Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grilled Cheese Invitational: The Gooey Recap

An entry drizzled with honey

Last Saturday was the 2nd 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational and the second year in a row it was at Los Angeles Center Studios.  The event, which had both amateur and professional competitions, brought together dozens of grilled cheese makers and thousands of eaters on a warm downtown day.  The Invitational, sponsored by Oregon cheese maker Tillamook, featured a series of head to head throwdowns in the Hot Knives Thunderdome, which produced a winner in Ricardo Zarate (pictured below right), who recently was named one of the Best New Chefs by Food and Wine magazine.  Zarate's winning entry was a lamb and chorizo grilled cheese sandwich.

This year felt more organized and less crowded than last year, due to using a lot more real estate and learning from prior experience.  The lines could still be long for the grilled cheese vendors, and sadly short for the Korean taco truck etc vendors, as if you came to the Grilled Cheese Invitational, kalbi is not what you want for lunch...  This was the second appearance in a week for the soon to open Daily Dose, the downtown cafe from Christian Page and Sarkis Vartanian, following their presence at last weekend's Artisanal LA.

Ironically all the Executive Judges I knew are at least part Jewish, yet this festival was held during Passover, the one week of the year Jews are supposed to not eat bread.  I hope they will consider that when scheduling this event next year as several of the people involved with the event told me the organizer was oblivious.  As such I can't comment on the quality of any of the sandwiches as I didn't eat any due to the holiday.  Fortunately I was able to eat some of the cheese provided by the sponsor, which tided me over.

The people's judges were able to get to try the sandwiches by hooting and hollering to get samples.  Each judge had to rate every sandwich they tried on multiple dimensions and submit their ballot to a voting station (pictured below).

The crowds were well behaved and the event was quite orderly.  People were having fun trying the grilled cheese sandwiches, cheering on competitors at one of the two stages and just enjoying the people watching on a beautiful afternoon.  This year also included a beer garden, with proceeds going toward Library Park in West Hollywood.

Below are an assortment of pics from the gooey afternoon:

Lines to buy grilled cheese sandwiches

Voting station

Judges waiting for food

Contestants grilling

Contestants grilling and vamping

A mustachioed entry

Judge Elina Shatkin sampling the sandwiches

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