Sunday, March 14th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

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.