Slow Food Edmonton’s Grilled Cheese Olympics: Recap

Combining comfort food with competition, Slow Food Edmonton’s first-ever Grilled Cheese Olympics took place this afternoon at Coast Wholesale Appliances. At stake: gift certificates for Paddy’s International Cheese Market, a grilled cheese sandwich at Madison’s Grill, Transcend Coffee, and the title of Grilled Cheese Olympic Champion.

Engraved Paderno spatula, in lieu of a medal

Coast Appliances turned out to be the perfect venue for the event – the space was bright and lofty, and equipped with some of the most beautiful ranges I have ever seen (all brand new, of course). Each of the competitors not only had top of the line stoves to work on, but the spectators also had plenty of room to watch.

Raymond Richmond and Nate Box work in front of the crowds

For a $2 entry fee (with all of the day’s proceeds going to send a young Albertan producer to Slow Food International’s Terra Madre), spectators were treated to samples of each of the thirteen sandwiches, which fell either in the “classic” or “contemporary” categories. Spectators were encouraged to vote for their favourite, which would earn a People’s Choice award.

Slow Food member Carrie distributes sandwiches to the hungry masses

While all sandwiches had to adhere to the Slow Food principles of “good, clean and fair”, competitors could choose to make either a “classic” sandwich (white bread, cheese, butter), or a “contemporary” sandwich (containing at least 60% cheese, and allowing for accompaniments). Some competitors did opt to enter both categories.

Ben Staley & Nathan Gour’s contemporary creation, made with goat cheese, brie, prosciutto, sundried tomatoes and served with a tomato compote (it won our People’s Choice votes)

The competition attracted a great mix of professional and amateur chefs – from Culina’s Cindy Lazarenko and Cyrus Shaoul from Kerstin’s Chocolates to Slow Food member Renita Falkenstern and two of Valerie’s Home Economics students from junior high school, it was obvious that everyone in the room loved food!

Cyrus means business

Renita presents her deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich

I didn’t envy the judges at all – besides having to sample and rate eighteen different sandwiches, they were pretty much grounded to the judges table for the entire competition. And lasting just over three hours, I know I felt exhausted, even with the freedom to move around to observe the prep work and cooking at the various stations.

Judges table (the Edmonton Journal’s Liane Faulder, Lux Steakhouse Executive Chef Tony Le, Fern Janzen of Paddy’s Cheese, and Madison’s Grill Executive Chef Blair Lebsack)

Each sandwich was introduced to the judges without the name of the competitor attached. They had to rate each sandwich for their presentation, taste, texture, style and “slowness” (if the product adhered to the principles of Slow Food).

Hard at work

During the lengthy judging process, I had a great time catching up with competitors, volunteers, and fellow spectators. It was a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Food bloggers represent! (Chris, Eating is the Hard Part)

Before the results were announced, the judges noted that they were impressed by the creativity of the entries. I have to second that – everything from chocolate to Danish pickles found their way into the sandwiches, and though I thought Sylvan Star would be the main player today, I was glad to see a variety of cheeses used including goat cheese, mascarpone, ricotta and caraway havarti.

Valerie presenting her students’ sandwich

And the winners were:

  • People’s Choice Classic: Nate Box, with his Tree Stone Bakery brioche and Sylvan Star Gouda sandwich
  • People’s Choice Contemporary: Valerie Rodgers-Lugonja and her Home Economics students, with her smoked paprika bread, applewood smoked cheddar, mozzarella, Asian pear and cumin seed bacon spread sandwich
  • Judges Choice Classic: Jeff Johnson, with his homemade bread, emmental, sharp cheddar (both raw milk cheeses) and goose fat sandwich
  • Judges Choice Contemporary: Ben Staley and Nathan Gour (of North 53 Catering), with their goat cheese, brie, prosciutto and sundried tomato sandwich

Congratulations to all of the winners!

Thanks to Thea for organizing a great event!

You can take a look at Mack’s photo set here.

Slow Food Edmonton’s Grilled Cheese Olympics!

While Slow Food Edmonton does host many events that allow citizens to celebrate and partake in local food, such as the ever-popular Indulgence, the annual Greens, Eggs and Ham picnic and the Wild Boar and Beer BBQ (which I am helping to put together this year), I do think the organization needs to plan more accessible (price and time-wise) activities to engage the public.

For that reason, I was delighted to hear about the Grilled Cheese Olympics. Taking place at Coast Wholesale Appliances on March 14, 2010, the event will see competitors prepare their best grilled cheese sandwiches in one of two categories (classic or contemporary), to be evaluated by a panel of judges. Prizes include gift certificates for Paddy’s International Cheese Market and a grilled cheese sandwich from Madison’s Grill. All ingredients used must be good, clean and fair (that means no Kraft Singles!), and it is a fun, light hearted event that inspired cooks of all ages can participate in. Moreover, all proceeds ($25/$20 to compete, $2 to watch) go to support a young Albertan producer to Slow Food International’s Terra Madre, a yearly event where attendees learn sustainable food production methods.

Thea Moss, Slow Food Edmonton Convivium Leader came up with the idea. “Slow Food Edmonton thought it would be great to get people out of the doldrums of winter with some friendly competition,” says Thea. “Expect to see some sort of comfort food smackdown every year!” When asked if she has a favourite sandwich creation, I was surprised to hear that she doesn’t. “I have childhood memories of getting a grilled cheese sandwich after drama class with my mum. In Australia [where Thea is originally from], grilled cheese is not really a thing, so it’s not something I’ve explored. I hope to discover my favourite at this Grilled Cheese Olympics!”

If you’re interested in participating (either as a competitor or a spectator), the guidelines are worth a read, particularly because the playful spirit of the event quickly becomes apparent. And you have to love Chad Moss’s description of a winning grilled cheese sandwich:

  • Presentation: How does the sandwich look. Is there obvious melty goodness oozing out the sides. Is it evenly browned. Were the edges cut off due to crust carbonization…(1-10, 10 being highest)
  • Taste: Does the sandwich evoke memories of grilled cheesy goodness that make you want to call your parents and apologize for everything you ever did wrong as a kid. Is it a revelation in the art of grilled cheese, or is it just – schmeh… (1-20, 20 being highest)
  • Texture: is the cheese stringyness in perfect balance with the crisp outer toasted crust. Is the bread soggy. Did anyone break a tooth on the bison jerky lurking under the crust. (1-5, 5 being the highest)
  • Style: was there a garnish. Did it need a garnish to begin with. What made this sandwich special and/or better than the rest. Is the sandwich balanced. Was bigger actually better. (1-5, 5 being the highest)
  • Slowness: How well did the sandwich and it’s ingredients represent Slow Food principles? Judges will need your written submission here to learn about the ingredients you chose. (1-10, 10 being highest)

The deadline to enter the Grilled Cheese Olympics is March 10, 2010. Hope to see you there!

Slow Food Edmonton’s Grilled Cheese Olympics
March 14, 2010, 3-6pm
Coast Wholesale Appliances, 5345 Gateway Boulevard