Grilled Cheese Invitational
February 21, 2009
The 2nd annual Northern California regional championship of the Grilled Cheese Invitational was held outdoors for the first time, the smells of sizzling sandwiches wafting out across Dolores Park. Anyone could enter and make a sandwich that fit into the categories of Missionary Position (traditional grilled cheese), the Honey Pot (sweet/dessert sandwich) or Kama Sutra (anything goes). Some people truly took the sexual theme to heart: A crew plated their "Ménage à Fromage" (croissant, balsamic, strawberries, almonds, ricotta, honeycomb) with a Magnum condom on the side, declaring, "They're so hot, they make you wanna fuck after you eat them!"
The anticipation for the event was heavy, and all 500 tasting wristbands (available for a $2 donation) were gone just five minutes after they became available, an hour before the start time. Because there were so many people waiting and observing, it wasn't enough to have a wristband in order to acquire and then judge a sandwich based on presentation, taste, "Wessonality" (aka style) and "spaz" (weird factor). You still had to stand out to a server in some way, whether screaming your head off, flashing your chest or standing out in a banana suit. But that became part of the fun and the spectacle, especially since it was hard for most people to see too much of the cooking process from behind the yellow tables.
It seemed like a great many of the entrants eschewed the Missionary Position for much more complicated moves. Instead of Swiss or cheddar cheese, people opted for Uraguayan fontina or mascarpone, with fillings ranging from pistachios and chocolate to pork and duck, although thankfully not all together. And for the religious, the second coming of "Cheesus Christ Superstar" was spotted. Maybe someday they'll be fire permitted and sparkly pyrotechnics will become part of the show, but for now the only real limit placed on the sandwich making was that no flamethrowers or torches were allowed.
And while some people figured out what they'd make at pretty much the last minute, others were more meticulously prepared and driven. One man said he was "robbed of the championship in Southern California" and drove some 400-odd miles to San Francisco to craft his "Revenge Sandwich" of shiitake, brie, fried prosciutto and halvah, with a whipped butter and parmesan crust on the outside and a dash of "hate and bitterness." Founder Tim Walker started the Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles in 2003 at Theorylabs, and the seventh annual edition takes place there on April 25, so the fellow will have a second shot at revenge.
Personal bias: I didn't get the opportunity to actually taste a sandwich.
Random detail: Although it threatened to rain, it luckily stayed dry for the duration.
By the way: The next Grilled Cheese Invitational takes place on March 14 in Austin.