Queso. Simply saying the word activates saliva glands and rumbles the stomach. A staple of appetizer menus, backyard barbecues and UT game day snack spreads, this melted cheese sauce is as Austin as the Longhorns’ Burnt Orange.
But not all queso is created equal. The 6th Annual Quesoff on August 20, 2016 at Mohawk, aims to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Queso makers from around Austin will be pitted against each other in a battle of cheesy supremacy, all in support of a great cause. This is a delicious way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Quesoff’s Unlikely Origins
Like most things awesome, Quesoff was conceived over cocktails. On a summer afternoon in 2011, event creator Adi Anand and James Moody, owner of Mohawk, were chatting at the bar. After one too many scotches, a lightning bolt struck: why don’t they celebrate their love of queso in the form of a competition?
“Quesoff began in 2011 and, now in its sixth year, it continues to be the premier queso event in Austin, maybe even all over Texas, possibly the world, with due respect to the World Cheese Dip Competition in Little Rock,” Anand shared.
One of the unique aspects of Quesoff is that it isn’t limited to restaurants and established chefs. Home cooks are allowed to compete directly against the big guns of the melted cheese world, giving the contest a unique spirit of Austin cohesiveness and competition.
Quesoff’s All-Star Lineup
Over 25 eateries and amateurs will be taking part in this year’s competition. While the full participant list isn’t available as of this writing, returning champs Mighty Bird and four-time winner Frank will be vying for victory. New combatants like Micklethwait Craft Meats, Trudy’s and Jack Allen’s Kitchen will be making their Quesoff debut.
Quesoff is broken up into four categories: Meaty, Spicy, Veggie and Wild Card. Of those four, a Best in Show winner is crowned. In addition to bragging rights, this year’s overall victor will receive two tickets to the inaugural Sound on Sound Fest this November.
Attendees can expect a mouth-watering array of cheesy goodness. Over the years, the event has seen everything from traditional chicken and brisket queso to cheese sauce spiked with mezcal. Even a queso gelato has made an appearance. The possibilities are endless.
All for a Good Cause
Central Texas Food Bank, an organization dedicated to providing food to needy people, is presenting this year’s Quesoff. For Adi Anand, partnering with the local nonprofit was a natural choice.
“We’re [Anand and James Moody] both big fans of what Central Texas Food Bank does in the community. After making merry with queso and chips all these years, we felt that we needed to give something back to the community,” the event founder said.
Thanks to this partnership, entry to Quesoff is free with a donation of two canned goods. Cash donations are also accepted. And if you don’t feel like tasting with your fingers, bags of chips are available for $5. For the sake of cleanliness, please fork over the cash.
What I’ll Be Looking For
While the event will be graded by a panel of experienced judges (not announced as of this article), attendees will be making their own determinations, too. Here’s what I’ll be looking for:
Consistency: Queso thickness needs to be like Goldilocks’ porridge: just right. Too thick and the chip snaps in half, too thin and the cheese slides off like watery gloop.
Complex, but not too complex: Perfect queso has a flavor profile that’s punched up just enough. Weakly-seasoned queso can come off like melted Velvetta. But add too much food to it, and it becomes cheesy chili.
Cheese – And the biggest queso sin? When cooks forget about the cheese! When you’re overly concerned with fancy ingredients, there’s a risk of forgetting about the base dip. I look for sharp, fragrant flavors while still maintaining the aforementioned creamy texture. I’ll take a plainly decorated yet beautifully mixed queso over something with 80 different ingredients.
But let’s be real with each other. Like chocolate, publicity and Christopher Walken movies, there’s no such thing as bad queso. Whether you splurged on an appetizer at Kerbey Lane Café or you like to make it yourself, there’s nothing more comforting than dunking a tortilla chip into a sea of cheese and toppings. And to do so in support of a rock star cause makes it all the more enjoyable.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Where’s your go-to spot for Austin queso?