Posts Tagged ‘L.A. Events’

When I heard that this year’s Grilled Cheese Invitational was going to be held at the Rose Bowl, I kind of freaked out.  I mean, being a lifetime resident of Los Angeles, the Rose Bowl holds a certain aura:  it’s the arena where legends have been made, where epic concerts have been held.  Sure, the event was being held in the parking lot, but… it was still the frickin’ Rose Bowl!

Now, if you’ve been around me long enough, you know one of the things I live for is this competition.  My first one was four years ago, and I was hooked.  Sometime around January, my idle thoughts will turn to grilled cheese, long before they set the date for the event.  My friends are tortured by my constant ideas about what I could stick between two pieces of bread that would make a winning sandwich; I subject them to rounds of tastings, trying to pull out opinions of how to make my ideas better.  One of my best friends, Moris, supplies me with all manner of cheesy puns to use for naming my creations.

This year was going to be different.  The past three years of walking away empty-handed gave me the experience of how to make good use of my time during the competition.  I knew to print labels for my sample plates (no more “what’s in this?”) and I knew how to prep in such a way that my samples came out fast and hot.  I was ready for victory. 

We arrived bright and early, ready to do battle in the first two heats.  And when I say heats, I’m not joking.  It was hot you guys.

Talking to our neighbor for the first two heats, and we’ve got our game faces ON.

When the spatulas dropped, we got to work.  First up, we had our Love, American Style sandwich, Cheeses Crust, Superstar.  It’s your classic grilled cheese:  white bread, American or Cheddar cheese, and butter.  I made my own bread, of course, with the recipe taken from my grandmother’s old Better Homes & Gardens 1960’s red-checkered cookbook.

I’ll forgive my official photographer for not getting a picture–it was a good sandwich.

We never got a picture of our Honey Pot entry, Lady Lemon Licker.  And, if any of you fine folks out there who attended, if you got a picture, can you help a girl out?  I was so focused on getting out my samples I forgot to get Choo to take a picture!

So, after getting our sandwiches out, we had several hours to burn and several friends who traveled from all over the country to come see me compete.  And, not only that, these wonderful people made sure I was never without beer the rest of the afternoon.  The time came to hear the winners.  I waited near the stage; it was nothing new, we had done this before.

And then this happened:

Trophy Number One  (Sorry you guys, you’ll have to click the link for the video, THANKS, WordPress!)

I think this picture really captures it for us.  And I’d say it was the beer, but I was NOT letting go of that trophy!

But… we weren’t done yet:  Trophy Number Two

Look it that!  Trophies won!  At the frickin’ Rose Bowl!

And there we are with our friends, Jodi & Sparky, who also won (2nd place Honey Pot, Spaz, and Frontiers in Fromage), and, YES, I’m on the phone with my mom!  Who do you call when you win something like that?  Mom, of course!  I don’t think I made much sense, but she was happy for me.

After all the cheese and all the beer and all the trophies, it was time to celebrate.  We headed to 1886 in Pasadena, which has a gorgeous patio that was just the right size for our little party, and I took some time to bask in the glow of being a winner:

You know I’m coming back next year; I have more categories to win.  Team FigJam:  in it to win it for 2013!

And, since I don’t want to be rude, I’d like to thank my friends:

  • David Schneider, my official photographer.  You can see the rest of his pictures from this event here.
  • Chris, who took the video of my wins, and his sister, Katie, who came all the way out from Atlanta!
  • Margaret, my favorite co-worker, who showed up and screamed and cheered us on the entire way.
  • Moris, Cristhian, Jodi, Sparky, Mike, and especially Jason, who even after I set his oven afire earlier this year, still let me do a test run in his kitchen without batting an eye;  I’ve tortured you with enough grilled cheese to last you the rest of 2012.
  • Jeff and Ange and their friends, who all were down from San Francisco and cheered me on, too.

I have awesome friends.  I attribute my win to you guys; you helped make it happen.


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This Saturday was The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational, and Choo and I came ready to eat, grill, and hopefully win.  The morning was my kind of morning, with a nice overcast sky that would help keep the day somewhat cool once the marine layer burned off. We arrived at 9 AM to sign up with the other competitors:

This year, there were categories for professionals and amateurs;  even though it’s been about six years since I’ve cooked professionally, I decided to play fair when the application asked if I had ever worked as a chef or cook.   This did, however, allow for more awards, so more people had chances to win, which I consider a good thing.  Then again, it did put me in the pool with The Big Boys, which meant I needed to bring my A-game.

Since we arrived well before the Invitational was open to the public, Choo and I took a little time to explore the site.

The competitor’s area, just before the storm:

Some of L.A.’s popular food trucks arrived to sell their versions of grilled cheese and other fabulous snacks:

Even though I didn’t get a picture of their truck, I hit the Sweets Truck to get a caffeine fix for the two of us, along with a Red Velvet and a Carrot Cake Whoopie Pie (I sampled both, and chose the Carrot Cake, which was fantastic)–perfect for a mid-morning sugar rush while we settled in to a nice spot under a tree.  We camped out until our heat rolled around at 2:55, getting a chance to hit all the free samples supplied by the fantastic people of Tillamook and meeting some of our fellow competitors.


Some of my friends remember my run-in with The Chicken.  He was back. 

And he brought a friend.

Oh, great.  A double batch of nightmares!

Finally, it was grilling time.

Setting up my station:

Now, let’s talk about my sandwich.  I called it Peary’s Got The Blues, and entered it into the Honey Pot (the dessert category).   The PGTB had a homemade Vanilla Pound Cake, Mascarpone & Cambozola cheeses, homemade Pear-Port Butter, homemade Dulce de Leche, and Toasted Hazelnuts.  It took some work to create the perfect sandwich–in theory, I knew all the flavors would make a perfect mesh, but my problem was when I grilled the sandwich, by the time it was browned, the cheeses broke and when I sliced it, everything would squish out into a puddle.  I finally came by a solution (which I’m not going to share, but it’s what I spent 2 years and $32K for culinary school for) and it worked.   I mean, how could pound cake fried in butter not be awesome?

No, we didn’t win, sadly.  I gave it my best shot, and we had a good time, which is really what it’s about, right? 

I do have one thing I really need to get off my chest, because the action of one person really burned my britches.  See,  there was a group of people from the general public who signed up to become judges; they were responsible for getting samples and checking off on the ballots they received.  Most everyone we encountered was polite and curious about our sandwich, and we received a great amount of positive feedback.  Unfortunately, there was one guy who collected samples, ate his share, then dumped his stack of plates with the ballots untouched at the corner of my station.  This was so wrong on so many levels, since, first of all, dumping a stack of used plates right next to where I’m preparing food is disgusting.  Then, for not just myself, but speaking for the other competitors who lost a ballot due to this jerk’s actions lost a vote, when we compete, we’re putting our time, our energy and our money into being a part of this competition.  To not vote for our entries is theft, plain and simple. 

So, Mr. “Judge,” you’ve won this very special award:

Go on, hang it on your wall.  You earned it. 

Other than that hiccup, it was a great day, and I was thrilled to see Jodie & Sparky, who we hung out with before the competition, win first prize in the Amateur Kama Sutra category (a mini-ciabatta stuffed with a bbq-ish chicken, bacon, and some lovely super-melty cheese that really deserved the win). 

Now it’s time for me to start plotting for next year’s event.  I’m already thinking the keyword there just might be pralines.

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There are three things that one can be sure to be seen when it’s Springtime here in my neck of the woods:  a vase full of daffodils (they’re like a fistful of sunshine), strawberries waiting to be made into jam, and ME, at TomatoMania, agonizing over the 200+ varieties of tomatoes. 

 See, I’ll tell you something–I’m a cold weather person.  Bright sun and the heat make me wilt like a tulip.  Come February, though, a small gnawing at the edge of my appetite appears, low and slow; I barely notice it at first, but come March and the burst of sun and warmth that approaches, I know that it is my very being craving a fresh tomato.  Sure, there’s those overpriced styrofoam balls at the supermarket, and if you want to call them tomatoes, but, really, you know what I’m talking about:  a still warm from the sun, perfectly ripe tomato that can only come straight from a plant in the backyard. 

This, of course, is why TomatoMania is just so goshdarn popular, because I know I’m not the only one who feels the same way.  If you love tomatoes, or love to garden, and you’re in the L.A. area, this is definitely worth a stop, if you haven’t been before.  Just walking through all those darling little baby tomato plants will just put a spring in your step.

My favorite part of the whole experience is seeing all the different varieties available, especially the ones with the fun  names.  Berkeley Tie-Dye Heart?  Missouri Pink Love Apple?  Consider me tickled.

The worst part of going?  Due to space constraints, I have room for only four plants.  Four!  Do you know how excruciating it is for me to pick only four?  In a perfect world, I’d have at least twenty, and then I would be up to my knees in tomatoes and sick of them by October, which is how it should be. 

This year’s picks:

From left to right, Momotaro (it caught my eye due to it being labeled heat-resistant–an advantage here in the San Fernando Valley), Sun Gold (an orange cherry, and a favorite), Enchanted (a small/medium dark pink), and Black Cherry (the name says it all, a dark purple cherry);  plus, two basil plants.  Because, you know, if you’re going to have fresh tomatoes around, it’s best to have some fresh basil, too.  Now, if I had the space for a cow for the fresh milk to make mozzarella, we would be In. Business. 

There’s just no way in this world I could say anything bad about TomatoMania and the people who run it.  They bring out a remarkable amount of seedlings to suit just about every tomato-based whim, and they love what they do.  This weekend, they will be at Tapia Brothers Farm Stand in Encino, on 5251 Hayvenhurst, right next to the 101 Freeway (closest cross-street Burbank), and will be there all weekend.  Don’t fret if you can’t make it this weekend, as they’ll be back in Arcadia for the L.A. Garden Show April 30-May 2nd, and for our Ventura County neighbors, they’ll be in Ojai April 23rd-25th.  They also have some stops in Northern California, Maryland, and Connecticut, so stop at their website for their schedule.  Happy Tomato Growing!

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Photo Credit: DineLA

Coming back for a second run this year (last time was at the end of January), is dineLA’s Restaurant Week; an event put on by The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, American Express, and the Los Angeles Restaurant Community to promote some of L.A.’s great restaurants to locals and tourists.  Some of L.A.’s most famous are on the list, and in providing prix fixe three-course meals with special low prices, it’s an opportunity to sample some of the best this city has to offer.

We didn’t hear about it last time until it was almost too late, when I started to call to make reservations, everyone was booked!  That is, except for Roy’s in Woodland Hills, who happily took us in.  Yes, I know they’re a chain, but we had an entirely pleasant dining experience, and I discovered the best Maitai in the San Fernando Valley.

There’s a few favorites there, along with a former employer, and The Sky Room, which holds a very dear place in my heart, as it’s where Choo and I went on some of our earliest dates.

You know what the best part of the timing of this Restaurant Week is?  My birthday lands right smack in the middle of it.   I’m going to have a hard time deciding on where to go this time.

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