Making a few sandwiches under fire doesn’t sound too grueling. Ask any mom. But this is no ordinary PB&J throwdown. The World Food Championships takes place this week and food blogger Malcolm Bedell of Thomaston is competing for best sandwich.
Bedell, who won the “Today” show’s chicken wing cook off earlier this year, is moving into the national food scene spotlight once again on Wednesday when he heads to Las Vegas to compete against 49 culinary masters. This high-stakes event pits chefs and amateurs in areas such as dessert, bacon and barbecue. Now in its second year, the live-cooking event is gaining steam globally.
How did the From Away blogger and Rockland’s Dream Local Digital marketer find himself in such a lofty comp? By being cheesy.
“I think grilled cheese sandwiches should be a little low-brow. Should be a little silly and funny,” he said.
The recipe that qualified him for the tournament is Chorizo y Papas grilled cheese.
That’s habanero cheddar and American cheeses, tater tots, chorizo and sauteed onions on sliced white bread. The manly meal recently took second place at the Wisconsin’s Grilled Cheese Academy.
“It’s a riff on my favorite breakfast,” said Bedell, who lived in Mexico where he missed sandwiches but developed a taste for spicy comfort food.
So what’s the key to a good sandwich?
“It’s a great common denominator. Anyone can do it. Anyone can get the right ingredients together — balance, texture, crunch, mix and layering those things on good bread is important,” he said.
Bedell will make two sandwiches Tuesday for the judges. If he makes it to the finals, he will compete Saturday for the world sandwich champ title and a top prize of $25,000.
His version of a Mexican torta — pork shoulder, refried beans, avocado spread, pickled onion, habanero and radishes — is his signature La torta Yucateca sandwich, for round one.
Bedell sounded calm on the phone Monday afternoon, but admitted “I’m going into crisis mode … It’s a big deal.”
He will also make his now-famous grilled-cheese on the spot. Like any champ hopeful, he practiced all weekend.
“I have never done any cooking live,” said Bedell. “There is always a huge difference between the noodling I do in my kitchen and what professional chefs are doing on that level.”
This has been a fruitful year for Bedell and his wife, Jillian, who will be his sous chef at the competition. Their cookbook, tentatively titled “The Way Food Should Be: Cooking and Eating in Maine,” is scheduled to come out this spring under Cadent Publishing. And more accolades are rolling in.
“It seems to be all of a sudden. This summer will be our fourth year working on the site and lately the focus seems to be more on us than the food,” he said quizzically. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good.”
Still, he has no plans to quit his day job.
“It’s not enough money,” said the young father and home chef who is taking the attention in stride.
“At the end of the day it’s a sandwich; I’m not curing cancer here. I’m making a grilled cheese. I try not to take it too seriously.”
Chorizo y Papas Grilled Cheese
Makes two sandwiches
4 slices good white bread
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup ground Mexican chorizo
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 slices habanero cheddar or pepper Jack cheese
6 slices American cheese
Handful of Tater Tots (about 12), cooked according to package directions
Sliced pickled jalapenos (optional)
Sour cream (to serve)
Combine Mexican chorizo and sliced onion in a medium skillet and cook over medium-high heat until chorizo is cooked through and onions are soft, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a plate lined with paper towels, and allow to drain.
For each sandwich: Layer bottom slice of bread with half of habanero cheddar or pepper Jack. Top with half of chorizo and onion mixture, then half of the cooked Tater Tots, then half of the American cheese and optional pickled jalapenos. Finish with half of the American cheese, and top with the other slice of bread.
Butter outsides of each side of sandwich, about a tablespoon of butter per piece of bread. Place sandwich in a nonstick skillet and cook covered over low heat, flipping as needed, until cheese is melted and bread is brown and crispy. Serve with a side of sour cream.
From Malcolm Bedell, From Away