This story originally appeared in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL in August 2016.
Here’s my regular Saturday morning ritual: I open Instagram, and a little man with a hammer goes to town on the inside of my skull. I look at pictures of huge croissants, videos that chronicle the almost erotic disappearance of an egg into a pile of dough, and admire loaves of bread that almost make me leave the comfort of my home to catch the next train to Tilburg. There’s nothing all too special about Luc Martin starting his day at the bakery at 3 or 4 am—it’s what bakers do. But most of them don’t share their early morning hours with the rest of the world the way he does.
Luc Martin hails from Brighton in the UK. Twelve years ago he moved to the Netherlands for love. Four years ago he opened Tilburg Sourdough, which has been so successful that his alarm clock has been going off earlier and earlier as time goes on.
On August 28 Luc is hosting another get together at the sausage factory Brandt en Levie in Amsterdam, which features different chefs who prepare specialty dinners. One of the dishes served during Luc’s lunchtime party will be a sausage with a surprise on the inside: mac and cheese. I was particularly interested in the origin of this sausage, which has come into being through a persistent mac and cheese obsession.
MUNCHIES: Hey Luc. How did you get the idea for a mac and cheese-filled hotdog?
Luc Martin: I read about a mac and cheese-hotdog in an American restaurant review a long time ago. I don’t know where and I haven’t been able to find it again, but I never forgot about it. When the guys at Brandt en Levie and I were planning this dinner, I thought: now is the time. I’m going to use as many of their products as I can, like the blood sausage and their bacon on the burger, and the macdog will be one of the side dishes.
You keep a journal of all the mac and cheese varieties you have experimented with so far. How many kinds are there?
The macdog is number 143, and I hope to perfect it within three tries.
That’s a lot. How many different ways can you prepare something that seems so simple?
It’s definitely a project without an end date. While making the first 50 varieties I focused on the perfect balance between salt and turmeric, and the perfect amounts of flour and dried spices. Turmeric is important for the color and earthy taste, but salt intensifies that flavor. So the more salt I use, the less turmeric goes in. Once this worked, I started experimenting with different kinds of mustard. The mustard has a sharp taste and I wanted to smooth that out by adding some cream and butter. I found out that putting those in at the end is best, as it also cools down the sauce. After that, I started adding egg yolks. Very good for creaminess and color, but after this addition the recipe needed something tangy, so I played around with lemon juice and vinegar. One day I had a bit of leftover mascarpone in the fridge and I incorporated that, which was a huge change, and from that day on the mascarpone was a part of the dish.
It’s also a big hassle to cook the pasta in a way that it doesn’t soak up all of the sauce, which makes it soggy. From version 115 on the basic recipe has been pretty much perfect, so I’ve only been making slight changes. Recently, I’ve really been into making lots of sauce and I’ve also been enjoying making more specific dishes, like burger buns of fried mac and cheese and the hotdog.
Where does your mac and cheese obsession come from?
I just really love it. Actually, no, this is what it comes down to: I love watching people as they are eating a really good mac and cheese. The look on their faces—the dreamy, oh my god-expression—that’s my favorite thing. Personally, I hardly ever eat mac and cheese.
I don’t know, I’m 35 now, and perhaps there is such a thing as eating too much mac and cheese. I don’t eat my own bread that often, either.
Is it difficult to create a sausage filled with mac and cheese?
A few things are important. First, the sausage needs a good bite. The ‘snap’ when you first sink your teeth into a hotdog is the most tasty part [of eating one]. If you don’t have that, it’s like eating a pig bowel filled with something soft and that’s disgusting. Because I’ve made sausages before, getting that bite wasn’t the hardest part. You achieve it through smoking the sausage: the smoke dries out the skin, so it tightens around the filling.
One of the issues [I encountered] was that smoking the sausage dried out the contents, so I made the filling more moist. Dividing the macaroni and cheese was also a challenge. The first time I ended up with one side of macaroni and one side of cheese.
What is the best cheese for mac and cheese?
Actually, I use a variety of cheeses, because I buy them at the Kaaszaak and they have different cheeses all the time. Mostly though, it’s a combination of aged and extra aged cheese. Crumbly cheese (brokkelkaas) is also tasty. I tried that in version 142. And I always add mascarpone for creaminess.
Do you think your mac and cheese project will ever come to an end?
I can’t enhance the basic recipe much more, but I will keep experimenting with different varieties. I have an idea for a hamburger filled with mac and cheese, I’ll start working on that soon.
How did people on Instagram respond to your sausage?
They went a little crazy. Someone even said I deserve a Nobel prize (laughs). There were also people who didn’t really understand what they were looking at, and started talking to each other about that. But I haven’t topped the amount of views of my video of the disappearing egg. People have now started requesting soundtracks to go with the videos, like The Beastie Boys’ Egg Man. It has become a thing.
Thanks Luc, and best of luck on the 28th.