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GCI: Bigger, Better, Cheesier

The Afterburn: Conceived at Burning Man when a couple made something from the food they had left: avocado, tomato, turkey bacon, cheese, sourdough and a fried egg.

At the recent Grilled Cheese Invitational, the sun was as hot and golden as the honored dish. The Cheese Reverend began the festivities with a cheesy convocation, and passionate cheese poets and callers later took the stage.

More than 6,000 gathered, but the event was prepared to handle up to 8,000, a nice change from last year, when about 2,000 more people than expected showed up.  Though not as chaotic, the food truck scene still resembled the LA Street Food Fest mob, but that’s to be expected when you do the math: thousands of people to about a dozen vendors. Thankfully, a few had short waits, like the Oaks Market, which served a sandwich with Black Forest bacon, Cotswald and Thousand Island that garnered them third place in the people’s choice awards.

CoolHaus served wonderful mini ice cream sandwiches — one with a goat cheese and sour cherry ice cream and another with balsamic glazed fig mascarpone ice cream.

The beloved Grilled Cheese Truck seemed to have the longest lines despite its two trucks in attendance, so it wasn’t surprising when it won the people’s choice award for best vendor.

Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese stand, a small preview of Foundry chef Eric Greenspan’s grilled cheese restaurant opening this summer, came in second with creations like the Champ, a Foundry menu item that won him a trophy two years ago, and the Johnny Apple Cheese, made with two-year Tillamook cheddar, apples and pastrami on sourdough.

For the formal competition, GCI alumni and first-timers turned out to grill creations stuffed with personality.

Barry Goldstein, an amateur chef who won two trophies last year, got second place in the Honey Pot category with his Dessert so Delicious it Was Not Meant for Man Ding Dong. (With ingredients like cheesecake and dulce de leche and chocolate sauces, it wasn’t meant for arteries, either.) Goldstein also grilled up a Kama Sutra category entry consisting of Swiss fondue in a piece of bread with apples, grapes, and three types of mini grilled cheeses for dipping. His 6-year-old sous chef did a remarkable plating job.

Grilled cheese deluxe: herb bread, swine ham, pear butter and goat, cheddarella and Muenster cheeses.

First place in the professional Kama Sutra category went to Heather Morrison’s Da VinCheese — Kalamata olive bread, organic provolone, chèvre, Swiss, eggplant, garlic, honey, cracked peppercorn and balsamic. The tasty, refreshingly healthier masterpiece is available at eco-convenience store Locali through May.

“We love the fact that we get to dress up and grill at the same time,” said Megan Kloner Hymanson, who dressed in a toga while her husband and amateur chef Mark wore a gladiator get-up. “Grilled cheese is literally the best food in the world,” said Mark. “We start perfecting next year’s sandwich today. The Hymanson’s Bisquewich Kama Sutra entry didn’t win an award, but it cleverly included tomato bisque inside the sandwich, sans sogginess.

Limiting judges to about 1,700 (to sample from 250 contestants) helped control the mobs inside the competitors’ area, but the age-old practice of screaming, cheering and begging for a sample returned this year. No orderly lines existed, so it was pretty much survival of the loudest. I screamed myself hoarse, but I left full.

Nonetheless, the invitational was better organized this year, allowing for more cheesy cheer. It will always be crowded because people love grilled cheese, but it’s not a bad thing that Angelenos have their priorities straight.

For a full list of the winners, go to grilledcheeseinvitational.com.

The downtown scene at the GCI

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