Column, Metro

Grilled Cheese Festival Indulges in America’s Comfort Food

Is there anything better than an ooey, gooey, melt in your mouth grilled cheese sandwich? The kind that when you pull it apart strings of excess cheese stretch and fold over your fingers. Layers of fresh cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, muenster, American, gouda. The sandwich your mom used to make you when you were a kid, carefully cut into triangles.

When I was a kid, I had a grilled cheese sandwich every day after school while I watched Tom and Jerry. The snacks varied, usually a bowl of apple slices, grapes, or goldfish, but the golden, crunchy, buttery sandwich never changed. As the years passed, my palate slowly matured from plain slices of classic American to more adventurous cheeses and toppings, but I never dropped the habit.

So, naturally, on Sunday I was one of the Boston residents who flocked to the American Legion Nonantum Post parking lot in Newton to indulge in my favorite comfort food. Stepping out of the Uber, as I walked into the first annual Grilled Cheese Festival my mouth watered. Piles of freshly made grilled cheese sat stacked on a table, and next to it buckets of ice cream, sprinkles, and hot fudge for dessert.

Music filled the air, and tables set up by local businesses sponsoring the event lined the perimeter of the parking lot, where representatives stood handing out snacks and free swag. Standing in the shade, Davey the Clown made balloon animals, hats, and other figures for the children in attendance, who sat tightly circled around him, entranced by his deft manipulation of the plastic balloons. The face painting table was also in high demand; superhero masks and flowers proved to be the most popular designs on the smiling cheeks in attendance.

Biting into my first of many slices of grilled cheese that day, mozzarella and tomato, a sunflower on my cheek and balloon animal in hand, I was perfectly content. This was my kind of festival.

Hosted by the Chef’s Table Foundation, a nonprofit video production organization that strives to empower homeless veterans and young adults by providing access to culinary arts education, the festival was a family oriented event open for all ages. Tickets for adults were $10, and children $8. All proceeds went to the organization’s culinary scholarship fund.

Among those in attendance was Amanda Callahan, MCAS ’20. An intern for NewTV Newton News, Callahan was covering the event. Microphone in hand, she stood in front of a giant camera and interviewed participants.

This was Callahan’s first story for the station, and it will air on Newton cable TV later this week.

“We are really excited. I want people to come out on a Sunday afternoon with their kids, taste some delicious food, enjoy the festivities, and raise awareness for our cause,” said Carol O’Connor, BC ’93, LGSOE ’95, co-founder of the Chef’s Table Foundation.

O’Connor co-founded the Chef’s Table Foundation in 2012, and it started as nothing more than a educational cooking show and classes. As the show and other events began generating funds, O’Connor realized that the proceeds could be used to change lives.

“We came up with the idea to provide a culinary scholarship to underprivileged U.S. veterans and youth who have a passion to go to culinary school but don’t have the financial means to do so,” O’Connor said.

Now called The Chef’s Table Series, the cooking show is broadcast on public access stations throughout Massachusetts, and episodes are also posted on Vimeo and Youtube. The show reaches over 3.2 million viewers, 52 weeks a year. The proceeds from the show are used to fund scholarships, training programs, and other services the foundation provides.

The Great Grilled Cheese Festival is the newest event seeking to raise funds for the Foundation, and O’Connor hopes to make it an annual tradition. Around 100 people turned out for a slice of grilled cheese, and the foundation aimed to raise over $1,000 by the end of the afternoon.

“I noticed that grilled cheese is coming back to popularity, so I thought ‘Hey why don’t we use this idea to bring awareness to the good that we do for others, but at the same time host an event that is fun and family oriented,’” O’Connor said.

“If successful, we hope to bring the festival to other towns in the area. Who knows,” O’Connor continued with a laugh.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Heights Editor

September 16, 2018