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Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship - Take 3

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

This past weekend marked my third appearance at the 5th Annual Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship, in addition to my two-year mark of participating in cooking competitions.  For a refresher of the structure and rules of the competition, please check out my post from 2014.  In addition, the following video gives a nice recap of what took place this year.

So with a little bit of experience under my belt now, I more-or-less knew what to expect.  I knew that ideas had to come to me, and that I couldn't force a good sandwich if initial trials didn't go as expected.  I knew how fast 15 minutes of cooking actually flew by.  I knew the equipment that was provided, what equipment wasn't allowed, and certain miscellaneous things to bring that would come in handy at any similar competition.

About a month ago, I started thinking of what I wanted to do this year.  In the past, an Indian-themed sandwich had crossed my mind, but I had never given it a try.  Something along the lines of caramelized onions with garam masala, cilantro, a tomato-based sweet sauce, and so on.  After the first trial, it just didn't seem to be working, so I gave it a few weeks and revisited the sandwich last week.  This time though, I moved a little bit to the east, giving the sandwich more of a Thai influence.  The final grilled cheese consisted of the following:

  1. Sourdough from Madison Sourdough in Madison, WI
  2. Compound butter with sesame oil and paprika
  3. Wisconsin Muenster from Decatur Dairy in Brodhead, WI
  4. Whole Milk Mozzarella from Foremost Farms in Athens, WI
  5. Fresh cilantro
  6. Green onions
  7. Caramelized onions with fresh ginger and garlic
  8. Julienned Granny Smith apple
  9. Masala tapioca slices
  10. Peanut sauce (made from peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, onion, lemon grass, etc.)
After a few modifications during the week prior to the competition, I had a sandwich that worked for me on several levels.  It had a slight hint of heat after the peanut sauce and tapioca strips mellowed out from the cheeses.  It had every variation in texture that you could want in a sandwich.  It had a nice freshness from the cilantro, green onions, and apples.  And the aromatics from the sesame oil compound butter brought it to another level.
The day before the competition, I picked up my cheeses, wrote up a list of all of the prep that needed to be done the morning of, and called it a day.

Once I arrived to Dodgeville on Saturday, I was greeted a past co-worker (who had competed with me in other competitions), so that was nice to have some friendly competition as we had signed up for the same category without knowing it.  Later that day, Ben and Codie showed up to support me as well.  Unlike past years though, Ben had been nominated to serve as my sous chef this year.  His job was to keep an eye on the clock, keep my nerves down, wave the flag at the end to signify we were ready for turn-in, and most importantly, sport a plastic apron like it was no one's business.  Needless to say, he dominated all of the tasks flawlessly.  The sandwich came together as planned, I got to take part in a mini-interview with returning emcee Kyle Cherek, and most importantly, I turned in a product (on time) that I was happy with.

And that leaves us to the results...

There was some confusion (and still is) with my category, as the 4th place winner was accidentally called up to receive the 3rd place trophy and the true 2nd place winner was never even mentioned.  Since this wasn't realized until it was too late, they ended up forcing four people into the top three, resulting in two "2nd place" winners.  If I follow the placings on their website, then I was two points shy from third place.  If there wouldn't have been any "Steve Harvey moment", then I would have placed 5th.  Either way, I noticed after looking at last year's post that I placed three points higher than I did last year, so I'll take that as a small win and a sign that improvements are being made.

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  1. The sandwich sounds good, and a sounds like it was a good time.
    Only a little trouble trying to figure out how to comment.
    I think I have it now.

    1. Thanks! Yup, looks like you have it figured out :)