Cheese-Butter-Bread-Victory: The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Invitational

Seize The CheeseThe people behind the Grilled Cheese Truck summed up the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational perfectly: “This… is like Christmas.”

The throwdown, which started humbly back in 2003 in founder Tim Walker’s downtown loft, took over Los Angeles Center Studios this past Saturday for six hours of fun, sun and grilled cheese. An estimated seven thousand grilled cheese-loving attendees tasted the best in bread-butter-cheese in three categories: Missionary (traditional ingredients), Kama Sutra (at least 60 percent cheese) and Honey Pot (more of a dessert grilled cheese). There were also grilled cheeses for sale from some of LA’s top cheesers, including Eric Greenspan and Mark Peel.

G.C.I.To be completely honest, the sandwiches from both the pros and the amateurs were amazing. I actually found myself unable to determine which were the best because they all reminded me of a better version of what my mom used to make. Sorry, Mom…

Like usual though, I do have some thoughts. Here are the good and the bad of the 8th G.C.I….


G.C.I.The Professional Grilled Cheeses. Seriously, they were very, very good. In the professional competition, Mark Peel’s (Campanile, Tar Pit) very basic grilled cheese with onions and whole grain mustard was incredibly tasty. The same could be said of Eric Greenspan’s (The Foundry and the upcoming Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese) apple chutney and pastrami sandwich.

Amateur Hour. This is obviously the heart and soul of the G.C.I. Hundreds of locals competed in the three categories and pumped out some amazing grilled cheeses. Some of the favorites: Granny & Gorgonzola (gorgonzola, apples and ginger snaps), the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills’ duck prosciutto sandwich, the People Who Don’t Hate Fun’s Frito and chili grilled cheese and a grilled cheese with macaroni and cheese grilled inside.

Continues with full photo gallery below.

Grilled Cheese. Eric Greenspan explained his and others’ love for the bread-butter-cheese concoction: “It’s a canvas everyone knows.” It certainly is and Tim and his crew certainly put on quite a show to celebrate the sophomoric sandwich. The hysteria in the Competition Arena reminded me of an Arena league football game. People were screaming and hollering for just a bite of the gooey goodnesses.

Back story. Every competitor I spoke with had an elaborate story behind his or her grilled cheese. Family connections, childhood memories, lost friends, versions of famous restaurant dishes in the form of grilled cheese, etc. It may have been a simple cheese and bread competition, but there was enough heart to fill Staples Center.

RobArt. The G.C.I. featured grilled cheese-related poems, cheerleaders and costumes. A grilled cheese-related haiku was a personal favorite:

Haikus are okay.
But you know what is better?
Grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Virgins. This was the team name of two 16-sixteen year olds from Calabasas in the Missionary competition. The truth? They keep making those grilled cheeses and they won’t be virgins by next year’s competition.

Rob Dyrdek. Dyrdek and his “Fantasy Factory” crew entered the Kama Sutra competition and donned “Cheese Ballers” basketball and cheerleading uniforms. The crew really put on an entertaining show for the masses. At one point as his cheerleaders did a dance and Dyrdek hilariously made it rain with cheddar in the background.


Sponsorship. This was my first Grilled Cheese Invitational, but I ran into many return patrons who had the same thing to say: “It’s not the same.” The nostalgic grilled cheesians obviously miss the smaller, non-sponsored G.C.I. of yore. I understand this, but I would say get over it. Sure, the event has a sponsor now, but Tillamook is a legitimate member of the cheese world–hell, it’s the cheese they use at Craft on their burger–and one of the most popular cheeses used by competitors.

Growth. I do not think most of the crowd expected this many fellow eaters. Lines for vendor grilled cheeses like the Grilled Cheese Truck (which ranged from $2-3) were about 30 to 40 deep at times. If someone pays $10 to get into a place to pay another couple dollars for a half grilled cheese (as were served at both Mark Peel and Eric Greenspan’s set-ups) they should not have to wait in such long lines.

Time of year. This event should be during a cooler time of year. As the day wore on and the sun kept beating down, the grilled cheeses started to make me nauseous. Also, Tillamook was giving out free tomato soup as a compliment to their free grilled cheese samples. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted steaming tomato soup yesterday.

With insanity that was the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational now behind us what have we learned? Is the key to global peace bread-butter-cheese? Probably not. But, can’t we pretend? Besides, I have to go. I have an iron, some Tillamook and some beautiful slices of sourdough calling my name…



Will be posted on the G.C.I. website right here any minute now.

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