L.J. Washington caught the competitive-cooking bug bad, thanks in large part to this newspaper, having won The Santa Barbara Independent’s 2012 Sandwich Showdown by beating two professional chefs. Since then, this Carpinteria resident, who is originally from New Orleans, won a KEYT Backyard BBQ Contest, a Carpinteria Chili Cookoff, and took part in the Today show Father’s Day Burger Battle, where she got to schmooze with Giada De Laurentiis. (“There was a lot of giggling and girl talk; it was really wonderful,” Washington recalled. “I’ll treasure that one.”)
Now she’s off to Las Vegas for the second time, hoping to be crowned as the best sandwich-maker at the World Food Championships (WFC), which runs November 12-18. She thought her sous chef would be George Levinthal, another Indy food contest victor (he’s won our amateur BBQ division twice) who’s become Washington’s friend. But then Levinthal made the cut for the WFC’s hamburger division (he’s also won Los Angeles Times’ Battle of the Burgers twice), so now they’ll be helping each other out, as much as the crazy schedule of three rounds per category, nine categories, and 550 competitors permits.
The two are running taste tests to perfect their entries, and that hurts, for as Washington said, “Every time I create things, I gain five to 10 pounds.”
“I really don’t eat that much red meat normally,” admitted Levinthal with a grimace, “so I can really feel it.” But they’re both quite jazzed to be part of such a showdown amid the taping of a television show that will be aired next spring.
“[My wife] Carol made me a chef’s coat with ‘Chez George’ on it, so I can wear it and look important, too,” joked Levinthal, who’ll be competing against both pros and amateurs like himself. “It’s fun,” he said. “It gets the creative juices flowing.” Added Washington, “And you get a little recognition, which makes you feel good.” Who knows how good she might feel if she does better than her impressive 7th place finish last year?