Though they're officially retired from competition, Hot Knives cheese and beer barons Alex Brown and Evan George will host/incite a fierce new throwdown at this weekend's Grilled Cheese Invitational — a brutal grilled cheese Thunderdome in which two chefs enter, one chef leaves.

While the main competition features a new four-category format, on a side-stage not too far from the cheese-yodeling, Hot Knives will pit half-a-dozen professional chefs against each other in head-to-head grilled cheese cook-offs with the audience deciding the winner.

Brown and George won't reveal the brackets, but the participants include…

Sea salt-loving Walter Manzke, Food + Wine's Best New Chef Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica), past GCI winner Eric Greenspan (The Foundry), recently promoted Eric Samaniego (Comme Ça), exotic burger-maker Micah Fields (The Standard), and Josiah Citrin's former chef de cuisine Nyesha Arrington (Caché). Mark Peel will also step into the Thunderdome — but only to do a demo, not to compete.

The chef battles will culminate in a first-ever North vs. South showdown between Hot Knives and their arch-rival, Heidi Gibson. Proprietor of San Francisco's American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and the winningest competitor in GCI history, Gibson will answer the challenge laid down by Brown:

“The gloves are off. It's real this time. Bring it!”

Reached at the remote Hot Knives training ranch where he was doing bicep curls with hundred-pound wheels of gruyere and downing Vieux Boulogne like it's Philly cream cheese, Brown had harsh words for his nemesis, describing her as tough but predictable.

“Heidi tends toward a classic vibe, where we rely on more obscure ingredients,” Brown says. “While her execution is spot on, her ingredients tend to be a little pedestrian. So I think we'll win there.”

Should you believe the predictions of a man who uses his cat as a dowsing rod for beer pairings? We're not sure. We are sure that on Saturday, downtown's massive Center Studios production facility will smell like burning cheese and toasted butter for five insane hours.

LA Weekly