Losanjealous Visits The 1st 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational

How would you respond to this question:

“There is a grilled cheese tournament this weekend. Any interest in covering/judging it?”

If your response would make you sound like something of a lunatic, I think we’d be good friends. It was in the name of journalism (and a deep love of butter, bread, and mostly, cheese) that I attended the “The 1st 6th Annual National Grilled Cheese Invitational” last Saturday, April 19th. It was located in Griffith Park, and after getting lost in the park for 20 minutes (the promised signs directing attendees to the exact spot were nonexistent), a run-in with what would be the first of many eccentric grilled cheese competitors, and almost getting into a brawl with another car-load of equally hungry attendees over a coveted parking spot (my switchblade comb scared them off, and we were victorious), we made it to the Crystal Springs Picnic Grove just as the sun was starting to show its pretty face.

Q. Why is this grilled cheese chef different from all other grilled cheese chefs?
A. Because he took two vans, cut them in half, and then welded them together to make one giant van…awesome

Although it was strongly stated that the event was at capacity, and no one who hadn’t been on the email list would be able to attend, there was no one enforcing that, so we had no problem slipping my boyfrin…*ahem* photographer past the security guards. The highlight of my day [year] came shortly after when I received my very first press pass.

After grabbing a couple free cans of IZZE and grilled cheese triangles from the Kraft stand (I normally hate American cheese with every fiber of my being, but when it’s in grilled cheese form, I’m okay with it), we took our place among the throngs of other grilled cheese eating hopefuls, ready to stuff our maws with cheesy, buttery goodness.

I have become a corporate shill…and it tastes delicious.

But there was a problem. There were about 200 people all jammed into one place, all hungry, all excited…and about two grilled cheese sandwiches coming out every couple minutes. You do the math.

The hungry masses.

After grabbing a couple more Kraft sandwiches to stave off the hunger, we took advantage of the aforementioned press pass and ventured behind the roped off section which was keeping the attendees from attacking the chefs out of a mixture of famish and excitement (seriously, these people were bananas about grilled cheese sandwiches!). Once there, we were able to leisurely stroll from table to table, getting a first-hand view of the sandwiches being made, as well as one-on-ones with the competitors, which, as it turns out, are quite a colorful bunch.

Though we were able to get our paws on painfully few sandwiches, the ones we did try were terribly delicious. Scampi butter, red wine reduction with brie and pears, french onion, pickled peppers, and rosemary goat cheese just being some of the interesting ingredients the chefs concocted in hopes of taking home the coveted trophies. We diligently filled out the score cards that were attached to each grilled cheese carrying paper plates before moving on and hoping another chef would take pity on us and toss a triangle of buttery bread and melted cheese our way.

What I see when I turn off the lights at night

Although I was disappointed at first that there was a strict “no alcohol” policy (grilled cheese without beer? the hell???) I realized that it might not be a good idea to add “drunk” to the description of those who were waiting to eat (hungry, excited, and impatient). And considering we witnessed paper towels burst into flames after a contestant absentmindedly laid them on a sandwich grilling over an open flame, with a liter of soda on top of that in hopes of soaking up some of the excess butter, I can only imagine what accidents would ensue after a little booze was added into the mix. I spoke to a contestant from the year before who said that previous years have been similarly crowded…”only drunker”. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sound like fun.

With the crowd exploding into a frenzy every time a “runner” would approach carrying a plate with a triangle of crispy bread and melty cheese (the loudest of them usually winning the coveted sandwich), I didn’t get a chance to taste any of the night’s big winners. Chef Eric Greenspan (of The Foundry restaurant)’s Short Rib and Tallegio Grilled Cheese w/Apricot Caper Puree, took first place in the “Karma Sutra” category (pretty much a grilled cheese free-for-all, the only rule being that the sandwich must contain 60% cheese). Hobson’s Choice took home second prize in this coveted category with their Seaside Cheddar with Braised Beef and Hot Peppers on Country White, quite a feat for an amateur chef, considering there were an estimated 50+ professionals competing.

In the “Honey Pot” category (dessert sandwiches), Nathan Ho was victorious with a brie, pear, raspberry concoction that was a lesson in food porn, if I’ve ever seen one. Second prize was taken by the boys at Hot Knives, who were also recognized in the “Karma Sutra” category, as well as taking the judges prize for their aforementioned “Honey Pot” goodness.

All the winners can be found at the homepage of the event (although they don’t list the ingredients, just the names of the winners). If you’ve got a hankering for a grilled cheese sandwich but can’t seem to make one without burning the bread, while miraculously keeping the cheese unmelted and cold, head to Clementine restaurant in Century City where they’re celebrating Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month with, you guessed it, grilled cheese sandwich specials. Although Langer’s makes a pretty good version, if you’re a purist like me.

» Grilled Cheese Invitational (Official Site)