Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means that National Grilled Cheese Month, April, is nearing too. And with it, the annual Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown will return! That’s right, the recipe contest is back and BIGGER than ever. This year will feature new categories, more ways to enter and bigger cash prizes! Follow Wisconsin Cheese on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates as the contest approaches.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day and the 7th annual grilled cheese recipe showdown, we have a romantic, yet cheesy, story to tell featuring Stef and Chris Schaldenbrand, our grand prizewinners from 2015.
For many cheese lovers, grilled cheese is a love story in itself, a tale of taste buds and glorious melted Wisconsin cheese. But for one couple, Stef and Chris Schaldenbrand, their love of grilled cheese aided them on their way to the altar, turning their story into a true cheesy romance.
Let’s rewind to early 2012: Chris and Stefanie were in the beginning stages of getting to know each other. They had met through mutual friends, but soon after their friendship began, Stef accepted a job opportunity in her hometown of Miami, FL. The distance however, did not stop their friendship from blossoming into a romance. Despite the distance and time apart, their relationship and shared love for cooking thrived during visits discovering each other’s foodie neighborhoods and making their own cultural fusion food.
After a year of long-distance dating, Stef permanently moved to California in summer of 2014 to be closer to Chris. Around this same time they began contemplating the launch of their own food blog to cover their culinary adventures and share the delicious food they created together.
One evening while shopping in Mother’s Market, a local grocery store, they came upon a flyer for the 2015 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown. Jumping at the chance to put their culinary skills and creativity to the test (and hopefully win some prize money) they brainstormed what would eventually become the Sportsbar grilled cheese sandwich. The recipe was a mash-up of their favorite hot wing flavors with hearty mozzarella grilled cheese. Add in crunchy celery and carrot shreds, a Wisconsin gorgonzola fondue, and a zesty mustard spread to crisp the bread, and this sandwich was a cheesy flavor bomb! Little did they know they had just created a winning grilled cheese sandwich recipe.
Once their masterpiece sandwich was created and recipe submitted, all that was left to do was hope for the results. In the meantime, Chris popped the big question and the couple got engaged! The pair made plans to be married in the fall of 2015. But more good news was yet to come – after the finalist judging and taste-testing, their grilled cheese recipe came out to be the grand prize winning sandwich and earned them the prize of $15,000!
Hear from Stef and Chris themselves how they reacted to winning, what inspired them to create their sandwich and how winning the $15,000 grand prize impacted their love story.
Was the Sportsbar the first recipe you tried to create for the competition? Were there tweaks made to get the recipe just right?
CHRIS: Once we decided to enter the contest, we actually came up with our final idea pretty quickly. The Sportsbar’s inspiration came from our favorite lounge’s happy hour staple – hot wings. Stef is a wiz at recreating flavors without a recipe, so we got to work on spicy bbq sauce and gorgonzola fondue. We cooked to taste, but made sure to jot down each detail for the final recipe so the finalist judging chefs could replicate it just right! It took us 5 hours to make one sandwich, so we’d say there were many tweaks along the way.
STEF: While we didn’t second guess what we were going to make, we most definitely underestimated the non-cooking part of the cooking competition. We’d never attempted to photograph food, let alone light it at night. Off Chris went to Home Depot for a light and a camera store for supplies (diffusers and other things we didn’t know the names of). We learned a lot that day!
What was your first reaction when you found out your sandwich had won the grand prize? How did you celebrate?
STEF: HOLY CRAP, WE WON!
CHRIS: Then we celebrated with food of course. We went out for a nice dinner and spent most of the meal excitedly talking about what we’d do with our prize money and coming up with ways to utilize (or share) our enormous cheese basket.
STEF: We were also in the middle of planning a wedding so the immediate positive impact was definitely using some of the prize money towards that! (The rest we stashed away for future food dreams). All being said, it’s also a heckuva a story that never ceases to amaze people. So that’s fun too!
What advice would you give to entrants in the upcoming 2018 Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown?
CHRIS: We really went with our gut when we chose our sandwich. Of all the ideas, the Sportsbar felt the most true to how we love to eat. Since then, whether we are entertaining friends or crafting new recipes, we take that exact approach. Our advice would be to focus on your favorite flavors and use techniques that feel true to your style. Follow where you tastebuds lead you!