Bread, butter, cheese -- victory!
Gooey goodness abounds at 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational
By Sara Cardine 04/26/2012
If you’re lactose intolerant, or a vegan, steer clear of the Rose Bowl 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
But if you have the desire — and/or the intestinal fortitude — to taste your way to and through the outer limits of gooey grilled cheese glory, get thee to this year’s 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational.
Nearly 100 registered competitors are expected put their spin on the American classic, competing in one of four categories. Love, American Style accepts only white bread, butter and American or cheddar cheese entries. The Missionary Position category expands that to include any type of bread, butter and cheese. Kama Sutra entrants can add any ingredients to create a savory sandwich comprising 60 percent cheese, and the Honey Pot category is like Kama Sutra but done to sweet effect in a dessert style.
Entries will be tasted by an 80-member executive judging panel and about 500 pre-registered attendee judges. Others can taste sandwiches made by several participating vendors and select one for a Taster’s Choice award.
“Our mantra is you don’t have to be a chef to be a grilled cheese champion,” says Chief Instigator and Founder Tim Walker. “Anyone who feels they need to improve their lives through grilled cheese glory can do so.”
If there’s one thing the invitational has shown, it’s that champions are more likely to become chefs than vice versa. Seven-time champs Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollak quit their day jobs to open a restaurant in San Francisco. Today, patrons line up outside the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen to sample the pair’s creations. LA’s own famed Grilled Cheese Truck was born from a 2009 entrant who put forth the Cheesy Mac n’ Rib Melt and realized how hungry adults were for a reinvention of the childhood standard.
The Invitational’s own history (think evolution on speed) is a testament to that hunger. The inaugural 2003 event, held in Walker’s downtown Los Angeles loft, featured 16 cooks and about 80 tasters.
“I noticed everyone had their own fun way to make grilled cheese, and they’d get really defensive about it,” he recalls.
Attendance doubled each year, until 500 friends and acquaintances were crowding into Walker’s loft. In 2008, GCI opened to the public, and some 3,500 participants flooded Griffith Park. Organizers are hoping this year’s setup at the Rose Bowl will accommodate a crowd of 12,000 grilled cheese aficionados.
Why the popularity? Walker suspects it has something to do with Americans’ collective memory of grilled cheese as a pick-me-up for a rainy, sick in bed or not-so-good kind of day. Now that we’re adults, he opines, we need something to pluck us from our mundane existence. The invitational encourages creative expression and fun.
There will be free Cabot Creamery cheese samples and potato chips, and beer is available for sale. Informational booths will dole out fun factoids about cheese and the sandwich’s own humble beginnings. “We’re pretty sure, pretty confident, it dates back to Kraft Singles,” Walker says.