Traveling south on the 101 through Gilroy, light fog hugged the black night sky. It wasn’t long before the car was enveloped by the pleasantly profuse aroma of garlic; heady like a lavender field in Provence. I turned to my wife at the wheel. Our eyes met, we shared a smile. For us it was a homecoming of sorts—we lived in Monterey for a handful of years in the 90s and this trek was Mrs. W’s commute while she studied at SJSU. We continued on to the peninsula that evening, but the allium olfaction was merely an amuse-bouche to what we experienced upon our return to Gilroy a few days later.
My first visit to the Gilroy Garlic Festival was all I had hoped it would be—anything and everything garlic. Throw in a picturesque setting, a congenial crowd of enthusiasts and booths to sample garlicky fare; I wondered why I hadn’t attended the event sooner. As festivals go, I was impressed with the high level of organization: by the clear cut directional signs from the highway, traffic control assisted by CHP, to civic leadership and throngs of community volunteers who made accessing the event at Christmas Hill Park easy.
Along with my appetite I made sure to bring the camera. I’d love for you to experience a taste of the 2013 Gilroy Garlic Festival with me in pictures and words, from start to finish.
From the orchestrated parking lots you traverse a large field where flags mark a short, wooded trail to the entrance. Once through the gates, open expanses of food vendors, displays, concert stages, kid and teen activity centers and a kitchen stadium offered engaging opportunities for the whole family. We did a “once around the block” to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the park.
I was naturally attracted to our first stop: the MMXIII Garlic Bowl marking its debut at the festival this year. This intercollegiate cooking exhibition pitted chefs from the University of California at Berkeley, San Jose State University, and Fresno State University in a head to head competition. While we were rooting for Mrs. W’s alma mater, the top prize was a $5,000 cash scholarship awarded to Executive Chef Erik Debaude and Sous Chef Bryan Kramer of Fresno State who took the Garlic Bowl trophy home.
By this point of the competition hypnotic aromas filled the air. I was being seriously romanced by lavender, butter, seared meats and of course, garlic. My hunger took over as it was time to pay homage to the culinary bulb.
The midday sun warmed up nicely, the crowds surged and sauté pans were fully employed as the scent of garlic was inescapable. Here’s a smattering of the festival fare offered.
Gourmet Alley, a specific section of the festival offered two tasting menus. Attendees could purchase their food choice inclusive with their entrance ticket, or a la carte once inside. This thoroughfare is where spectators can see the dynamic Pyro Chefs blaze trails of fire from ginormous pans.
GARLIC ICE CREAM
Of particular interest to me was the famous garlic ice cream touted at the festival. My Facebook friends and I had a good exchange as I described to them my impressions. Here’s what I said when asked how it tastes:
“It was good! The garlic note was the first to register on the tongue—subtle, not aggressive. The cream-like texture was not overly sweet. I suspect the frozen concoction was more of an ice milk rather than ice cream for the butterfat content was lacking. Would I try it again? Yes.”
From the venue to the organization and offerings, visitors won’t be short on things to see and do at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Adventurous adolescents can zip line in the Teen Zone, ride a mechanical bull and more. There’s a Children’s Area featuring age-appropriate activities and when the sun heats up overhead you can cool off in a tented Rain Room outfitted with a network of misters. Beer and wine is available to compliment your meal and many more choices of soft drinks.
One of the treasures for our pantry was this special variety of garlic named ‘Monviso’ developed by Don Christopher over 50 years ago. Having cooked with it, the garlic has exceptional flavor, superior to the standard variety found in the grocer’s aisle. I may hold one head aside to plant the cloves next month!
Of all the sensational attributes of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, one stands above all others: the organization has given away over 9.7 million dollars to local non-profit organizations during the past 34 years, which supports funding for major community improvements.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this taste of the event through my eyes. Be sure to visit the Gilroy Garlic Festival—you’ll learn something, taste a lot, and have a great time doing it!