I love Top Chef, in all its renditions – Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Top Chef Texas, and, of course, Top Chef Canada. I also love a good grilled cheese sandwich (heck, I even love a not-so-good grilled cheese sandwich), so if I were to speculate on Chef Dale MacKay’s inspiration for his gourmet version with olive-tomato spread, I might look to a father and son’s shared memory from Season 2 of Canada’s most popular competitive cooking show.

Grilled cheese sandwich on multi-grain bread

During episode 10, the very first Top Chef Canada winner, Dale MacKay, and his son Ayden were guest judges for a Quick-Fire Challenge. The contestants were tasked with creating a dish using ingredients that most children despise. Ayden and his Dad stood by while the contestants drew knives to discover which foods they’d have to transform into dishes that would delight a ten-year-old’s palate. The chefs read out their picks: liver, brussels sprouts, mackerel, eggplant, asparagus, squid, rabbit, mushrooms, lamb, artichoke, mussels and radish. For a boy who cited chicken strips, pizza and pasta as his favourite foods, hearing those words must have had him shaking in his sneakers. Poor kid. I don’t know what his Dad promised him (a trip to Disneyland?) to get him to agree to that gig but to his credit, the young gourmand tasted every single dish, all while maintaining the inscrutable expression of a seasoned judge. He was amazing!

The winning dish, as chosen by Chef MacKay and his son, was Deep Fried Calamari Rings with Brussels Sprouts Coleslaw, while Liver Parfait “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” with Tempura Battered Asparagus Fries was named second best.  

By putting black olives, semi-dried tomatoes, and roasted garlic into a kid-friendly grilled cheese sandwich, Chef MacKay has once again embraced the spirit of that Quick-Fire Challenge.  I love the intense flavours in this sandwich and find myself wondering if Ayden also gives it high marks.

Chef Dale MacKay’s Armstrong Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich

Armstrong Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich
Author: Chef Dale MacKay
Recipe and photos courtesy of Argyle Communications
  • 1/2 roasted garlic clove
  • 3 1/2 oz (100 g) black olives, pitted
  • 6 medium semi-dry tomatoes
  • 5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
  • 10 leaves fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 zest of 1 lemon
  • butter, to taste
  • 8 slices multigrain bread
  • 9 oz (255 g) Armstrong Marble Cheddar, divided
  1. To roast garlic, first cut bulb in half, across its equator, and rub 1 tsp (5 ml) of olive oil on both sides. Then wrap in aluminum foil and place in oven for 45 minutes at 525 °F (275 °C). The garlic should be soft and light golden brown in colour when it comes out of the foil. Reserve one clove for the olive-tomato spread and refrigerate the remainder. The roasted garlic will keep for up to a week.
  2. To make the olive-tomato spread, combine roasted garlic, olives, tomatoes, olive oil, parsley and lemon zest in a food processor until a light, chunky texture is achieved.
  3. Lightly spread butter on both sides of two slices of bread. On the inside of one slice, evenly spread a small amount of the olive-tomato mixture.
  4. Grate 1/4 of the cheese on the bread with the olive-tomato spread and top with the second piece of bread to close the sandwich. Place the buttered sides down in a frying pan on low heat until both sides are crisp and golden brown. Repeat to make 4 sandwiches. Cut in half and enjoy!

Watch for Chef Dale MacKay at this year’s PNE where he’ll be treating attendees to his version of the definitive comfort food.

Grilled cheese sandwich with olive-tomato tapenade

*Recipe and photos courtesy of Argyle Communications 

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The Grown-up Grilled Cheese

by The Culinary Travel Guide time to read: 2 min