Photo from Fire in My Belly by Angie Mosier
Of all the chefs who’ve visited for the Southern Chefs Series, Kevin Gillespie has the shortest commute—he just walks down the street from his home here at Serenbe.
But long before he lived here, Kevin found himself a special place in my heart. He knows who he is and doesn’t try to be anything else. When he does his class, he doesn’t bring special tools or foods—just an apron and a smile.
When Kevin sent me his recipes in advance for the class, I headed to the store to gather ingredients. When I got to the word “Velveeta,” I stopped in the middle of the aisle. I’ve never bought Velveeta in my life. And if anyone else had asked me to buy it, I would’ve graciously declined. But I adore Kevin so much, I looked around until I found someone who could point me to the processed cheese food.
Kevin used the Velveeta in his Gussied-Up Mac-N-Cheese, a recipe that comes right from his cookbook, Fire in My Belly.
When I first started making mac and cheese, I made a béchamel with flour and milk, then added cheese. But it never tasted right. The cheese sauce was too grainy. I knew you couldn’t just melt the cheese straight because it would separate. The flour stabilizes it and keeps it from separating.
Then one day, I was rolling down the aisle of a grocery store and saw Velveeta. I did a double take. “Should that be refrigerated in the cheese section?” I wondered. I picked up the package and read the ingredient list. It had a stabilizer in it. Perfect! I know Velveeta is not a staple ingredient for professional chefs, but I thought, “I don’t give a damn. I’m going to make the same sauce I was making before and use Velveeta instead of flour.” It worked like a charm.
This is the genius of Kevin. He found a way to take macaroni and cheese to the next level while still making it accessible to the home cook. Did I mention that there’s andouille sausage in there, too? And that it’s topped with Utz potato chips?
He served it with Salisbury steak and his great grandmother’s warm banana pudding. And even with all that food in their bellies, the guests stayed around for hours after dinner, asking Kevin questions and listening to him tell stories. I thought about asking them to wrap it up a few times, then decided to let the night end organically—which is more than I can say for the Velveeta, which will live out the rest of its long, lonely life in the back of my refrigerator.
Next up in the Southern Chefs Series: Chris Hastings September 21-22. Secure your spot by calling 770.463.2610.
Kevin Gillespie’s Gussied-up Mac-N-Cheese
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 pound dried cavatappi
- 8 ounces diced andouille sausage
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 pound Velveeta, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 cups smoked cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 cup Parrano cheese, grated
- 4 ounces Utz potato chips, unsalted and crumbled
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart baking dish and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the salt and stir to dissolved. Add the pasta and cook until just tender yet still quite chewy in the center. Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.
While the pasta cooks, line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Squeeze the sausage from the casing, then quarter it length-wise and cut it crosswise into ¼-inch pieces. Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage pieces, and cook until browned around the edges, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the paper towels to drain.
In a Dutch oven, heat the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cut the heat down to low, add the Velveeta, and stir until it melts. Add the sausage, cheddar and Parrano, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Pull the pot from the heat and fold in the cooked pasta. Pour the pasta into the baking dish and top with the crumbled potato chips.
Bake until bubbly and browned around the edges, about 20 minutes. Pull the dish from the oven and let the sauce set up for at least 5 minutes before serving.
*If you can’t get Parrano cheese, replace it with 2 ounces aged Gouda and 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano.