Melanie Gifford holds a sandwich so that it can be turned over and put back on the grill. The 11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was held Saturday at
Melanie Gifford holds a sandwich so that it can be turned over and put back on the grill. The 11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was held Saturday at the Los Angeles Center Studios, 1201 W. 5th Street, in downtown. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

Gallery: 11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles

The smell of butter and cheese filled the air in downtown Los Angeles as competitors got into a heated battle of the grilled cheese sandwiches.

The 11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational on Saturday at Los Angeles Center Studios attracted more than 5,500 people from throughout the country, including more than 125 competing cooks, as well as food trucks and breweries for a celebration of the cheesy childhood classic.

"We're going to eat more grilled cheeses than ever before," said Tim Walker, founder of the Grilled Cheese Invitational.

Food Network's Rahm Fama of "Meat & Potatoes," a veteran judge who crowned a grilled cheese champion at last year's invitational in Pasadena, said he trained for this year's competition.

"I prepared for four days for this," he said. "I even made myself some grilled cheeses throughout the week."

Fama was judging the first heat of the competition and said he was looking for the perfect sandwich that's flavorful, unique yet true to the classic grilled cheese "because some people kinda go a little crazy."

Outside of the competition, people were just as enthusiastic about their grilled cheese experience.

Carlos Yugar, a junior at UC Riverside, came to the event dressed as a grilled cheese sandwich using cardboard and creativity. Yugar was promoting Feel Good, a national organization that sells grilled cheese sandwiches on college campuses to raise money to end world hunger.

"Everything is awesome right now," said Adrian Antigua of Gainsville, Fla., who was taking a short break from perusing the grilled cheese food trucks.

Antigua attended the event for the first time with friends from Oceanside.

"It's a great day today," said Antigua's friend, Ronald Armando, who as getting ready to bite into a bacon and egg grilled cheese by Cheesy Amigos Cart.

Ben and Michelle Corser of Hollywood said they were delightfully overwhelmed by all the creative takes of such a simple sandwich. The couple's strategy for the day: start with the famous classics and work up to the crazy like a Peminto Grilled Cheese by the food truck Melt.

"There's great variety," Michelle Corser said. "It's been really, really fun."


Matt Laforest, left, talks to the Big Cheese, aka Montano Sokolow, about the Angel food cake filled with cream cheese, rum and a wedge of kiwi fruit that
Matt Laforest, left, talks to the Big Cheese, aka Montano Sokolow, about the Angel food cake filled with cream cheese, rum and a wedge of kiwi fruit that he called, "Hells Angel." The 11th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was held Saturday at the Los Angeles Center Studios, 1201 W. 5th Street, in downtown. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)