’s thrown under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the top. It’s cheesy, gooey and so comforting and the ratio of pasta to cheese is perfect. When trying to recreate a perfect mac and cheese at home, Raymond has a few tips.

“Make sure you let the cheese sauce thicken up,” she said. “Make enough roux and let it cook long enough for the milk and the flour to come together. Once everything is blended in, if you overcook your cheese sauce, it’ll break and separate. You don’t ever want your cheese sauce to come to an actual boil, just a simmer to make sure everything is melted.”

And although it’s something she can’t do at the restaurant because of timing, Raymond thinks mac and cheese finished in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes is the best way to enjoy it. It gives a crispy top and gooey, cheesy center.

“Mac and cheese is something that everybody grew up with,” she said. “Whether it was the Kraft macaroni or something your mom or your grandma made, it’s just one of those that brings you back to childhood comfort.”