Meet Hayden Walker, Founder of the Austin Mac and Cheese Festival
Hayden Walker loves food. And mac and cheese. Oh, and writing. So, it seems he’s landed in just the right place, serving as the Editor in Chief and Director of Operations for Austin Food Magazine, a position he’s held since the Spring of 2013. Walker was born in Houston, Texas, spending eleven years there before moving to Lake Charles, LA. With his sights originally set on going into Federal law enforcement, he earned one degree is Criminal Justice and another in Sociology from McNeese State University.
But his passion for creative writing and good food was always well, eating away at him. So, after a false start in law enforcement and a ten year stint in financial and insurance sales, he knew he wasn’t where he truly belonged. So, in 2012, he collaborated with a few friends to start a YouTube channel eventually named Texas Food Crawlers.
“The idea was to create a show similar to Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives or any other show you're likely to see on the Travel Channel and Food Network. We visited multiple restaurants in the area to film our culinary experience which was actually an amazing experience,” explains Walker.
But despite the fun and the experience he gained, Walker realized that the time and energy required for crafting video content necessitated a new modus operandi. Enter Austin Food Magazine, a collaboration between Walker and a local magazine publisher. “It seems like it was such a long time ago. But it's only been four short years, and we're just getting warmed-up. We have some amazing things coming up in the near future!”
As for now though, Austin Food Magazine is up and running strong and so his Walker’s latest endeavor – The Austin Mac & Cheese Festival. November 19, 2017 marked the second annual happening of this delicious event that sold out long before the big day and was packed with people, cocktails, music, and, of course, gobs and gobs of the most creative renditions of mac & cheese that one could dream of. Here’s more from Walker on this melty, gooey, noodley day of culinary fun.
Daily Meal: Where did you get the idea for this festival?
Hayden Walker: I've always wanted to host a food festival. So, I thought I'd throw one based around one of my favorite foods.
What made you think it would work?
I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy mac and cheese, and it's one of those dishes that allows for multiple recipes. All you have to do is allow a chef to get creative.
How did restaurants and chefs respond when you first reached out?
Most of them were thrilled to be a part of it. One of them even told me it's almost like his long-awaited dream came true.
How did people respond to the first event?
People were beyond excited in the first year. We planned to host the first festival in a smaller venue because we weren't sure how big this event would become. After we found out the demand was much higher than I anticipated, we selected a different venue with the ability to host 3 times the number of attendees.
What has surprised you the most about creating and running this festival?
With all of the festivals I've attended in the last few years, I was surprised at how excited this festival made everyone. Despite the 1,500 people that attended the festival, there were probably another 1,500 people that wanted to attend; we just didn't have the room to host them.
What do you think it is about mac and cheese that so enthralls so many people?
Nearly everyone has a childhood connection to mac and cheese. Most of those childhood dreams only matured with a more distinct palate. The Mac and Cheese Festival is a culmination of childhood dreams and food fantasies come true.
From where did your love of all things food spring?
I was always fascinated with food ever since I was a kid. My grandmother was French and she sometimes cooked and served meals in small courses to enhance our dining experience. It wasn't just about the flavor or taste of the food, but sometimes about the togetherness which made it more enjoyable.