The 4th 2nd Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational: A Report

I was slicing Granny Smith apples at my first Grilled Cheese Invitational in 2003 when the knife slipped and drew a serrated slash across the knuckle of my thumb.

I stared dumbstruck as blood welled up from the slice; then, shaking myself into awareness, forced myself to place the apple in my left hand down on the table, and used my left hand to seize my right thumb, applying pressure and holding the wound closed.

That was Year One.

Year Two, I prepped at home. I cut a fresh-baked pumpernickel loaf (I tried three different bakeries before I found the perfect loaf) into small slices, buttered and toasted them, then used a pastry brush to apply caramel to the crispy top side of each. I cooked thinly-sliced Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples (each peeled in a spiral so each slice had stripes of pink or green) in a little raw sugar until they were caramelized, then placed first one thin slice of brie atop the bread and caramel, then a few slices of apple. I had plans to take them to the GCI, grill them, then drizzle them with more caramel and sprinkle a little bit of reggiano cheese and creme fraiche on top.

I loaded them onto baking sheets, took them Downtown to Theory Labs where the GCI was held at that time, and set them on a table while I registered…

When I returned, they’d all been eaten. Unregistered, there was no way anyone could vote on them. Friends sheepishly told me they were really, really great, as they wiped caramel and crumbs from their horrid little lips. I was murderous.

That year my boyfriend won first place and I stood by him as he got his award. (It was a Special Olympics trophy with an athlete in a wheelchair, holding a mini grilled cheese sandwich aloft in triumph.) I thought of the cruel, heartless injustice of the universe and held back sobs.

Year Three:

Sliced my hand open on a mandoline slicer the night before. Stared, hysterical laughter coming out of me, as a perfect disc of flesh landed on the little pile of sliced apples beneath the mandoline slicer. There was suddenly lots of blood. Wow. Just wow. The emergency room folks said they couldn’t put stitches in it because the wound was too wide: my hand would heal wrong.

The next night, I competed with a giant bandage on my hand. One-handed.

I did not win. I cursed the gods.

So, this year, I made a choice. I would not compete.

I was tired of days and weeks of studious preparation and secretive planning. I was tired of letting a grilled-cheese sandwich reduce me to a psychotic, monosyllabic, blubbering mass of vicious, bitter hatred. I was tired of bleeding all over. The cheese would not destroy me this year.

I made an entry that would not be entered in the competition. I made it for fun. And boy hoooo boy…did I have fun. Yes, that is a three-tier wedding cake made of over seventy grilled-cheese sandwiches (click here to see the construction), “iced” with Mother Nature’s perfect food, E-Z Cheeze, and topped with a Peep bride & groom.

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And if I never see another singles slice as long as I live, I’ll be just fine.

Other highlights, besides my brilliant Grilled Cheese Cake, were my buddies at Hot Knives, whose three entries were jaw-droppingly delicious; my pal “Spork” who put sandwiches into gelatin to make a composite headcheese-textured jello mold of grilled cheese (edible but very disturbing), and pretty much all the dessert entries. The good folks of Theorylabs and Smashlabs did an amazing job of moderating and keeping us all entertained.(It was also really neat to see a good balance of Burning Man-types and hipster kids–two subsets of LA society that I really think should hang together more often, cuz basically they’re the same people: both teased in school, both smarter than the average bear, both critical of the mainstream–just that one group’s still sorta uptight about what others think of them, and the other group doesn’t give a crap anymore.) It seems to get more gourmet every year, and this time around saw quite a fair number of real chefs and professional cooks.

And saw none of my precious bodily fluids.

The list of winners is here; and here’s some photos of the cheesy mayhem.

The only questions…what the hell am I gonna do next year?!

3 thoughts on “The 4th 2nd Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational: A Report”

  1. Damn…I was so ready to enter and wish I had, not to win but to be in the middle of the fun. (I had to back out last minute as I had a chance to get some work shown). I was so glad to see you made it. Wow what a night that was. I also noted heathervescent took 9th with her Sweet and Creamy. Way to go! With luck next year I can be there to soak in all the wild creativity.

  2. This yar was my second year attending and participating. What an absurdly fun event – so many great chefs and yummy creations – the smell alone put 5 extra pounds on my back side. This year, my Americanized Killer Bee sammich placed 3rd in honey pot. Maybe next time I should plan on making more extras – I didn’t even get to eat my own on game night!!!

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