Behind the scenes of Austin’s ultimate cheese competition, Quesoff 2019
Story and photographs by Holly Cowart
This Saturday, with a line eagerly wrapped around the block, The Mohawk was the setting of a no-holds-barred queso showdown featuring around 30 incredible Austin restaurants, chefs and home cooks. Founded by James Moody and Adi Anand in 2011, Quesoff was born from a deep-rooted love for the savory dish – something clearly echoed throughout our Tex-Mex-centric city. During the three-hour fest, contestants duked it out for the top spot in four categories: Meaty, Spicy, Veggie and Wild Card, with winners claiming a cheese wedge trophy and some serious bragging rights.
After a $3 donation at the door benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank, I grabbed a bag of chips and headed to the ground floor excited for the upcoming feast. Tents lined the venue’s multi-layered outdoor space while the roster of respected judges and restaurateurs sat atop the concert stage, including Callie Speer, Fermín Núñez, Kendall Antonelli, Matthew Odam and Michael Fojtasek.
The melty dips came in a slew of imaginative varieties. Braised pork cheek, crispy bacon and smoked brisket topped my favorite meat infusions while surprising combinations of pizza and hamburger-inspired versions played tricks on my tastebuds. I was also impressed by the sheer amount of mouthwatering vegetarian options available compared to previous years. In between station-hopping, stops at the indoor (and A/C-filled) bar provided the perfect pick me up before venturing back out to join the hungry masses. Almost more unusual than the flavors were the methods of transportation – boxes, egg cartons and sombrero-shaped holders left savvy guests maximizing their cheese-carrying capacity. Meanwhile, my attempted balancing act was much less successful as I narrowly avoided a queso-stained t-shirt on multiple occasions.
After a day of hard work over steaming pots of liquid gold, the face-off culminated in the presentation of Best in Show, awarded to Eldorado Cafe, which also snagged the Veggie prize earlier in the day. Better Half Coffee & Cocktails defended their Meaty crown for a second year while Pink Avocado Catering showed off with their Wild Card winner. Finally, the Spicy favorite went to Arturo Reyes’ Kick Ass Queso, a decades-old family recipe crafted to excellence.
The day was a true testament to our city’s skill and dedication – from The Mohawk staff to the chef community to the die-hard fans who spent hours sweating it out under the hot Texas sun – all united in their love of queso. Thanks to their valiant efforts, 18,592 meals were generated in just three hours for the Central Texas Food Bank.