April is ‘National Grilled Cheese Month’ and as it approaches, I am having mixed emotions. Excited to share my fabulous experience as the 2012 Wisconsin Cheese ‘Grilled Cheese Academy’ grand winner, and sad, because, like Miss America, or in my case, Miss Cheese, I’ll relinquish my crown to the next lucky cheese creator. Not that I don’t have another winner up my sleeve…however, I do know that in most cases with contests, history, as in winners, probably don’t repeat themselves! So, my immaculate grilled cheese creation will remain in my Vatican vault awaiting another contest!
Wisconsin Cheese Talk is interested in how my brain worked in creating ‘The Bewitching’, so they asked me some questions. By the way, my winning sandwich will be featured in the 2013 Summer edition of the Vail Valley Magazine (well, along with other professional chef’s summer sandwich creations from little hotels, kinda like the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, The Westin!) …super excited! I’ll reflect upon my 2012 experience with the Grilled Cheese Academy and share with potential entrants some of my thoughts.
Many of the boholicious photos you see here were shot by the talented and amazing team of Brent and Barbara from Brent Bingham
Photography in Edwards, CO…they capture the stunning vistas of the Rockies, life on working ranches, the glorious beauty of food as well as many other works of art.
Part of submitting an quality entry is having a great photo to really convey the delicious-ness of the sandwich. What golden rules do you follow when capturing a recipe with your camera?
- Make it look natural…too much staging isn’t real life…if there are a few crumbs after you’ve sliced that sandwich, great, leave them…that’s natural. If you’ve used a whisk to blend gravy, photograph that skillet of gravy with the whisk, gravy drippings and all, next to it.
- Lighting…you have to have it right or you’re not getting the beauty of Mother Nature’s food.
- Detailing…this comes with a good lens…when I photograph I want to even see the little hairs on a fresh raspberry!
- Composition…like making your food look natural, don’t ‘over’ stage…for instance, would you really have an artificial flower placed on the plate when serving…probably not.
- Styling…just like fashion where you have colors, textures, designs, accessors…food styling is the same…invest in interesting pieces…you can find these at rummage/yard sales, consignment stores, antique stores, etc. Beautiful dish towels, plates, silverware.
- Organic…a first-cousin of ‘styling’, I like to mix-match things, matchy matchy doesn’t work for me, too perfect…many times I keep the plating simple, like white, or showing something served in a cast-iron skillet, then I create real interest and allure with a retro serving piece, piece of silverware, napkin, etc.
Inspiration for recipes, for me, comes from different venues and experiences…it can be looking outside my kitchen window, seeing a blue jay, the gorgeous coloring on its feathers, and I’ll get an idea…sometimes these ideas are in ‘clouds’ in my head, but it registers. For ‘The Bewitching’ I’d actually seen black birds perched on my porch railing. With their illuminous shiny blue-black feathers, they’d swoop down, stand next to the bowl of dry cat food, and peck out a nugget. It was like seeing the spicy littl’ witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Crazy, but that’s how creativity sparks in my brain.
My thought was how could I replicate that in a sandwich…what would give me the allure of the mystic, the wickedness of the witch, the spiciness of flavors. Yes, I would use cheese, and it would be a grilled cheese sandwich, but it had to be something unexpected, something untraditional, something that you wouldn’t imagine. I looked at the large succulent blackberries sitting on my counter in a white bowl…they were large and luscious, they were blue-black, they were shiny and luminescent…they were my magpie black birds! From there, I began experimenting with different cheeses that would complement the blackberries, then looked at breads, then decided I wanted something really salty and crunchy, hence, the bacon…finally, after looking at the creation that truly was a succulent masterpiece, the fashion side of my brain said it needed a pop of color and a peppery earthy dirt (in a good way!) flavoring hence, the arugula.
What constitutes a great grilled cheese recipe in your mind? Is it all about the cheese, the texture or the interesting additions?
For me, a great grilled cheese doesn’t mean piling on layers and layers of more and more…meats, cheeses, veggies, greens…in my mind, it’s all about combining a few flavors, textures, and colors then letting each play, as in emitting and evoking their flavors, on your palate. The best kind of sandwich, I think, is like a small ‘jazz combo’, rather than a large symphony, so to speak. Each ingredient gets to have a showcase moment, but ultimately it’s the arrangement or the totality of the ingredients that creates the explosion moment in your mouth, especially with the ‘unpredicted!’
In the case of ‘The Bewitching’ there was a salty crunch of bacon…then a burst of juicy sweet flavor of the blackberries…in another instance, a creaminess and warmness of the oozing cheese along with a peppery subtly of the arugula…and, finally, the richness of the grilled buttered bread. Each had its ‘moment’ and collectively this jazz ensemble becomes an culinary experience.
What is your favorite way to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month?
My favorite way to celebrate ‘National Grilled Cheese Month’ is to explore new cheeses…become best friends with the cheese monger at my market and get personalized tutorials on cheese! And, if there’s no monger there, then tiptoe through the array of cheeses from different countries of origin, from various types—goat, cow, sheep, ewe—soft, hard, mold or no mold, smoked or not—there’s just so much to learn about cheeses, pairings, wines, drinks, and foods, in general.
Cheese is so much more than what you can get in the plastic bags or in the regular dairy case at the grocery store. It’s a way to explore the world, it’s a way to let your ‘Bohemian’ spirit emerge, and it’s a way to escape from the monotony of everyday life—yes, that may sound ethereal, even unimaginable to some, but that’s what food can do. It’s more than just for eating.
The quintessential grilled cheese can move from becoming just a ‘sandwich’ to becoming a couture and chic masterpiece, like ‘The Bewitching’, with some creativity, research, experimentation and flat out fun!
©Alice D’Antoni Phillips www.allyskitchen.com