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11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational Provides Cheesy Goodness, Fun For All

Kelli Shiroma |
April 20, 2013 | 11:34 p.m. PDT

Associate Food Editor

Professional and amateur chefs competed in the Grilled Cheese Invitational's sandwich competition (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
Professional and amateur chefs competed in the Grilled Cheese Invitational's sandwich competition (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
April 20 marked the 11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational (GCI), which took place at the Los Angeles Center Studios from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hundreds of grilled cheese fanatics braved the heat for countless free samples, competition judging and other cheese-related festivities. 

Deemed the “largest, craziest and most exciting” grilled cheese cooking contest that’s “the best thing that happened to sliced cheese since sliced bread,” the GCI is the ultimate grilled cheese throwdown. The annual event showcases the talents of chefs—both professionals and amateurs—claiming to make the best grilled cheese sandwich in various categories, allowing them to compete for the “Grilled Cheese Champion” title. 

There were four different categories of sandwiches in this year’s GCI competition. The most recent category, “Love, American Style,” was added in 2011, featuring a separate grouping for the “traditional,” classic grilled cheese sandwich. The four grilled cheese sandwich categories were as follows:

 

  • “Love, American Style”: A sandwich with butter, orange cheese (Cheddar or American) and white bread. No additional ingredients; standard bread with no extra ingredients or flavorings.
  • “The Missionary”: This sandwich features any type of butter, bread and cheese, and any or all of these three ingredients can be flavored. No additional ingredients besides these three. 
  • “The Kama Sutra”: A savory sandwich, consisting of any type of butter, bread and cheese, plus additional ingredients. The only rule: sandwich ingredients must be at least 60 percent cheese. Other than that, the sky’s the limit for this “freestyle” category.
  • “The Honey Pot”: This sandwich features any type of bread, butter and cheese, and the sandwich’s interior ingredients must be at least 60 percent cheese. This sandwich must include additional ingredients and have an overall sweet flavor, making this sandwich a dessert option. 

 

The “Kama Sutra” and “The Honey Pot” categories often yield the most unusual grilled cheese creations, according to GCI emcee Eric Trueheart.

“We created the ‘Kama Sutra’ division because we found that, early on, people wanted to adorn their sandwiches and do crazy things with them,” he said. “People [also] get very creative with ‘The Honey Pot,’ which is the dessert sandwich division. [For example] they’ll have bread that’s made from pound cake, filling made from mascarpone cheese and raspberry sauce on top it … it’s insane.”

Attendees with judging tickets sampled numerous sandwiches to vote for a winner (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
Attendees with judging tickets sampled numerous sandwiches to vote for a winner (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
During the competition, event attendees who bought judging tickets sampled sandwich bits from the various competitors and cast their votes via ballots for their favorites in each category. Throughout the day, three competition heats took place, in which both “amateur” and “professional” sandwich makers were selected as winners (first, second and third place) in each of the four categories, according to Trueheart. 

“They [people] judge the sandwiches according to different criteria, including overall taste, cheesiness and creativity,” Trueheart said. “When the votes are all tallied, the awards are given out by category.”

Creating three different heats with winners from each of the four sandwich categories was a newer development in the competition, according to Trueheart. 

“We used to divide it [the overall judging] up by category; now we just mix them [the four categories] all up in the three heats because we found that judging goes better that way,” he clarified. “[This way] people don’t hold out to judge one sandwich [by its category]. [For example,] you don’t have to wait until the end [of the competition] to judge the ‘Honey Pot’ category.”

In addition to the awards given in the heats, other prizes were given out as well.

“We have some executive judge awards, so professional food people come in here and give their opinions regarding the best cheese sandwich,” Trueheart said. “We also have ‘People’s Choice’ awards for the best vendors and a ‘Spazz Award’ — an award for the weirdest sandwich.”

This year’s “Grilled Cheese Champion”—the final award given to a professional or amateur with the highest-scoring sandwich for the entire event—was Lucky McNulty, who won for his sandwich titled, “The Recumbant Vicar.”

Lucky McNulty was this year's "Grilled Cheese Champion" (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
Lucky McNulty was this year's "Grilled Cheese Champion" (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
Although he said the sandwich’s components were a secret, McNulty—a veteran in the competition, as this was his fifth year participating—said his winning creation’s ingredients were all “basics.”

“There’s seven good cheeses on the inside and two on the outside [of the sandwich],” McNulty shared. “I always go for really strong cheeses, but they are ‘cheesy cheeses,’ nothing too gourmet. The bread is just a vehicle for the cheese — we use plain white bread and sometimes mix it up [with other elements], like a fondue dip.”

Grilled Cheese Invitational founder Tim Walker started the competition in Downtown Los Angeles in 2003, something that McNulty fondly remembers. He said the “original spirit” of the competition keeps him coming back year after year. 

“This event started in a rehearsal space that my band used to use and it was just a bunch of friends [competing] … it was lots of fun,” McNulty recalled. “I think that’s where its roots were, kind of the ‘burning man’ community with a little silliness. I’ve kept that [spirit] with me even though it’s [the event] gotten big now … it’s always had that [fun] spirit of frivolity.”

The cooking competition was only one component of the GCI. Vendors at the event—including The Oaks Gourmet, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Cheesy Amigos Cart, Elbows Mac N Cheese and many others—provided attendees with all types of cheesy concoctions to enjoy. 

“We also have cheese companies and bread companies making free sandwiches, so for the cost of getting in this event, you get free sandwiches and free soda,” Trueheart explained.

Entertainment included a performance by “Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine”—a first in GCI history—a grilled cheese poetry contest, a grilled cheese costume contest and the “Motherloaded Eating Contest.” During the eating contest, competitors were faced with the biggest sandwich created by The Grilled Cheese Truck and tried to set a new record for eating the monstrous dish. 

“This year, [the winner] set a new record for managing to eat one [sandwich] in under five minutes,” Trueheart said.

When the GCI concluded around 6:30 p.m. and the studio lots began to empty, attendees—who looked tired and cheese-stuffed but satisfied—were already mentioning how they could not wait for 2014’s event. That anticipation and excitement is the essence of the GCI, according to Trueheart.

“It’s a cool event because everyone loves the grilled cheese sandwich,” Trueheart said. “It’s the sandwich everyone has an emotional connection to from childhood. This [event] does gives people a venue to take something from childhood and put all the skills you learn as a chef in adulthood and apply it to that. It takes something simple—like a grilled cheese sandwich—and uses it as a canvas to do almost anything.” 

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