April 24, 2010
2010 must be a year for food festivals. A little over 2 months after my adventure at the LA Street Food Fest, I was back at the LA Center Studios for the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational (i.e. “GCI”), running from vendor to vendor, stuffing food in my face, and soaking in the bright summer sun. It was nice being back at the LA Center Studios – since I had been there once before, I was familiar with the campus and had a general gist of where to find whatever I wanted.
(Does that picture look eerily familiar to you…?)
In my opinion, the GCI was remarkably well organized, with different areas sectioned off for free food, food for purchase and the amateur grilled cheese competition. I registered early and made the cut for their “judging society”, which basically meant I could taste as many sandwiches as I could get from the competitors. I had no problem finding food.
There was one problem that I didn’t anticipate though: This time around, I was running solo. I never realized until today, there are two reason the “divide and conquer” strategy works so well at food festivals:
1. You can cover a large number of vendors in a shorter period of time by having each member of the group cover a different vendor.
2. By having a large group, you never eat a full portion. A little taste here, a little taste there – getting full isn’t really a problem.
Back to my original statement: I came to the GCI by myself. I purchased sandwiches, I judged sandwiches, I ate all of those sandwiches BY MYSELF. I ate 6 sandwiches today – no lie. See for yourself…
The Purchased Sandwiches
As previously mentioned, the GCI had vendors with sandwiches available for sale (i.e. from the pros who do this for a living). I tried three of them.
Vendor #1: The Grilled Cheese Truck – Cheesy Mac and Rib Melt
I never tried the Grilled Cheese Truck prior to today, but I’ve heard so much about them (and their long lines). When I got in, there was no line so I figured, “What the hell? I’ll buy one.” I tried their specialty – the cheesy mac and rib melt. It was good, albeit a bit mushy; I ate the whole sandwich anyway.
Vendor #2: Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese – The Champ
Chef Greenspan was my must-try for this year’s invitational. He won the whole thing in 2008 with his short rib and tallegio grilled cheese with apricot caper puree. He sold a similar sandwich at his stand today (minus the short ribs). I can see how it could win – a mix of sweet and salty with tons of cheese…I ate his whole sandwich too.
Vendor #3: Chef Mark Peel – Burrata, Olive Oil & Roasted Tomato sandwich
I wasn’t planning on buying another sandwich (I wanted to save the stomach space for the competition) but the lure of fresh burrata was impossible to resist. Not quite a traditional grilled cheese, the cool burrata and the fresh flavor of the tomatoes were a nice intermission to the heavier sandwiches in the day.
The Competition Sandwiches
After eating all three of my purchased sandwiches, I finally made way to the competition zone where the first heat of competitors were already grilling up a storm. I camped out in front of a couple of entries that I found interesting and was able to eat three more sandwiches before calling it quits for the day.
Competitor #1: Cheese Pancake
It’s a shame I can’t remember much about the ingredients in this entry because it was very good. The batter had cheese mixed in and the whole thing was topped with extra sharp cheddar. It was a very savory dish, reminiscent of Brazilian cheese bread rather than a pancake. Although I enjoyed the dish, the competitor, unfortunately, entered in the “Missionary” category (i.e. strict, traditional sandwiches only made of standard cheese, bread and butter) – I couldn’t rank them very highly. (I wanted to though!)
Competitor #2: Chevre Goat Cheese Ice Cream on a Strawberry Sandwich
I saw this stand setting up 15 minutes before their heat started and was so intrigued by the dish that I camped there until I got one. An entry in the “Honey Pot” category (i.e. a sweet grilled cheese), I was happy that the flavor of the goat cheese was heavily infused into the ice cream. The strawberry cookies surrounding the ice cream were moist and still warm from being lightly toasted just prior to assembly.
Competitor #3: “The Afterburn” with a Fried Egg, Avocado, Tomato and Turkey Bacon.
The heaviest sandwich I tried at the GCI (in weight and in flavor), I was happy I ended the day with this. The egg was actually cooked in a hole in the top layer of bread (i.e. “egg in the hole” style), then set aside for a second while the pre-assembled bottom was placed in the pan. Then the whole thing cooked together to mesh into the ultimate breakfast grilled cheese. The turkey bacon didn’t taste like turkey bacon to me at all – it was hearty and tasted of real meat. The cheese had some stretch to it when you bit into the sandwich. And the egg…I love runny yolks, so that was the cherry on top.
…After that sandwich, I had to go home early for fear that I wouldn’t be able to waddle myself back to the car after a seventh one. That was at 3PM so I didn’t get to hear the winners list – I can’t wait til the results are posted!
Now that I’ve figured out the trick behind food festivals, I’m really enjoying them a whole lot more. The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was no exception. I had fun out there today, trying all those grilled cheese sandwiches. Kudos to its organizers – you did well this year!