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Bread, Butter, Cheese, Victory!

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Saturday was a spectacular day, full of sun and wind, and for the lucky among us, it was also full of grilled cheese sandwiches. Los Angeles State National Park is practically in the shadow of downtown. Parts of it was still green, though few people in the ever growing line to get in probably didn’t much notice. This was the First Seventh Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational (yes, you read that right.) Started by Tim Walker in his kitchen many years ago, the Invitational has ballooned to a 1700 person event, with sponsors, a beer and wine garden and no small amount of puns. Though already large, 5000 people turned out to pay their respects to the ultimate comfort food. By 3 p.m., they’d run out of beer, judging tickets (You sign a waiver, you get two tickets, which you can trade for a wedge of grilled cheese on a plate with a ballot.), and cans of juice. Still, the organizers persevered, led by MC Eric Trueheart, they soldiered bravely into the wilds, in search of the perfect grilled cheese.

Kraft was there to make sure no one went hungry, with their golden, buttery (but sadly, American cheesy) sandwiches, which was good because getting one of the fascinating culinary experiments took a good deal of work. Fighting your way to the front of the crowded tables to wave and shout (and plead and beg) for a sandwich was a challenge, and a bit chancy. You could come up with a masterpiece or with something that managed to be both burned and soggy. Then it was your job to rate this sandwich, according to flavor, presentation, inspirational qualities (or “wessonality” as it was called) and spazziness. Former winners, Hot Knives and Eric Greenspan (from the Foundry on Melrose), cooked their winning sandwiches in front of the stage.

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The benediction.
If you were both lucky and persistent, you might get some of the extra sandwiches towards the end of the heat (There were four, naughtily named heats - The Missionary Position, where the ingredients were limited to bread, butter and cheese, the Kama Sutra vegetarian, where things could get pretty wild and the Kama Sutra meat, where they could get even wilder and finally, the honey pot, which featured sweet sandwiches.), but otherwise, once your two judging tickets were gone, you were out of luck.

Using a mixture of wiles and shouting, I managed to sample part of six sandwiches, the aforementioned burned sandwich, one that involved some green stuff, some grilled onions, open-faced on wheat bread (a good one!) One that seemed more straight up grilled cheese, but it was a fatty, with thick slices of bread and white cheese, one with whiskey bbq sauce and pickle (delicious!), one with fig jam and feta on cinnamon bread and finally (I’m saving the best for last here!) a fabulous tiramisu concoction, with home made coffee bread and mascarpone cheese, drizzled in Kahlua and lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. This was definitely my favorite sam, and it won third place in the Honey Pot competition.

Behold: The tiramisu grilled cheese.
There were three first place winners. Michael Davidson, a champ from the Nor Cal competition, won in the Missionary Category, with a sandwich called “The Brick is the Trick.” He mixed three cheeses, Wisconsin Sharp cheddar, Mozzarella, and mild white cheddar, with Acme Pain au Levain bread and farmer’s market European salted butter. When the sandwich is grilling, he puts a brick on it. The Kama Sutra category was won by Brad Combs with his “Pillion’s Lament” sandwich. He combined Brie and Roquefort cheeses with braised pear, rabbit confit (which had been in duck fat for a week) and Cointreau marmalade on a brioche.

The winner of the Honey Pot competition were Crystal Carlsburg and Brian Beecher with their sandwich, “Cake and Mivens 2: The Mivens Princess.” They would not elaborate on what a mivens is, but the sandwich was made with butter, Hawaiian Sweet bread, double cream gouda, marshmallow peeps and the top layer of a princess cake (marzipan and Chantilly cream.)

The Invitational is between one thing and another. They expected a lot fewer people, but at the same time, twenty people who signed up to be grillers didn’t even show up. Walker had a hard time getting sponsors to return his calls. He had hoped to offer more food options, get a tomato soup sponsor and feature local restaurants. Hopefully the big attendance numbers and the additional media coverage will give the event some heat with vendors next year. Walker and company have got something good going on, and with any luck, it’ll become something better.Photos by Lori Matsumoto for LAist.

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