Festival spreads more than just cheese

Sharida Rejon, Features editor

The Mac and Cheese Festival kicked off its annual tour on April 12, making its first stop at Cal State Bakersfield. The festival, which opened its gates to a sold out crowd, was the first-ever event of its kind in Bakersfield.

The tour, hosted by American General Media, benefits 170 hospitals across the nation through the Children’s Miracle Network. A portion of the proceeds from the event in Bakersfield is being donated to Lauren Small Children’s Medical Center at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. “Every dollar that our local community donates to the Children’s Miracle Network here in Kern County comes back to our local hospital and helps our local children,” said Lourdes Nilon, manager of the Children’s Miracle Network at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

“What we do with the money is purchase critical life-saving equipment for the medical center,” said Nilon. “In 2015, we will start construction of the Robert A. Grimm Children’s Pavilion for Emergency Care, an emergency department just for kids that will be a part of Lauren Small Children’s Medical Center,” she said. “So our fundraising right now, a lot of that is going to go toward equipping the children’s emergency center.”

According to Jessica Beattie, the event coordinator at American General Media, the festival has been in existence for three years, but the partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network began this year. “We are thrilled to have such a fabulous non-profit organization to share this with,” said Beattie. “It has been an honor working with Lourdes and her team.”

In addition to helping raise funds for the local children’s medical center, The Mac and Cheese Festival also provided exposure for local businesses.

One of these businesses was KC Steakhouse, a family owned and operated restaurant in downtown Bakersfield.

“We’ve been in Bakersfield since 1939, so this is our 75th anniversary here in town,” said Cassie Bittle, the bar manager at KC Steakhouse. “We just did a new menu and one of the items was our lobster mac and cheese, so this event was perfect for us to get our name out there and let people know that we have new stuff on our menu.”

According to Bittle, the festival was the first event they have been a part of outside of the restaurant. “We hope to gain new customers that have never heard about us,” she said. “We’re a little, tiny place downtown, and a lot of people have no idea we’re even there. Hopefully we can get some new people.”

Among the vendors was also six-time award-winning caterer Valentin Torres, owner of Taco Torres & Catering, who offered an original recipe.

“We brought macaroni and cheese with chile verde, which is a new dish,” said Torres. “Everybody tells me that they’ve never seen anything like that and that they really like it. Today was a big experience for me, I’m surprised to see so many people.”

Although the Children’s Miracle Network receives donations from various partners throughout the year, Nilon was especially pleased with the turnout at this event. “We sold out, I’m very excited about that,” she said. “I’m excited that the community would come out and have a good time at this very unique event, and that at the same time support the local children’s medical center.”