Celebrating 35 Years of Garlic at the Gilroy Garlic Festival: Gastronomic Highlights

| July 29, 2013 | 0 Comments
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Post and Photos by Gina Scialabba and Sara Bloomberg

This year marked the 35th anniversary of the ultimate summer food extravaganza— Gilroy’s Garlic Festival. It was a three-day event packed with…well, food. Lots of food. Specifically, garlic. 82 tons of fresh California garlic to be precise. The aroma was overwhelming and inviting at the same time.

The town of Gilroy is the home to the largest garlic-processor factory in the world, Gilroy Foods. Despite popular belief, China holds the rank as top garlic producer among all nations. Photo: Gina Scialabba

The town of Gilroy is the home to the largest garlic-processor factory in the world, Gilroy Foods. Despite popular belief, China holds the rank as top garlic producer among all nations. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Known as the “Garlic Capital of the World,” Gilroy ships 70 million pounds of this pungent little bulb worldwide. It’s actually a species of onion that humans have used for a variety of purposes for over 7000 years.

Garlic has evoked extreme reactions throughout history. People either passionately love it or venomously hate it.

A restaurant on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco pays tribute to everything garlic, even in its own name—The Stinking Rose—and the bulb makes a cameo appearance in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.”

San Jose State University’s mascot, The Spartan, plugs his nose as “Krazy” George Henderson, right, instructs the audience to do the same at the inaugural Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Henderson claims to have invented “the wave,” which is now ubiquitous at sporting events.  Photo: Sara Bloomberg

San Jose State University’s mascot, The Spartan, plugs his nose as “Krazy” George Henderson, right, instructs the audience to do the same at the inaugural Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Henderson claims to have invented “the wave,” which is now ubiquitous at sporting events. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

It’s known for causing bad breath, warding off blood-thirsty vampires and is believed to be a natural mosquito repellent. Every July 26-28 the sleepy town of Gilroy, about 30 miles south of San Jose, comes alive. People of all ages celebrate garlic’s unique flavor.

Armando and Liz Villarreal of Gilroy have been coming to the festival since it began in 1979. This year they brought their 9 month old grandson Josiah Barrientos for the first time. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Armando and Liz Villarreal of Gilroy have been coming to the festival since it began in 1979. This year they brought their 9 month old grandson Josiah Barrientos for the first time. Photo: Gina Scialabba

And celebrate they did. The entire community geared up for this festival put on by the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, a non-profit organization intended to support non-profit groups and projects in Gilroy.

“It started in 1979 as a way to give back to our community,” Treasurer Mike Wanzong said. The first festival was held on a small farm. It was expected to only draw about 5000 visitors. 15,000 people ended up coming.

“It was so popular, they ran out of food on the first day,” he said. Since then, the festival has continued to evolve over the years, serving everything from deep-fried rattlesnake with garlic to garlic ice cream, even garlic alligator jerky.

The majority of festival proceeds goes toward a wide range of community groups. Over its 35 years, the festival has given back over $9.7 million to sports teams, scout troops, hospitals and local choirs.

Wanzong explains the reason why the festival remains so relevant after nearly four decades is the tireless efforts of volunteers.

“Without a group of thousands of dedicated local people taking pride in what they do, we wouldn’t be here. This is truly an example of a community working together to make magic,” he said.

It takes 4000 volunteers to make it happen. Each volunteer donates their time and chooses where the funds will go. This strategy really gives community members a stake in the festival’s success.

Homemade sangria was a popular item at the festival. It was second only to beer. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Homemade sangria was a popular item at the festival. It was second only to beer. Photo: Gina Scialabba

If you’ve been to this garlicky party before, you know no two years are the same. 2013 was no exception. With over 100,000 visitors expected by the end of the weekend, there was plenty to be excited about. The festivities included cooking demonstrations, garlic-themed merchandise and even an appearance on Sunday by ABC-TV’s Chef Carla Hall from the hit television show, The Chew.

Garlic bobble-heads are one of the many garlic-inspired items for sale at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, held from July 26-28, 2013 in Gilroy, Calif. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic bobble-heads are one of the many garlic-inspired items for sale at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

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Here are a few of the highlights of the symphony of flavors and exotic tastes:

Friday marked the inaugural “Garlic Bowl,” an intercollegiate cooking jamboree matching executive chefs from San Jose State; University of California, Berkeley and Fresno State. Each team cooked in 85 degree weather, sweat dripping down their faces as they hoped to impress a group of seasoned judges and win the grand prize: a large garlic trophy, a $5000 scholarship and of course, as emcee Jason Gronlund, Vice President of Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill said, “kitchen bragging rights.”

Chef Erik Debaude from Fresno State University holds the Garlic Bowl trophy after winning first place in the Iron Chef-inspired cook-off, for which they prepared two dishes: stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce and seared duck breast with a red currant sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and goat cheese-stuffed figs. They competed against chefs from San Jose State University and the University of California, Berkeley at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Chef Erik Debaude from Fresno State University holds the Garlic Bowl trophy after winning first place in the Iron Chef-inspired cook-off, for which they prepared two dishes: stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce and seared duck breast with a red currant sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and goat cheese-stuffed figs. They competed against chefs from San Jose State University and the University of California, Berkeley at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

The rules were simple. Each team had to prepare two dishes from scratch using a minimum of six cloves of garlic. They were given one hour from start to finish with an audience of over 200 cheering fans looking on from the bleachers.

Hundreds of fans packed into Cook-Off Theater to watch their favorite schools battle it out for the grand prize of $5,000.  San Jose State’s Spartan mascot sat with fans, hoping his school capture the victory. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Hundreds of fans packed into Cook-Off Theater to watch their favorite schools battle it out for the grand prize of $5,000. San Jose State’s Spartan mascot sat with fans, hoping his school capture the victory. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Tensions ran high. Temperatures ran hot. And the pressure was on.

Chef Bryan Kramer from Fresno State University chops garlic for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Chef Bryan Kramer from Fresno State University chops garlic for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

San Jose State Chef Michele Rogers and Sous Chef Carlos Duque were ambitious. They went all out with two dishes: “Surf” and “Turf.”

Chef Michele Rogers from San Jose State University seasons a dish that she’s preparing during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Chef Michele Rogers from San Jose State University seasons a dish that she’s preparing during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Sous Chef Carlos Duque processes garlic for the “Surf” and “Turf” creation. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Sous Chef Carlos Duque processes garlic for the “Surf” and “Turf” creation. Photo: Gina Scialabba

The “Surf” included six key ingredients: poached lobster, brioche, bacon jam, roasted garlic, herb salad and garlic chips.

Bacon sizzles in the pan. It became part of the bacon jam used in lobster dish. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Bacon sizzles in the pan. It became part of the bacon jam used in lobster dish. Photo: Gina Scialabba

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Michele Rogers and Carlos Duque from San Jose State University for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Called “Surf,” it consisted of brioche with brie, smoked applewood bacon jam, butter and garlic poached lobster with heirloom tomatoes and an herb salad with garlic chips. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Michele Rogers and Carlos Duque from San Jose State University for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Called “Surf,” it consisted of brioche with brie, smoked applewood bacon jam, butter and garlic poached lobster with heirloom tomatoes and an herb salad with garlic chips. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

The “Turf” had seven key ingredients anchored by sliced Kobe beef, puff pastry, roasted garlic, lots of mushrooms, sautéed baby spinach, frisee salad and chicken liver paté.

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Michele Rogers and Carlos Duque from San Jose State University for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Called “Turf,” it consisted of grilled beef, puff pastry, garlic roasted mushrooms, sautéed spinach, a frisee salad and chicken liver paté. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Michele Rogers and Carlos Duque from San Jose State University for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Called “Turf,” it consisted of grilled beef, puff pastry, garlic roasted mushrooms, sautéed spinach, a frisee salad and chicken liver paté. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Erik Debaude and Bryan Kramer from Fresno State University for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It consisted of seared duck breast with a red currant sauce, garlic purple mashed potatoes with a beet croustillant and stuffed figs with chive and garlic goat cheese. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Erik Debaude and Bryan Kramer from Fresno State University for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It consisted of seared duck breast with a red currant sauce, garlic purple mashed potatoes with a beet croustillant and stuffed figs with chive and garlic goat cheese. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

“It’s basically a deconstructed Beef Wellington,” Duque said.

The tag-team duo of Chef Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen from U.C. Berkeley were not to be outdone.

Chefs Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen from the University of California, Berkeley participate in the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Chefs Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen from the University of California, Berkeley participate in the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

They wowed judges with their bouillabaisse-inspired, garlic infused seared halibut and summer vegetable hash creation. It included fresh halibut, summer squash, fennel and a garlic nage (a combination of chicken broth, white wine and, of course, garlic).

Chef Mary Ferrer from the University of California, Berkeley seasons a dish during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara BloombergChef Mary Ferrer from the University of California, Berkeley adds a garlic nage (a broth and wine based liquid) to dish during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg
One of two dishes prepared by chefs Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen from the University of California, Berkeley for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It consisted of seared halibut with summer vegetable hash, a bacon-garlic nage and a Lebanese garlic mousse, known as a “toum.” Photo: Sara Bloomberg

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen from the University of California, Berkeley for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It consisted of seared halibut with summer vegetable hash, a bacon-garlic nage and a Lebanese garlic mousse, known as a “toum.” Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Their St. Joseph’s Pastry with a Garlic Almond Brittle was the showstopper. Unfortunately, they didn’t plate it in time for judging.

One of two dishes prepared by chefs Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen from the University of California, Berkeley for the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It was the only dessert presented during the competition and consisted of a St. Joseph’s pastry with garlic almond brittle. The dish wasn’t plated in time to be considered for scoring but the judges were impressed and said it was an ambitious dish worthy of praise. Photo: Sara BloombergA judge at the Garlic Bowl cook-off tries a St. Joseph’s pastry with garlic almond brittle that was prepared by chefs Mary Ferrer and Ida Shen. The dish wasn’t plated in time to be considered for scoring but the judges were impressed and said it was an ambitious dish worthy of praise. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

“This is a dish I would have been talking about afterward,” said judge Ward Bushee, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It would’ve been a very strong contender.”

But in the end, Fresno State stole the show. Chefs Erik Debaude, originally from Paris, France and Sous Chef Bryan Kramer created a dish that blew the judges away.

They made stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce.

Chef Erik Debaude prepares corn and St. André stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Chef Erik Debaude prepares corn and St. André stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Corn and St. André stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce prepared by chefs Erik Debaude and Bryan Kramer during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Corn and St. André stuffed crepes with a tarragon and lavender garlic cream sauce prepared by chefs Erik Debaude and Bryan Kramer during the Garlic Bowl cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

One of the judges, Beat Giger, Master Chef and Director of Special Events at Pebble Beach Resorts was very impressed.

“I would be proud to serve this dish at Pebble Beach,” he said.

Judge Beat Giger was one of five distinguished judges on the panel. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Judge Beat Giger was one of five distinguished judges on the panel. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Next, the competition took to the pit. The barbecue pit. The “Pigs in the Park with Garlic” pork rib competition set four local teams against each other: Bad Boyz of BBQ, Pig Night Run, Catering by Five and Big Ed’s Buzzard BBQ. They competed for the grand prize of $500 and, of course, major bragging rights. Each team was comprised of pit masters who have been grillin’ up pork ribs for years. Each had their own special, “secret” recipe. So secret, in fact, we were unable to obtain a copy of ingredients used in each dish.

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Aside from the cooking competition, festival-goers had their pick from over 60 food vendors, including Gourmet Alley, a place where gastronomic explorers could choose culinary garlic delights prepared by master chefs. This year, “Zesty Garlic Fried Calamari” was a popular choice. You could also find everything from alligator jerky to main-staple garlic bread and even garlic wine.

Just around the corner from Gourmet Alley, crowds of people watched as cooks performed their garlic-inspired mastery at the Demonstration Booth on opening day. Volunteers Rich Janisch and Scott Povio have 34 years of combined experience at the festival. They aren’t professional chefs, but they don’t need to be. They love food. They love garlic and they love cooking.

Amateur chef Rich Janisch watches as flames engulf his pan at the demonstration booth and fly towards a startled crowd of people watching only a few feet away on July 26, 2013 at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Janisch has been volunteering at the festival for several years. Photo: Sara BloombergSauce flies in a pan at the demonstration booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Rich Janisch (left) and Scott Povio (right) of Gilroy have been volunteering at the festival for years. Neither are professional chefs. They just love to cook, especially with garlic. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Rich Janisch (left) and Scott Povio (right) of Gilroy have been volunteering at the festival for years. Neither are professional chefs. They just love to cook, especially with garlic. Photo: Gina Scialabba

“This is the greatest weekend of the year,” Janisch said. “Better than Christmas.”

Here are some gastronomic highlights from this year’s festival:

Garlic Ice Cream

A volunteer holds garlic ice cream samples at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

A volunteer holds garlic ice cream samples at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic Peanut Butter Cup: Milk Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Garlic

A chocolate peanut butter cup with garlic for sale by The Garlic Shoppe at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The garlic is in the peanut butter center. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

A chocolate peanut butter cup with garlic for sale by The Garlic Shoppe at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The garlic is in the peanut butter center. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic Lollipop

Garlic lolipops for sale by The Garlic Shoppe at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic lolipops for sale by The Garlic Shoppe at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic Blue Cheese Butter

Garlic inspired condiments for sale by The Garlic Shoppe at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic inspired condiments for sale by The Garlic Shoppe at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic Fries

Garlic fries are popular at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Garlic fries are popular at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Artichoke Veggie Pizza with Garlic

Artichoke Veggie Pizza with Garlic is made with homemade flatbread from Wheat Valley Bakery in Gilroy. Employees Dinara Utarova and Inanna Eshoo explained that they mix minced garlic into the sauce and sprinkle garlic powder over the prepared dish to make the flavors stand out. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Artichoke Veggie Pizza with Garlic is made with homemade flatbread from Wheat Valley Bakery in Gilroy. Employees Dinara Utarova and Inanna Eshoo explained that they mix minced garlic into the sauce and sprinkle garlic powder over the prepared dish to make the flavors stand out. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Alligator Jerky

Alligator Jerky was one of the more exotic items at the food booths.   These alligators aren’t locals. The company ships them in from Louisiana. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Alligator Jerky was one of the more exotic items at the food booths. These alligators aren’t locals. The company ships them in from Louisiana. Photo: Gina Scialabba

Garlic Mussels

Gigi Reloj hands a customer a basket of freshly cooked garlic mussels at the Powder Keg booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The restaurant sold about 200 pounds of mussels on the first day of the festival and estimates that they will have sold around 900 pounds by the end of the three-day-long festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Gigi Reloj hands a customer a basket of freshly cooked garlic mussels at the Powder Keg booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The restaurant sold about 200 pounds of mussels on the first day of the festival and estimates that they will have sold around 900 pounds by the end of the three-day-long festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

Zesty Garlic Fried Calamari

Zesty Fried Garlic Calamari was new this year.” Photo: Gina Scialabba

Zesty Fried Garlic Calamari was new this year.” Photo: Gina Scialabba

Garlic Wine

An assortment of wines by the Rapazzini Winery, based in Gilroy, Calif., including a red and a white garlic-infused wine that are available for tasting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

An assortment of wines by the Rapazzini Winery, based in Gilroy, Calif., including a red and a white garlic-infused wine that are available for tasting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Sara Bloomberg

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About the Author ()

Gina Scialabba is a journalist and practicing attorney based in San Francisco. She's a regular contributor to KQED Pop and now Bay Area Bites. When she's not reading a novel, newspaper or watching Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy or Anthony Bourdain, she's taking advantage of the richness and diversity of Bay Area culinary life. She also loves to travel. Next Stop: Vietnam, Thailand and Korea.