The first annual Vegan Grilled Cheese Invitational — no relation to the Grilled Cheese Invitational that ended in 2014 — is happening Sunday at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro in Culver City. Considering that Los Angeles is home to a horde of solid plant-based eateries and vegan options across the city, a vegan throwdown featuring the classic grilled cheese sandwich has practically been overdue.
Ten chefs, including one duo, will sling sandwiches sans animal products for five celebrity judges and voting attendees, with ticket proceeds benefitting PETA. Chefs include Mollie Engelhart from Sage Vegan Bistro, Nic Haymon from eLOVate, which just shuttered July 1, and Ernesto Moreno from Cafe Gratitude. Other non-vegan eateries are competing as well, including Jasmine Wolf from the Grilled Cheese Truck and Ted Hirsh from The Blind Barber.
The above list also includes a few controversial picks, at least in the vegan food world. An uproar occurred in the vegan community a few months ago when it was discovered that Cafe Gratitude's owners now raise and eat meat from their Central Valley farm, Be Love, which lead to boycotts and alleged death threats.
some vegans won't be attending this year
Some vegans have also turned on Sage Organic Vegan Bistro, owned by the Engelharts’ daughter Mollie, since they source some of their produce from the Be Love farm, though Mollie Engelhart is adamant she has remained vegan and does not raise meat. Some vegans have already shared via vegan Facebook groups that they won’t be attending this year's event.
Despite any boycotts, some big vegan names are turning out as celebrity judges for the showdown. The panel consists of television journalist and author Jane Velez-Mitchell, NFL defensive lineman David Carter, aka "The 300 Pound Vegan," Al and Dee of Vegan Food Share, TV personality Marco Antonio Regil, and Pollution.tv founder and Vegan Food Share YouTube video producer Asher Brown.
Tickets for the First Annual Vegan Grilled Cheese Invitational are $15 each and include a sample of each grilled cheese sandwich, a People’s Choice voting ballot, plus a beer or Kombucha. The event runs 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sage Vegan Bistro in Culver City.