Mac and Cheese: Adult Comfort Food

macandcheese

by Rachel Travers

Farm girl, foodie, entrepreneur, mom and a strong dash of marketing savvy—these plus fresh ingredients and one good solid idea are putting Sarah Pike of Newburyport on the map today.

So, imagine a just-out-of-your-own-oven lightly creamy mac and cheese with wild mushrooms, a slight infusion of black truffle oil and a heady dash of fresh thyme, with a crispy crunchy topping of toasted panko (those beloved-by-chefs toothsome Japanese breadcrumbs) paired with a salad or vegetable side of your own making, and you’ve got a great meal for the family or a clutch of friends.

Pike, 32, was never formally trained in the kitchen, with the exception of her first cooking class at the Newburyport YWCA when she was 5. “I still have my cookbooks from that time. I guess I always knew I’d do something with food eventually,” says Pike. But growing up on a family farm in Maine and hating any part of the gardening chores, she began to happily cook for the family as a tradeoff. It was a win-win decision all around.

Prior to establishing Good Tastes Kitchen, Pike had a 10-year online marketing career, which allowed her the ability to start a new business two years ago in an economic downturn and really immerse herself in it. “I began Good Tastes as a seasonal fresh dinner service of items that could freeze well, and ended up delivering to over 400 families,” says Pike. “But this was labor-intensive, and more and more people looked at this service more as a luxury.”

Her seasonal fresh dinner service, which gave birth to Good Tastes, was the result of her giving birth to her first child in January 2007.  “Being a working mom was a huge reality check as far as my time went,” says Pike. “But my palate never changed and I always sought really interesting flavors.”

In July 2009 she made the change in her operations to produce only mac and cheese. She’d begun wholesaling some of her frozen items like wild mushroom and pecorino lasagna, chicken or vegetarian pot pies and black bean burgers to some local farm stands and realized “It was the mac and cheese that was moving.”

“Since then it’s been more focused, more streamlined, much better,” says the young mother. Her summer launch at the Fancy Food Show, with new packaging hot off the press, was overwhelmingly positive and provided schooling in the art of wholesale gourmet specialty products.

So, why mac and cheese? “People are longing for comfort food these days. And mac and cheese is a blank canvas to work with, infusing it with many flavor combinations and fresh ingredients,” says Pike. She has a mac and cheese of the month club and has used that for testing further iterations: pumpkin and sage mac and cheese, pancetta and peas.

“I just try to have fun with the flavors. This line is good enough for company and I think people feel really proud to serve it—to serve something beautiful and scrumptious.”

Pike’s current flavors are: Mediterranean, with a light touch of sundried tomatoes, feta and kalamata olives; Four Cheese, with a blend of Vermont cheddar, aged parmesan, creamy ricotta and fresh mozzarella; and Brie & Fig mac & cheese, which we predict will become her most popular grown-up variety. They can be mixed and matched for a mac ad cheese “tastings” or divvied up in smaller portions as accompaniments for meat or chicken meals.

To find local outlets for this product, go to www.good-tastes.com.

Rachel Travers is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer who contributes regularly to the Boston Globe and Edible Boston, as well as many other regional, national and online venues. She can be reached at alphasoup2@aol.com.