Needs More Garlic
“Let’s go to the Gilroy Garlic Festival this year,” suggested Mr. Spice, “I’ve never been.” Neither had I, so we made arrangements to attend this annual garlic-pa-looza in the northern Central Coast town of Gilroy toward the end of July. When I mentioned to friends our plans to attend the festival, most had attended at some point in the past 32 years and I often detected a wariness about how crazy this event was with so many attendees over the weekend—approximately 100,000 visitors over three days. Despite our aversion to crowds, curiosity got the better of us and we headed north on Highway 101 straight for Garlic Town at the height of summertime.
Thirty three years ago, Gilroy established its stinky yet philanthropic place on the map when the founders created the Gilroy Garlic Festival both to celebrate the town’s most ubiquitous culinary product and to utilize the festival structure to raise funds for local non-profits. Four thousand volunteers from a wide range of charitable organizations help make this enormous festival happen—from directing cars to prepping and cooking oodles of garlic for the many booths offering food throughout the weekend, the volunteers make all the moving parts of the festival work. Yes, there were lots of people at this event and the late July day was really hot, but because everyone was happy from having eaten way too much chopped, crushed, roasted, sprinkled and everything else garlic (including the infamous garlic ice cream) the energy at this event was really fun if mildly cheesy.
The Gilroy Garlic Festival is not an overtly foodie event such as the World of Pinot Noir or Pebble Beach Food & Wine but it performs a foodie function nonetheless. Although not the most sophisticated event food event I’ve ever attended—lots of people wore garlic hats during the festival—the Gilroy Garlic Festival makes up for it with heart. With sheer abandon, Pyro Chefs in Gourmet Alley pile on flavor with scoop after scoop of garlic, inspiring the crowd to impressed “oohs” and “ahhs” at the spectacle of leaping flames and aggressive cooking. Hopefully all this spectacle encourages attendees to integrate garlic more deeply into their own cooking. Garlic hats worn without irony, the euphoria of people dancing to a good beat who had eaten way too much garlic, garlic art, Scope mouthwash’s sponsorship of the festival—lots of good humor everywhere.
Garlic Drama on the Cook Off Stage
The Cook Off Stage with its shaded roof and good view of whatever featured chefs were preparing was a great place to spend some time, taking a rest from the sun and watching amateur and professional chefs hard at work. Top Chef participant Chef Angelo Sosa was often on stage throughout the weekend. For two tense hours on Saturday morning, this comfortable space with great views of individual cooking stations served as the testing ground of the Great Gilroy Garlic Cook Off. Among eight worthy contestants, Jamie Brown-Miller of Napa won with her recipe for Stacked Steak Napoleon on Garlic Paper with Asparagus, Radicchio, Shitakes, and Stilton. Later in the weekend, the Garlic Showdown featured four professional Bay Area chefs with Chef Dean Dupuis and his team from Pican Restaurant in Oakland taking home top prize.
Garlic in the Garden and Kitchen
At the Garlic Grove booth, we picked up some cultivation tips and a bag of fresh cloves ready for fall planting. We really enjoy growing garlic in our garden because not only is this plant very low maintenance but it also serves as a passive pest preventer for neighboring plants. Organic Gardening magazine offers some advice for growing garlic in the home garden. All this garlic got me in mind of my family’s garlic salad recipe. With an eye toward whole food eating, we’ve reworked a favorite family recipe, Hope’s Garlic Salad, California Style.