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Two Local Amateur Chefs Cooking Up Strategies for World Food Championships

George Levinthal, L.J. Washington will compete against 500 fellow amateurs and professionals at Las Vegas contest

The adrenaline rush of cooking before a timer buzzes, the theater of performing in front of an audience and a genuine love for the craft are key ingredients to any cooking contest.

Those are just a few of the things George Levinthal is looking forward to when the Goleta resident competes against 500 fellow amateur and professional chefs at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas later this month.

He’s never been, but Carpinteria resident and amateur chef L.J. Washington has. She will return to the global competition for the second year in a row, hoping to finally take home the top $100,000 prize.

The two locals became unlikely friends four years ago when their love of cooking spilled into competitive pursuits and grilling contests, a stark contrast from their day jobs.

Levinthal, 65, is a senior project manager with UC Santa Barbara design and construction services who slowly gained confidence in his burger-grilling abilities.

Washington, 43, is a New Orleans native and former travel nurse who decided to stay on the Central Coast more than six years ago. After co-workers complimented her Creole-inspired cookies, she started her own side business, L.J.’s Southern Belle Cookies.

Both have wielded spatulas, spoons and knives as long as they can remember, honing recipes and winning contests to land spots in the championship, set for Nov. 12-18.

“Pros and Joes,” Levinthal told Noozhawk. “It’s going to be exciting. It’s fun. It’s a departure from everyday work.”

Levinthal and Washington will compete in one of nine categories — burgers and sandwiches, respectively — for a chance to win $10,000. Tops winners go on.

Last year, Washington earned seventh place in the sandwiches category, competing against up to 50 participants in the taped contest.

She automatically earned her spot in this year’s championship with that finish, and beat out two local professional chefs in a sandwich competition to get to Vegas in the first place. Washington has also appeared on the Today Show Father’s Day Burger Battle in New York City and won the Carpinteria Chili-Cookoff with her hickory smoke-infused pork and beef chili.

Levinthal, past two-time winner of the Los Angeles Times Battle of the Burgers, won a bid with the kicked-up all-American cheeseburger recipe he submitted to Just a Pinch website. He’s also won local barbecue contests and was flown to New York to tape a segment on the Cooking Channel’s Perfect 3 for his cornbread pudding.

Like good sports, the pair plans to serve as each other’s sous-chef assistant, since they cook at different times.

Each will create two dishes, one of their own original recipe and a second based on a contest prompt.

“It’s been quite challenging,” Washington said. “I already know we’re going to make the Top 10.”

They’re glad to have each other’s support, and neither would rule out pursuing cooking as a career if they win.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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