Tuesday, April 26, 2011


It seemed like destiny.   After all, what are the odds that:

1.  I just happen to make myself a really good lunch one day*.
2.  That the very next month happens to be April.
3.  That April happens to be Grilled Cheese Month.
4.  That some guys happened to decide to honor this auspicious occasion several years ago by drinking themselves silly and seeing who among them could make the best grilled cheese sandwich.
5.  That this innocent drinking game between friends would happen to grow into the gigantic, corporate sponsored, but still extremely irreverent, extravaganza known as the 2nd 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational.**  Their motto:  Bread-Butter-Cheese-VICTORY!!!
6.  That I would happen to read about this event in the LA Weekly, AND...
7.  That I would happen to conveniently forget the debacle known as the KCRW Good Food Pie Contest at the exact moment that I found the link marked "competitor sign up"?***

About 200 to 1****.

Fortunately, the odds of having a great time that day, despite not even coming close to the trophy ceremony, were entirely in my favor.  Destiny, it turns out, is a thrilling, delicious, fattening, hilarious, completely entertaining bitch.  At least for me.  And my good friend, the giant block of Tillamook cheese. (Last photo in this series!)

Our kit, ready to go.  Note the emergency Diet Coke.

Competitor swag - ours to keep!

Heat #1 - Team Cheesy Pennies is ready to go!

If they gave cuteness points for sous chefs, it might have put us over the top 

Votes poured in...

60 % from the popular vote...

And 40% from "Executive Judges" -- Just like the Pie Contest, I did NOT meet Barbara Fairchild, or any other famous people.  I did have one exec judge say we had "great caramelization" on our bread.   My daughter turned to me anxiously:  "Is that good?"   Yes, honey.  It is.  Now hand me that knife and move over.

That's me, way in the back, behind the guy in the cowboy hat.

There were also a slew of professional vendors, all offering their own creative spins on the sandwich of the moment.

The Feast's "Bacon Me Crazy" with cayenne and brown sugar crusted bacon, strawberries, mozzarella, and chocolate balsamic reduction.

Not one, not two, but three Grilled Cheese Trucks were on hand.  And they were all mobbed.  They somehow found time to enter the contest and win, not only The People's Choice Award, but a trophy for their invention, "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner" - Waffles, Cheese, Fried Chicken and Maple Syrup on the side.

There's very little loyalty in this world.  I am dumped for American on White.

The winner of the costume contest:  Grilled Cheese-Us.   He beat out a guy dressed as a can of tomato soup, and someone else who came as a grater.

 A highlight for me...cooking demos from the pros.  Thursday is Grilled Cheese Night at his restaurant, every month of the year!

Grilled country bread, fresh burrata cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes, and parsley pesto.   I may be biased (as someone whose entry had exactly four ingredients),  but I agree with his statement, "When you have more than four ingredients, you're in trouble.  A great grilled cheese is really simple."

Tell that to Ricardo, whose sammich included crsipy lamb, chorizo, two kinds of cheese, and some kind of exotic Peruvian BBQ marinade on raisin walnut bread.  Seen here awaiting the grill.

Or to the people from Comme Ca who made Foie Gras peanut butter for their entry (in the foreground), or the chef from The Standard who used 100 hour smoked mozzarella and ramp vinaigrette (in the background)

In a the first of several pro chef "throwdowns" in the Hot Knives Thunderdome (a folding table), Ricardo Zarate (best new chef in America, per Food and Wine), is declared the victor.

Guy skating backwards with a wedge of cheese on his head. This about sums up the whole day.

My new best friend.

Supposedly our personal results will be announced soon, so I can see just how far out of the running my little lunchtime bundle of joy was. Until then, I'll just have to start thinking up what to do next year.   Probably American cheese on white bread, if my sous chef has anything to say about it...suggestions?  Let me know!

For a great slideshow and detailed descriptions of some of the wining sandwiches, check out this link from Serious Eats.
Other write ups and stories from the day:
LA Times (gorgeous shot of a fantastic sounding dessert sandwich)
Squid Ink (story and a full photo gallery)
Panini Happy (a judge's viewpoint)
Tillamook Blog (the sponsor, using the actual phase "post GCI-cheese coma" in title of their post.

* Subsequently tweaked to include Beecher's Flagship Cheddar, freshly minced tarragon and arugula, and Trader Joe's brand of sun-dried tomato pesto.   I still love love love this sandwich.
** An event to which no invitations were, apparently, issued.  Instead, thousands of people just bought tickets.
*** I may have been influenced by the fact that just reading the rules made me start howling with laughter.  Sample:   Butter: For the purposes of simplicity, all sammich-grilling lubricants will be hereafter referred to as “Butter.”
**** That's how many teams showed up (from all over the country, mind you) that day to grill every form of cheese imaginable. I knew we were in trouble when the guys next to us started unwrapping their duck confit, fried in bacon fat, with fresh fig marmalade and smoked French blue cheese, and stacking the works on their homemade black pepper brioche.  Sigh.

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