Created by Tim Walker in 2003 as a competition between friends, the Grilled Cheese Invitational has grown into a national movement “dedicated to perfecting the art of grilled cheese, with thousands of cheese fiends and regional competitions across the country.”
This past weekend, droves of grilled cheese-loving Angelenos gathered on the grassy grounds of the Los Angeles Historic Park to indulge in some awesomely gooey sandwiches at the First Seventh Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational. If you’re wondering what the heck ‘First Seventh’ means, please don’t bother—it’s just the event organizers being really, really silly.
Heeding the advice on the event’s website, The Astronomer and I hopped on board the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena and disembarked at Chinatown. We knew the event would be a big hit, but were seriously floored by the number of people waiting in line to enter the park. Luckily, with my press pass in hand The Astronomer and I were able to bypass the crowds with ease.
The ambiance inside the park was Coachella– and Bonnaroo-esque. The overall spirit of the event was lighthearted, a bit silly, and downright quirky, especially with many of the attendees and competitors sporting their zaniest apparel.
Once inside the park, we headed straight to the Kraft booth for some freebie grilled cheese sandwiches. Throughout the event, the good folks at Kraft were churning out classic Americana grilled cheese sandwiches using orange-tinged Kraft singles smothered in between thin slices of white bread. Working fervently, the professionals manning the grills produced thousands of sandwiches to keep the hungry hoards smiling.
Even though American cheese is technically a ‘cheese product,’ I must admit that its mild flavor and oozy properties make for a most satisfactory sandwich.
Next, The Astronomer and I headed to the main stage to catch a demo by Chef Eric Greenspan of The Foundry on Melrose. Greenspan, a fun-loving and jovial fellow, bantered with the audience as he prepared The Foundry’s signature grilled cheese sandwich with Taleggio, raisin bread, apricot-caper puree, arugula, and braised beef short ribs. This decadent little number was declared the winner of the 2008 Grilled Cheese Invitational in the Kama Sutra category.
With its seriously skewed ratio of cheese to bread, The Astronomer and I knew that this sandwich was going to rule even before taking a bite. What made this grilled cheese special was the intermingling of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors, all wrapped up in a cheesy blanket.
Over 260 competitors entered this year’s competition. The Grilled Cheese Invitational is comprised of four rounds:
- The Missionary Position: Standard bread, standard cheese (or cheeses), standard butter and NO ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS.
- The Kama Sutra – vegetarian: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese PLUS additional ingredients (the interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese).
- The Kama Sutra – non-vegetarian: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese PLUS additional ingredients (the interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese).
- The Honey Pot: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese (the interior ingredients of the sammich must be at least 60% cheese), and with an overall flavor that is sweet and would best be served as dessert.
The competition portion of the Invitational got underway at 1 PM with The Missionary Position, which was followed by the meatless Kama Sutra, then the meaty Kama Sutra, and lastly the Honey Pot. Although the kinky names weren’t exactly family friendly, I kind of liked ’em.
In each round, competitors were given 45 minutes to produce five regular sized sandwiches. The five sandwiches were then cut into quarters, thereby creating the twenty possible votes from the judges. The cooks (left) and judges (right) were separated by a barrier of tables.
Everyone who attended the Invitational was eligible to be a sandwich judge as long as they waited in the proper line for an official “judging ticket.”
A judge must hand over an official ticket in order to receive a sandwich with a ballot stapled to the plate. Each sandwich is judged based on four factors: Presentation, Taste, Wessonality (Is this sandwich special? Style of delivery), and SPAZ (The Weird Factor).
Between The Astronomer and I, we sampled and judged six sandwiches across three rounds. We decided to sit out The Missionary Position because we favor adventurous creations.
Baguette rounds, bleu cheese, fig jam—a good sandwich, but the sweetness of the jam was hidden by the pungent bleu.
Curried ground beef, naan bread, Monterrey Jack—I appreciated the fusion quality of the sandwich, but would’ve liked more cheese.
Sourdough, prosciutto, cantaloupe, fig jam, Muenster—this sandwich would’ve rocked had the cantaloupe been perfectly ripe.
Raisin egg bread, mascarpone, honey, almond, dried figs—I adored the combination of honey, almonds and mascarpone. The dried figs, which were essential to the sandwich’s texture, weren’t plentiful enough.
Feta, Gruyere, quince paste, raisin swirl bread—salty, sweet, perfect. My favorite dessert sandwich of the day.
In addition to the grilled cheese competition, the Invitational also featured a grilled cheese-inspired poetry contest and a live art exhibit. The innovative artist sculpted a deer’s head from grilled cheese sandwiches made of Velveeta.
The Grilled Cheese Invitational was a phenomenal event. The Astronomer and I had a roaring good time chilling in the Los Angeles sun with thousands of fellow grilled cheese-enthusiasts. I can’t think of a tastier way to spend a Saturday.
Grilled cheese? Yes, please!
UPDATE: Click below for the list of winners…
- Grandmas Glory!
- MyT Hoang
- THE ONE
- Grilled Cheese Fries
- Pelian’s Lament
- Mondo Fantastico Funky Cheese Delight
- The Notting Hill Carnival
- Scent of a lady
- Cake & Mivens 2: Mivens Princes
- Knock Your Socks into the Laundry Room Grilled Cheese Cake
- Tiramisu grilled cheese on chocolate coffee bread
- “Sweet creamy finish”