The Kalish twins, Michael (left above) and Charlie, have been building credentials in the artisan cheese world since their college days at U.C. Santa Barbara. Now 34, they are on the cusp of celebrity.
Last month, the brothers and their college-buddy sidekick won the Great Food Truck Race, a goofy Food Network competition with a $50,000 purse. Their food-truck concept—a grilled-cheese counter, natch—racked up the most sales over the contest’s five episodes. Split three ways and minus taxes, the prize money might just be enough to rent a San Francisco apartment for a couple of months, Michael reminded me.
So the brothers aren’t rich, but they may soon be famous. The strapping six-foot-six-inch twins just filmed a pilot with Food Network for yet another cheese-themed series—their own show this time. While they wait to hear it if it’s green-lighted, they’ve returned to real life in Sausalito (Michael) and San Diego (Charlie). When the cameras aren’t rolling, the brothers run a growing consulting firm, helping businesses develop food-safety plans.
That’s serious work with potentially huge liability, but it’s nowhere near as stressful as the food-truck faceoff, Michael told me. “If you gave me animals to milk and cheese to make, I’d be fine,” he says. “But the truck was tough to drive, and hot, and we were dealing with a lot of customers who could potentially be unhappy.”
I had crossed paths with Michael and Charlie on several occasions over the years and knew them as smart, driven young men with impressive résumés. Michael apprenticed post-college with cheesemakers in France, Switzerland and Italy; studied dairy and meat processing in Piemonte; learned affinage (cheese aging) from the esteemed Hervé Mons; and managed operations for Artisanal Premium Cheese in New York City. Charlie was a Fulbright Scholar who eventually found his way to cheese and to his own cheesemaking experiences in France. When I first met them, the brothers were seeking investors for an affinage facility in the Bay Area—a much-needed service, I thought, but backers never materialized.
Given the gravity of their food-safety work, the Food Network gig seemed incongruous to me. But not to the twins. Being entertaining on camera is not much different from the training and public speaking they do on their day jobs, says Michael. A lecture on HACCP is going to be a ratings dud if you can’t bring some energy to it.
Whether the Kalishes ever achieve TV stardom, they are certifiably grilled-cheese All Stars. Here are a few tips from Michael on elevating your grilled cheese:
- Don’t stint on butter. Spread it on both sides of both bread slices.
- Use a waffle iron. “It creates that really crunchy texture that a lot of people look for,” says Michael. Plus, you don’t have to flip the sandwich.
- If using a griddle or skillet, toast one side of each bread slice, then flip one slice, top with the cheese and the second slice, grilled side down. Cook, turning once, so that both slices of bread are grilled on both sides.
- “In L.A., they’ll mix four or five cheeses,” says Michael, “but I personally like showcasing one cheese.” The Swiss and French mountain cheeses, like Raclette, Gruyère, Beaufort and Comté, are his favorites.
- His personal best: grated Gruyère, sautéed leeks and bacon
At least in my garden, the end-of-season plum tomatoes are the sweetest. I like to roast them slowly with garlic until they almost caramelize and then enjoy them on bruschetta. Yogurt cheese or ricotta makes a creamy bed for those luscious tomato juices. Find this recipe and other autumn favorites newly posted on my website.