Ten-year-old takes First Prize at Frozendale 2015’s Mac & Cheese Cook-Off

At last Saturday's Frozendale in Rosendale, Jane Brown of Accord gives an affectionate hug to Santa James Noon of Rosendale. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

At last Saturday’s Frozendale in Rosendale, Jane Brown of Accord gives an affectionate hug to Santa James Noon of Rosendale. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

With the mercury in downtown Rosendale climbing close to the 60-degree mark on the very same Saturday that many world leaders signed a historic climate accord in Paris, it was beginning to feel like the Main Street businesses hosting their annual December street festival might have to consider changing its name from Frozendale to something more like Warmingdale or Thawingdale. Global warming notwithstanding, still the visitors came from far and near to shop, sample, mingle and be entertained.

“People are excited and interested. I love this event!” said Stacy Lipari as she monitored the activity at her Creative Co-op space, the main crafts marketplace for Frozendale 2015. At the booth run by jewelrymaker Elizabeth Johnson of Ulster Park, you could pick up a pair of earrings in the timely shape of the Eiffel Tower or a hand-knit hat in the shape of an owl. Other vendors sold pottery, stained glass, kids’ books, photographic notecards, soaps and elixirs, baskets, vintage scarves, wall hangings, Christmas and Hanukkah ornaments and more jewelry and knitwear. “It was a little slow earlier, but I knew as it got chillier it would pick up,” Lipari said. “I love that there’s so much going on everywhere, so that there’s always something to do.”

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By the time the sun was low in the sky, Frozendale celebrants — many of them young families — were streaming in from kid-friendly activities like a free screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? at the Rosendale Theatre and a couple of Punch and Judy-style puppet shows in front of the Redwing Blackbird Theater. Visitors shop-hopped and tasted various stores’ free offerings of cookies and tea, hot cider and cocoa, or just stood on the sidewalks bopping to the lively sounds of the Rosendale Main Street Improvement Association Brass Band and Social Club.

But the most eagerly anticipated event of the day came last, as 12 hopeful chefs brought samples of their favorite macaroni-and-cheese recipes to the Big Cheese for judging in the annual Mac & Cheese Cook-Off. Two ten-year-old girls, Zoe Ogden of New Paltz and Mollie Lass of Highland, calling themselves Team Cameron in honor of their favorite vacation cabin in Colorado, arrived bearing a tantalizingly aromatic trayful of their entry. What was their secret ingredient? “Thyme,” said one. “We put cloves in the onion,” said the other.

A little after 5 p.m., the Cook-Off’s panel of three judges set to their blind taste-testing in earnest. “These are real judges. Some of you may or may not have run across them in traffic court,” joked Frozendale co-organizer Laurie Giordano as she introduced Ulster County Family Court justice Tony McGinty and Rosendale Town Court justices Sara McGinty and William Pape. “They will be judging anonymously, by number only.”

As the judging proceeded, the crowd grew restive, awaiting their promised chance to sample the entries after the winners were chosen. “Use plastic forks,” Big Cheese proprietor Yuval Sterer instructed with mock sternness. “We’ve had some stabbings in past years. No stabbing. No double-dipping.”

Finally, with appropriate suspense and ceremony, Giordano announced the contest results and invited the winners to choose from a list of prizes offered by local merchants. Team Cameron made a respectable showing, taking sixth place. But the 2015 Mac & Cheese Cook-Off crown ultimately went to another ten-year-old: Devon Dawes of Rosendale and Highland, who selected a certificate for year’s membership at the Rosendale Theatre as her trophy.

“My Dad and I made it together,” Dawes said afterwards of her winning creation. “We got the cheese from here, the Big Cheese!” The dish was a balanced meal, sporting a scattering of green peas; but according to Dawes, that wasn’t her secret ingredient: “The main one would have to be the world-famous ‘love.’”

The young chef’s choice of words helps to explain the broad appeal of Rosendale’s devotion to hosting street festivals as well. “This has been a really fun Frozendale, even if it was definitely not frozen,” enthused town councilwoman Jen Metzger. “I just love this town!”

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