Considering that less than 20 percent of chef positions in the U.S. are held by women, JulieAnne Cross has made her way into local foodie “stardom” by applying her passion for gastronomy with an unusual tack: staging culinary battles.
The founder of the Delaware Food Battles has been facilitating burger competitions between area chefs since 2012, and in 2018, she launched a new competition: the Grilled Cheese Battle, taking place this Wednesday, May 22.
This year’s event has already surpassed 2018’s participation (story and pics from last year’s event here), with a 35% increase in restaurant competitors. While this is Cross’ business, she tells us her work is all part of her mission to “make the place I live more fun.”
This year’s Grilled Cheese Battle moves from the suburbs to downtown Wilmington’s Queen Theatre on Market Street, bringing Cross’s work full circle to her days throwing city block parties.
“I’ve thrown block parties on Market Street, and I’ve put on nightlife events on every block from Fifth to Eleventh Street. I finally have the opportunity to bring the Delaware Food Battles inside city limits and I can’t wait to be considered another annual festival that city dwellers and suburbanintes block off their calendars for,” Cross, a former TSD contributor, said.
The Grilled Cheese Battle is an indoor competition that challenges participants to vie for a single ‘People’s Choic’e trophy. The winner is determined by votes cast by attendees.
Fifteen chefs are signed up to be the Delaware grilled cheese king/queen in 2019.
Cross said, the combination of bread and cheese somehow sparks creativity in everyone from working moms to professional chefs. “That triggers passionate opinions from elite foodies with broad palates, as well as picky eaters.”
Tickets are on sale, at $40 in advance and $50 at the door. Guests can sample each entry and get two drink tickets for beer or wine, as well as entertainment. A portion of the event’s proceeds will support the Food Bank of Delaware, which provides nutritious foods to Delawareans in need and facilitates long-term solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty through community education and advocacy.
Eight years into her career as a ringleader in Delaware’s culinary competition circus, Cross reflects on what got her to this point.
“I was relatively new to restaurant marketing, social media being a pretty recent addition to any marketer’s arsenal. One day I saw Rachael Ray’s Burger Bash on TV, and a lightbulb went off, leading me to bring the idea to a client. Not only were there very few food competitions happening in Delaware, but there were zero burger competitions that I was aware of. That was the start of my foray into food competitions.”
She’s made a lot of friends along the way, with over fifty restaurants competing for just a handful of trophies in burger and grilled cheese battles since 2012.
Not surprisingly, she’s gained support from female entrepreneurs and chefs.
Sasha Aber, owner of Home Grown Cafe, has competed in Cross’s food battles six times since 2013, winning two Burger Battle trophies in that time. She said, “JulieAnne has been putting on food events for almost a decade. She is great at bringing diverse chefs together for friendly, laid back, but at the same time, highly competitive and exciting competitions.”
Chef Tara Kenyon, 8th & Union Kitchen’s executive chef until 2018, said, “I first met JulieAnne through the amazing event that is the Delaware Burger Battle when I was just up and coming as a female chef. She’s been a consultant when it comes to the restaurant industry ever since! To see another lady leader rising up to help the community really gives you strength. She’s another reminder that women rule.”
The 2018 Grilled Cheese Battle featured eleven competitors, with food truck Mojo Loco taking home a trophy from their first-ever Delaware Food Battle entry.
They will return to defend their title, along with Home Grown Café and Maiale Deli and Salumeria (both multiple trophy winners in the Delaware Burger Battle), Brandywine Prime, Brick Works Brewing and Eats, Chuck Lager – America’s Tavern, Delicious Craving, Drip Cafe, Ernest & Scott Taproom, Lefty’s Alley & Eats, Sonora at the David Finney Inn, Stitch House Brewery, Uncle John’s BBQ and WildWich.
Beneficiary Food Bank of Delaware will also serve samples prepared by their Culinary School students.