Cooking is one of those passions of mine that I’ve nurtured since discovering how much I enjoy it. This past weekend, I took this passion to another level by competing at the 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational (GCI) in Pasadena, California. By entering into this competition, it fulfilled my need to do something crazy every year just like that one time many years ago when I auditioned for the TV show, The Apprentice. No, I’m not a reality TV show junkie. I just love being in “the thick” of things so it made sense to get in on the excitement of participating in a cooking competition. After a few hours bathing in the sun and developing my almost near perfect farmer’s tan, I survived the Grilled Cheese Invitational.
Now, a grilled cheese sandwich seems like an easy dish to make, but it’s not, especially if it’s a complex grilled cheese sandwich. Cooking in a competition is not easy either, nor is it easy cooking with a time limit. These are all the things that I found out when I began the 2nd heat of the competition called Kama Sutra. The Kama Sutra category at the GCI isusing the basic ingredients such as bread, cheese, and butter of any kind plus adding additional ingredients that would make the sandwich distinctively savory. I had decided on making something totally different, a Cumin Lamb Grilled Cheese Sandwich that I called “All Aboard the Trans-Mongolian Railway.” It made perfect sense to me to turn a Northern Chinese stir-fry dish into a grilled cheese sandwich, Heck, why not, right? Cumin spice is so unusual that I discovered during my recipe development that it tastes even better when accompanies with a fat like butter and cheese. Generally, Cumin Lamb is not exactly the kind of Chinese food that a non-Asian let alone a non-Foodie gravitates to ordering at a typical Chinese Restaurant. If you are a true ethnic food connoisseur or a Foodie that eats just about any cuisine or someone who knows Chinese food in and around the San Gabriel Valley area, then you know what Cumin Lamb is and how magical it tastes. Anyway, I made the stir fry a few hours before arriving at the competition in order to save time cooking it at the competition. Making a few ingredients in advance is allowable and it does save you a lot of prep time during the competition.
It was probably close to 90 degrees outside (very unusual weather for the month of April), which made assembling all the sandwiches and grilling them very tricky. For example, as soon as my friend and I exposed the butter to sunlight, the entire thing began to melt into a liquid and the bread was soaking it up like a sponge. When I plopped the sandwich onto the hot pan, the bread began to fall apart. “Oh my God! I have never experience this type of cooking disaster,” I said to myself, “Oh well, there goes those votes for presentation.” The other cooking disaster was trying to grill sandwiches on a hot plate that is placed on a table that isn’t leveled. I had purchased a two pound brick, which would give the sandwich a perfect sear. Unfortunately, the uneven table made the brick slope, which made for uneven searing and a few burned edges on the sandwich.
Yes, victory passed me by this year due to my cooking disasters, but I’m determined to redeem my reputation as an Amateur Chef in next year’s competition. So…
…you’re probably wondering what happened to all the photos of the sandwiches? To be honest, it was next to impossible to take photos and cook at the same time due to the time constraints and the cooking disasters that I encountered during the competition. The photo above is what my Cumin Lamb Sandwich should have looked like. It’s savory pieces of lamb marinated in soy sauce, cumin spice, and black pepper. After marinating over night, the lamb is wok-tossed with garlic, onion, and more cumin spice, and then it’s stuffed in between two slices of sourdough bread, and Monterrey Jack Cheese. With that many ingredients inside a sandwich, it helps to butter the bread to the edges and sear both sides of the sandwich on a hot pan with a something heavy on top of the sandwich, in my case, it was a brick. The weight from the brick not only gives the bread a nice marbled appearance, but it also isolates the heat inside the sandwich so that all the ingredients and the cheese cooks evenly.
I’ll be back GCI…I’ll be back! You haven’t see the last of me.
The Grilled Cheese Invitational