Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Café Gluten-Free Mac ‘n’ Cheese Recipe

Ryder, 4, loves to go to work with his dad, Matt Mathiak. After all, pops shares office space with elephants, giraffes, gorillas and a whole list of exotic animals!

As a chef with the Detroit Zoo, Mathiak constantly evaluates menu options trying to find the right balance between kid classics and healthier fare for the cafeteria-style Arctic Café.

“We’re always going to sell hot dogs, hamburgers and food like that,” Mathiak says, “but we’re also trying to offer more local fare and farm-to-table items.”

Over the past year the Arctic Café has undergone a facelift to add more local and healthy items to its menu, including deli sandwiches and grilled options. For picky eaters, Mathiak recommends the fresh salad bar peppered with seasonal veggies.

What’s more, the Arctic Café tries to use eco-friendly practices wherever possible. For example, the utensils are made from potato starch and soybean oil, not plastic. Last fall, the café was acknowledged as a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association. Currently it’s one of only about five restaurants in Michigan to receive the distinction – and, nationwide, one of just eight zoos.

It also comes stocked with vegetarian and gluten-free options, like this farm-fresh mac ‘n’ cheese recipe. Try it for yourself. It feeds eight!


  • 7 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbsp. amaranth flour
  • 3 cups rice milk
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. roasted garlic
  • 1 cup blanched asparagus
  • 1/2 cup spring onions
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 10 oz. Coopersville Lamont cheddar cheese
  • 6 oz. Serra Cheese Company smoked mozzarella
  • 16 oz. raw gluten-free macaroni


  1. Fill large pot with water. Bring to boil over high heat.
  2. Add 16 ounces gluten-free pasta and a pinch of salt and bring back to a boil. Cook until pasta is soft but still firm to the bite.
  3. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook for four minutes.
  4. Add 2 cups rice milk and stir until thick.
  5. Add salt, pepper, onion powder and cheese (add cheese one cup at a time while stirring).
  6. Mix until all cheese has been melted.
  7. Once melted, whisk in an additional 1 cup of rice milk.
  8. Add onion powder and roasted garlic.
  9. Take a cast iron skillet and rub the inside to coat with remaining butter.
  10. Add your pasta to your cheese mixture and stir.
  11. Add this mixture to your cast iron skillet.
  12. You can add additional shredded cheese to the top if you like.
  13. Place in preheated 350 F oven and bake for 30 minutes or until top is bubbling.
  14. Pull out of oven and top with asparagus, mushrooms and onions.
  15. Return to oven and bake until top is golden brown.

Arctic Café at the Detroit Zoo

Visit April 18-19 as part of the zoo’s annual GreenFest, which has special events like scavenger hunts and earth-friendly crafts – all free with general admission!

  • Address: 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, Royal Oak
  • Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 1-Sept. 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 8-Oct. 31, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 1-March 31 2016 (same as zoo hours; open year-round)
  • Phone: 248-541-5717


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