• September 30, 2014

Taste test: Judges sample dishes for Cheddar’s menu contest

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Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 4:30 am

HARKER HEIGHTS — Six eager judges gathered at Cheddar’s in Harker Heights on Tuesday afternoon to taste test three dishes vying for the chance to land on the local restaurant’s menu next month.

“The goal is to engage the local community,” said Sara Hundley, brand director for Cheddar’s restaurant support center in Dallas. The restaurant received about 50 recipes, eventually narrowing it down to six favorites in Dallas.

At the local Cheddar’s, kitchen staff prepared each dish, finally settling on three to serve to judges.

The staff considered taste, menu viability and cost, Hundley said.

On Tuesday, judges included Vanessa Lynch and Clare Haefner of the Killeen Daily Herald, Johnny Dodson of Fort Hood food services contractor PCSI; the local restaurant’s general manager, David Robertson; Food Service Manager Ashley Norman; and Robert Pesch, Cheddar’s director of culinary research and development.

The six judges ranked their favorites of the final three options: Granny’s Corn Pudding, sweet potato casserole and bacon macaroni and cheese bake. Like all Cheddar’s items, each dish was made from scratch in-house, according to restaurant officials.

“I tried to stay as true to the recipe as possible,” said Pesch, who prepared each dish.

The judges praised the light and airy texture of the corn pudding. The surprise inclusion of cream cheese was a welcome addition, resulting in a “soufflé-like” consistency, Pesch said.

The sweet potato casserole was a hit with nearly everyone.

“A lot of people want this more than once a year,” Dodson said. The candied pecans reminded Lynch of Thanksgiving, and “screamed Cheddar’s” to Norman.

The macaroni and cheese was flavorful without being too cheesy, Pesch said.

The dish “reminded me of what my grandma makes,” Norman said. “Especially in a military town, people are (looking for) something like home.”

The judges debated the merits of each dish as an addition to Cheddar’s established brand of comfort food.

General Manager David Robertson was happy to establish a stronger relationship with Cheddar’s customers.

“People liked (the contest) ... regular customers felt like they were a part of it,” Robertson said.

The winner will be announced in a few days, and the dish will be featured on the menu for eight weeks. It could be permanent, depending on customer reaction, Hundley said.

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