The man proudly parading around in the garlic bulb costume – and arguably only that – summed up my first experience at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This bulb-swathed gentleman was walking proof of the widespread, infectious enthusiasm for California-grown garlic abound at the festival.
Now, I love California garlic – we all do at Christopher Ranch, as we are based in Gilroy – "The Garlic Capital of the World" – and have been growing California heirloom garlic since 1956.
However, I was not prepared for the magnitude of California garlic love that I witnessed at the 31st annual festival…it was as if the festival was a sort of pilgrimage for the 108,519 garlic lovers in attendance at this year's event. License plates from all over the U.S. filled the parking and a variety of languages and accents rang throughout the air, but everyone was there for the same reason – California-grown garlic. Ok, now I'm getting a little cheesy, but it truly was a fantastic event – a three-day garlic tribute.
As I sit at my desk Monday morning, I'm having difficulty focusing – even more so than a typical Monday – as my garlic-induced memories keep flooding back…let's reminisce, shall we?
My personal Gilroy Garlic Festival journey began at noon last Friday, when we entered the festival and all senses were immediately stimulated by garlic.
In fact, it was a brief moment of garlic-filled anxiety – what do I eat first: a garlic kabob, a garlic pepper steak sandwich or garlic fries?
What event do I watch first: the garlic-bulb shucking competition or the chef cooking competition?
Which festival-goers do I gaze at longer: the man wearing the garlic bulb or the swarms running around in garlic bulb hats?
We decided to stay calm – we had the entire afternoon to absorb all garlic activities and sights.
We intrinsically gravitated toward the food first, since the moment you walk in, you are greeted with mouth-watering smells of garlic calamari, garlic barbeque, garlic shrimp, garlic corn-on-the cob – you name it. It was a difficult choice, but I selected the garlic chicken and shrimp skewers, and as my nostrils suggested – they were scrumptious.
After stuffing our garlic faces, it was on to the chef cooking competition, where we took in a "heated" seafood-themed battle between Luca Rutigliano, executive chef of CordeValle Golf Club, and chefs Gene Sakahara and Sam Bozzo. Think “Iron Chef” – Gilroy garlic style.
Following the chef competition, we watched Bill Christopher, Christopher Ranch owner, MC the garlic-bulb shucking contest, which was quite impressive, not to mention intense. It featured three Christopher Ranch employees racing the clock to see who could shuck the most bulbs, and after the winner was awarded (Fernando this year!), the garlic was dumped in the center of the ring for the crowd's reaping. I haven't seen people pounce so aggressively since a Victoria's Secret clearance sale two years ago, when I was pummeled by a lady vying for the same pair of $2 skivvies.
From there, we perused the various booths and vendors, boasting food, beverages, fresh California heirloom garlic, garlic bulb hats, arts and crafts and more, and then headed to the Gazebo to take in some live music. As luck would have it, the Corvairs – whose lead singer is Christopher Ranch's very own Pat DeStasio – were center stage, with Pat crooning to the rock 'n' roll sounds of the 50s & 60s. Terrific tunes – I particularly enjoyed the “Unchained Melody” rendition, myself – and great visuals – nothing like seeing “The Garlic Bulb Man” shake his bulb to Janis Joplin.
Once the music ended, though, we, too, had to call it a day. Sadly, I only got to take in one day of the festival – unfortunately I had to get back to "reality" in LaLa land – whatever that reality is. Yet, we left with smiles on our faces and wonderful garlic memories of great food, great events and great people – all in the name of California-grown garlic.
I'm already counting down the days 'till the 2010 Gilroy Garlic Festival…only 363 more to go.
Stay tuned – more festival pictures and updates to come!