One day out of the year Tim Walker dons an orange fez. The founder of LA’s Grilled Cheese Invitational is a man who loves cheese. Specifically grilled cheese. And dressed in an orange shirt, an orange tie and a decorative cheese pin, he’s not afraid to show it. Now in it’s 8th year, the Grilled Cheese Invitational has grown from 16 friends competing in Tim’s downtown loft to over 200 competitors – both amateur and professional – at the chic downtown event space LA Center Studios. How did this happen you might ask? “I like making people happy,” Tim said, as he assessed this year’s crowd. “It’s great to bring people together and to watch them get excited…especially over something as silly as grilled cheese.”
This year’s event brought as many as 6,000 grilled cheese enthusiasts – some who came to munch on grilled cheeses from the likes of Tillamook (this year’s sponsor), The Grilled Cheese Truck and Campanile and some who came to taste the creations of the spatula wielding contestants. The rules of the contest are simple: Bread + Butter + Cheese. Participants can enter one sandwich in each category: The Missionary, standard bread, butter and cheese; Kama Sutra, any bread, any butter any cheese, plus additional ingredients; and The Honey Pot, like Kama Sutra but sweet enough to serve as dessert.
Browsing the Kama Sutra competition I pass a sandwich stuffed with mac n’ cheese and adorned with paper thin fried potatoes and chives. Next door a take on the bahn-mi sandwich oozes chayote, kumquats, bacon and pate. Next up, The Honey Pot competition starts with a bang. Three contestents pop open bottles of prosecco to serve with their “Give me S’More” sandwich – a concoction of sweet wheat bread, homemade marshmallow fluff, graham cracker and butter puree, mascarpone and hershey’s chocoalte bar. Nostalgia drips from every bite. Down the table the chef duo behind the soon to open Daily Dose – a new restaurant on the downtown scene – serve a chocolate and cherry bread-pudding sandwich filled with creme fraiche, sauternes soaked blue cheese and topped with creme anglaise. But the hands down show stopper of the event was the sinfully delicious Sweet Goat – two thick slices of homemade brioche brushed with cinnamon sugar butter and bursting with goat cheese and goat’s milk ice cream, mascarpone, bucheron and honey. Each sandwich, fried perfectly on the outside, yet miraculously frozen in the center, was served with a strawberry balsamic preserve and fresh kumquats. To. Die For.
While the competition is fierce in the moment, none of the competitors seem to care who wins and loses. The sun is shining, the air is breezy and the cheese factor is high. I think Tim succeeded.
Tim’s favorite grilled cheese is a kalamata olive loaf with cave aged gruyere and camelized onions. Do you have a favorite?