Gilroy Garlic Festival: Top 3 Reasons to Come to the Ultimate Summer Food Fair
On July 25-27, more than 100,000 people will descend upon Gilroy, California’s Christmas Hill Park to consume over two tons of fresh garlic—along with 10 tons of beef, four tons of pasta, four tons of calamari, and two tons of scampi. The Gilroy Garlic Festival started here in 1979 as a celebration of the annual garlic harvest, putting this once sleepy agricultural town on the map. Now in its 36th year, the popular taste bud blow-out is host not only to a bevy of garlic-inspired dishes and cooking competitions, but a multitude of entertainment options—from non-stop music to arts and crafts to a Garlic Queen beauty pageant. The only thing you probably won’t find here is a kissing booth. Here’s why you should go.
A Culinary Exploration of All Things Garlic: The hub of gastronomic action is Gourmet Alley, where festival goers eat, drink, watch live cooking demonstrations, and eat some more. Pyro Chefs wow the crowd with gigantic flame-ups while simultaneously managing not to singe off their eyebrows. The garlic-infused dishes offered up in this 5,000 square-foot outdoor kitchen include pasta con pesto, scampi, calamari, marinated mushrooms, and chicken stir-fry, plus garlic bread, and garlic fries. “The scampi is one of our signature dishes,” says festival board member Randy Costa. “I just love the garlic sauce they cook it in. It’s very, very, good.” Around the park, more than 60 vendor booths offer garlic-enhanced just-about-everything, from chicken wings and frog legs to mussels and veggie wraps, plus decadent artisan candies. Visitors can also drink garlic wine and cool their palates with garlic ice cream.
Sizzling Competitions: Both amateur and professional contenders can vie for culinary titles. The Great Garlic Cook-Off is the festival’s much ballyhooed competition for amateur chefs around the U.S. and Canada. Those who send in the most tantalizing original recipes—whether soups, entrees, or desserts—are invited to come and rival amateur challengers. Last year’s winning recipe was “Carnival Style Fish Sticks with Lemony Jalapeño Mayonnaise and Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw.” Another popular event is the Garlic Showdown, an iron-chef style competition for professional chefs. Carla Hall from ABC-TV’s The Chew will return this year to emcee. Finally, the Garlic Bowl is an intercollegiate battle between university chefs around California. The winner receives a grand prize of student scholarship support. This year, Fresno State will return to defend its 2013 championship title.
A Spirit of Giving: The festival gives the majority of its proceeds to more than 160 local charities. It also receives the support of more than 4,000 volunteers, many of whom return year after year to assist with cooking, taking tickets, or emptying garbage. One of the more recognizable volunteers is Gerry Foisy—or “Mr. Garlic”—the white-bearded gentleman walking around the park dressed as a giant garlic bulb. Foisy has been donning this white quilted get-up for over 25 years, and while he takes a bit of flak for it, the benefits are abundant. He gets to hold lots of babies while posing for pictures, and often finds himself on the receiving end of adoration. “I get hugged and kissed by so many women,” he says.
We know that garlic is good for the heart, bad for the breath, and even worse for stoking the romantic fires. No one cares about those things this weekend. Festival goers depart the annual “stinkfest” with garlic oozing from their pores and three-alarm fires burning in their mouths. So how long does it take for the aftertaste of garlic to wear off? “Probably a couple of weeks with as much garlic as we eat during the weekend,” says Randy Costa with a laugh. “It does take some time.”