AUGUSTA — A standard grilled cheese sandwich has two slices of bread and a slice or two of cheese. Simple, right?
For Jade Eastman, Chase Daigle and Ethan Hobart, making a grilled cheese Wednesday was a lot different.
The trio participated in the first-ever “get Real. get Maine.” cooking contest at the Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center. Eastman, 10, of Belgrade, was the winner, as the judges favored her entry over those of the other two because of its cheese-to-bread ratio and its overall presentation.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Eastman, who attends Belgrade Central School. “I like grilled cheese.”
The contest’s organizers had to scramble — and there was a question as late as Tuesday morning about whether the contest would happen — because the original participants were sick. The judges commented on the admirable job the contestants did by filling in at the last minute.
“Cooking on a stage is a different kind of pressure than cooking in your kitchen,” said Allison Lakin, of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese and the Maine Cheese Guild. “They did a great job.”
Lakin judged the gourmet grilled cheese contest along with Civic Center director Earl Kingsbury and Dan Foster, of Family Farm Insurance and the Windsor Fair. Lakin said when making a grilled cheese, it is important that the bread is well-toasted and the cheese is well-melted, but not overdone.
Eastman had a sandwich with two slices of white American cheese completed within the first few minutes, and she appeared to have more cooking experience than her competitors — her mother said she’s taken two cooking classes. Daigle, 12, of Fairfield, used a combination of white and yellow American cheese to add to the sandwich’s complexity. Hobart, 12, of Waterville, produced a first sandwich that had bacon and yellow American.
The children were given no advanced warning about what they’d be cooking, and they were given 30 minutes to prepare the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. There were George Foreman grills and skillets and utensils at their disposal, and there was a table with several varieties of cheese, including smoked gouda and Swiss, and condiments such as lettuce, avocado, mayonnaise, peppers, onions, pickles, mustard and ketchup.
All three of the competitors played it safe, however, as about a dozen people watched. Eastman and Daigle got started quickly, while Hobart kept wondering why their bread was toasting faster than his.
After about 15 minutes, he noticed his burner had never been turned on; but he laughed, told a joke to Daigle, his best friend, and pressed on.
Meanwhile, Eastman worked quietly as she flipped her sandwich and focused on her pan.
While Eastman, the eventual winner, relaxed for the final 10 minutes of the allotted time, Daigle and Hobart, both 12, saw her sandwiches and knew they had to step up their game.
Daigle finished a second sandwich with American cheese that he said looked “dead and disgusting.” He didn’t slice it evenly and almost threw it away, until a bystander told him it wasn’t a good idea to waste any grilled cheese.
Daigle went outside the box for his third sandwich, taking two slices of bleu cheese and melting it between the slices of bread. He was urged to choose that one as his contest entry, but he decided it was too risky to go with such an exotic choice.
As time expired, the contestants stepped away from their cooking stations and had to choose the best sandwich to go before the judges, who deliberated for about five minutes before choosing Eastman as the winner.
After the contest was over, as people came by and sampled the children’s creations, Hobart took a bite of his friend’s bleu cheese sandwich and made a scrunchy face.
“It was very interesting,” Hobart said with a smile as Daigle laughed.
Eastman received a gift bag from Hannaford Bros. supermarkets and all three could keep their official “get real. get Maine.” aprons and chef hats. A celebrity gourmet burger contest was scheduled for Wednesday evening featuring a local chef, a state legislator and a TV newsperson as competitors.
The 77th Agricultural Trades Show continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday. There are around 160 tables and booths around the main floor of the civic center showcasing current programs, new technology and information about the agriculture industry. Admission is free.
Jason Pafundi — 621-5663