Los Angeles is a city full of diet conscious people. We have our vegans, our raw foodies, our macro-biotics (I'm not judging, as I have enjoyed the cuisine of all three.) But couple that with the fact that so many of our residents are as tanned and toned as the cast of 90210, and you may start to think there's little full fat, purely indulgent gastro-fun in the City of Angles. Enter: The Grilled Cheese Invitational.
By the time the gates opened at noon the line stretched all the way around the park and back! This is probably because the first 1700 people got to JUDGE the contest. As we waited in line, my friend N and I signed waivers giving them the right to kill us, steal from us, and basically do anything they wished without us holding them accountable. Then the nice folks at Kraft handed out little triangles of Kraft Singles Grilled Cheese. Now you know I'm not one to turn down free food, but I could only hope the quality level would skyrocket after that.
As we judges began milling around the fenced in park, the excitement level was so high I overheard one girl exclaim, "This is going to be the best day of my life!" And indeed it would seem so. Many competitors upped their cheesiness factor with kooky costumes such as robes and berets, balloon hats, cheese heads, etc. Most spirit points has to go to the Challah team, who sported sweat bands and kept inciting the crowd to "Challah!!!"
Then came the organizers, clearly kings of cheesiness. There was a Mayor of Cheese to welcome us all, an Irreverent Reverend to give the benediction, and the organizer of the whole shebang, Mr. Tim Walker, sporting a bright red fez. He spoke of "A sea of cheese that longs to melt, butter that yearns to fry, and bread that cries out to be grilled!" The Reverend actually went so far as to suggest that the answer to all of our nations woes might be found in a Grilled Cheese Sammich, reminding us that we were presently surrounded by 1.75 batrillion slices of hope. We can only hope dear Reverend, we can only hope.
The day had four heats: Missionary (just bread, cheese, and butter, nothing else), Kama Sutra - Vegetarian (Anything goes as long as it also includes the above three and no meat), Kama Sutra - Meat (self explanatory), and Honey Pot (Desserts!). Now here is the sad part: Each judge gets only TWO samples. Yes, of the hundreds of options, you could only try two. N and I of course decided to split our samples, but still four bites of different grilled cheeses does not exactly a feast make. Each sample came with a ballot on which you could rate the grilled cheese. Now, I understand that you can not ask competitors to make 1700 samples, but this still strikes me as a highly arbitrary way to judge. Especially considering the fact that in order to get a sample, you had to enter a crush of people, wave your ticket madly, and hope that the "runner" would take your ticket and give you a sample. You didn't even have any way of knowing exactly what was in each sammich. N and I just tried to spot a few ingredients we liked and then go for that.
This strategy produced mixed results throughout the day. Next year, I wouldn't waste any tickets on the "Missionary" heat as it was just too simple. The sample we procured there was a huge disappointment, just a step or two up from the Kraft samples. But the samples vastly improved with the Kama Sutra round. The best one we tried there had goat cheese, thinly sliced apple, some sort of spread, and a beet cut out in a star on top. Very tasty.
But the most delicious aspect of the day had to be the demonstration I attended by Chef Eric Greenspan of The Foundry. As last year's winner, he was serving up a decadent creation made of creamy and sharp Tallegio, oven dried tomatoes, arugula, braised beef, and an apricot caper puree with white wine, all of which was served up on a nutty bread that had been grilled in about a pound of butter. AMAZING! This sammich is apparently a fixture on his bar menu at The Foundry, so you may just see a review of that coming soon!
N. and I left the competition having been entertained and heartened by this show of a community in support of cheese, and we are now determined to enter next year! So be on the lookout, we're thinking we'll wear cheesy ballgowns as our costumes!:)
The Grilled Cheese Invitational takes place once a year and costs $5 (Certainly a deal considering they had free Kraft Singles Grilled Cheese and Izze Soda in addition to the competitor's samples).