J.J. Abrams and the Grilled Cheese Guy

Michael Davidson reveals his true career goal. Plus, the Food Craft Institute is now taking applicants.



Michael Davidson, aka The Grilled Cheese Guy, has a life that runs like a screenplay. After moving to the Bay Area to pursue a career in medical diagnostics, he hurt both his hands in two freak biking accidents. His day job soon became too physically grueling and he needed an out. When a national grilled cheese competition came to town, Davidson thought, "By gosh, maybe this is my chance!" On a wing and a prayer, he went all in ... and lost.

Don't worry: Even the Karate Kid got beat up a few times before winning the title. Davidson upped his grilled cheese game and returned to the competition the following year, earning the first-place trophy! Roll credits? Not so fast.

After taking home his trophy, Davidson started hustling around the Bay Area, catering private events and popping up at festivals. He did quite well, gaining a loyal following and several more national trophies, and launching a popular mobile food showcase called Behind the Cart. Happily ever after? Not quite.

Not content to be merely a scientist or a grilled-cheese guy either, Davidson once again has taken an unexpected career twist. Apparently after his day job and his night job are through, he stays up until the wee hours banging out short stories, scripts, and screenplays. As it turns out, the grilled cheese thing was a bit of a smokescreen, a way to launch Davidson into his real career goal: writing science fiction.

Now, the Oakland resident has dreamed up his biggest idea yet. And he won't rest until he's pitched it to writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams. In a shameless bit of self-promotion (in which I am now complicit), Davidson is leveraging the power of his social media following to attract Abrams' attention. Like Robert Gibbs, the overweight Livermore man who recently used the viral impact of YouTube to connect with Dr. Phil, Davidson is sending his plea out into the universe.

"Food was never my end goal," said Davidson. "Now that I have 1,000 grilled cheese-loving followers, I'm using that power as a ploy to achieve what I really want."

His pitch to Abrams will consist of two simple questions. 1) What is something tangible (think bullets or petroleum, not war or hunger) in the world that you would want to disappear? and 2) What is something you would never want to disappear? Davidson says these questions abstractly sum up his idea for a mysterious new TV series, and they are sure to pique Abrams' notorious curiosity.

Despite being a reluctant Twitter user, Davidson recognizes its inherent power as a social connector. In the past, he has used social media strategies to connect with Goldie Hawn ("I thought she was dead!") and to get free passes to the Macworld convention. And until his followers help get Abrams on the phone, Davidson is going on strike.

Okay, technically it's a virtual strike: He's shutting down his website, Facebook, and Twitter pages. If you need any grilled cheese at an event, give him a call: 510-502-0757.

Food Institute Taking Applicants

If you're looking for ways to perfect your strawberry preserves recipe, there's certainly no lack of options. But Food Craft Institute, the school in Jack London Square that will open its doors in April, is not for the casual jammer. The institute, founded by Anya Fernald of the Eat Real Festival, is for the home artisan who is looking to get serious about his craft.

"This isn't a school for people who want to throw great dinner parties," said Fernald. "It's for people who want to change their lives, and are looking for more meaningful work in the food industry."

The institute offers twelve-week, intensive seminars taught by working, top-shelf food professionals like June Taylor from June Taylor Jams, Todd Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen, and James Freeman from Blue Bottle Coffee. At $2,750 each, classes aren't cheap, but by the end you will gain all the skills required to start a food business from the ground floor up.

The first class, Jams, Marmalades, and Chutneys, starts April 21, and apparently the cost hasn't proven too prohibitive; thirty applicants contended for ten slots. Future classes include Pickles, Krauts, and Ferments; Coffee Bar 101; a five-day, $800 seminar on business basics for food startups; and a two-day, $175 "black belt" workshop on charcuterie for experienced professionals.

Can the already-crowded market for small-batch foodstuffs sustain all of the institute's graduates? Director Marcy Coburn thinks so. "It's all about being creative, researching what's already on the shelves, and filling holes," she said. Besides, not all students will want to start their own businesses. Many graduates will seek positions in preexisting food companies, or will use the classes as professional development.

If Food Craft Institute sounds right for you but the cost seems prohibitive, apply for one of their scholarships. Visit FoodCraftInstitute.org and complete the pre-registration process; someone will get back to you shortly.

Food Craft Institute, 65 Webster Street, Oakland, 510-250-7811.