Fire up the G-Fest – it’s bonanza time

Fire up the G-Fest – it's bonanza time


ahead of schedule

to Gilroy Garlic Festival officials between July 25 and July 28
is bad juju during crunch week. That’s the word from Brian Bowe,
the event’s executive director who demonstratively pretends to spit
when he hears the taboo words.
Listen here: Festival bursting with live music
‘Say garlic! We want your festival photos
Organizers gear up for 100,000 garlic fans
G-Fest 33: We’re all over it
Today’s breaking news:

Saying “ahead of schedule” to Gilroy Garlic Festival officials between July 25 and July 28 is bad juju during crunch week. That’s the word from Brian Bowe, the event’s executive director who demonstratively pretends to spit when he hears the taboo words.

“We never say ‘we’re ahead of schedule,'” echoed Bowe’s congenial partner in crime, 2011 festival President Kurt Svardal, “because then something goes wrong.”

Superstitions aside, undertakings for Gilroy’s most deified weekend are right on time, and – dare we say – slightly ahead of schedule according to Deanna Franklin, chair for the recipe contest.

“It’s almost kind of boring, because things are going so well,” joked Svardal as he scooted around Christmas Hill Park in a yellow tractor.

Frequently flanking his father’s side, 13-year-old Kyler Svardal says not much has changed since his dad became head-honcho in 2011.

“He has a lot more phone calls, though,” observed the president’s young protege and volunteer of six years.

Standing in the middle of Christmas Hill Park prior to its infiltration of gung-ho foodies, a 360-degree glance yields a happy panorama of bustling progress: Rows upon rows of white tents dotting green fields, colorful flags fluttering in the air, trucks laden with cargo.

This year’s extravaganza is a pinch of old, a dash of new and sprinkle of improved: The pasta con pesto returns with its classic spaghetti noodles and pesto sauce; the new hand-held, garlic-infused, steak-and-shrimp Alley Wrap makes its culinary debut; and the festival faithful will bask in $350,000 worth of renovations to Christmas Hill Park Amphitheater. With more than 40 concerts planned between the festival’s three venues, this weekend’s weather is looking promising for outdoor entertainment. Forecasts range in the low 90s on Friday, lower 80s to mid 90s on Saturday and upper 80s on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Steady ticket sales add to surmounting anticipation. When Bowe checked the numbers at 4 p.m. Thursday, he reported total online sales at 9,220. Of those, he said 2,941 were combo tickets. The new option allows patrons to bundle admission with an entree for a discounted price.

By this time last year, Bowe said online sales were at 8,000.

“They’re already well beyond that,” he remarked. “And we’ll sell a considerable more by the end of the week.”

Bowe said officials always hope for 100,000 attendees. With the last three years corralling 98,000 108,000 and 105,000 visitors, “I’m sure it will be right in the ball park,” he said.

Another important festival figure?

Two hundred and fifty-seven.

Toilets, that is.

There are 248 “regular event toilets,” seven deluxe toilets with washbasins and two solar toilets that flush by pumping water with your foot, according to Chair of Utilities Mike Wanzong.

He has no idea why they’re called “solar,” but Wanzong hinted “the solar toilets are the best ones.”

Days before the festival’s opening, the grandiose cook-off theater is resembling its old self. The 48-foot stage emits a “brand new carpet” smell that permeates the grandstands.

Outfitted in shorts, sneakers and sunglasses, Recipe Contest Chair Deanna Franklin sat sprawled here with clipboard in hand.

“It’s my tropical garlic getaway,” she joked.

A festival fixture since she was 8-years-old, this is Franklin’s fourth consecutive year using her vacation time to volunteer.

When asked if any surprise glitches have popped up, she countered “glitch” has no place in Garlic Festival lexicon. “There are only opportunities to make it better,” she explains.

Franklin pointed to a new strip of mesh material extending overhead alongside the stage. Some of last year’s spectators, she said, were exposed to the sun as the day wore on.

Her husband tackled this issue by spending an entire afternoon observing sunlight patterns. He wanted to ensure placement of a new shade covering “would be perfect.”

It’s this sort of adaptive spirit, flexibility and get-it-done attitude that characterize attributions of festival pioneers like John Vickroy.

Lovers of the Garlic Italian Sausage Sandwich should shake hands with this veteran pyro-chef. He whipped up the recipe seven years ago, after an unsatisfactory shipment of meat put a temporary kibosh on the Pepper Steak Sandwich.

On the ensuing 6 a.m. search for better ingredients, “we had to scramble between here, Salinas and San Jose,” said Hugh Davis, then co-chair of Gourmet Alley and the festival’s president-in-waiting for 2012.

Vickroy was 30-years-old in 1980 at his first festival. He recalls other growing pains, like when apricot drying trays used as ceilings in Gourmet Alley caught on fire.

Speaking of fire, what’s a pyro-chef’s secret technique to commanding those giant flames?


Speaking of heat, “some people say it looks like we’re smiling,” said Vickroy, of the showmanship put forth by pyros during their sizzling spectacle of calamari searing in Gourmet Alley.

It’s actually closer to a “grimace.” The chefs work around 400-degree flames, “which is why we’re on a fluid replacement regimen of beer,” Vickroy said.

The assistant cook-off chair joked a prerequisite to landing a spot on the festival’s elite culinary squadron is “having slight brain damage.”

For past, current and pyros with potential, the camaraderie concocted in Gourmet Alley is a binding friendship.

At the 2007 funeral of Val Filice – festival co-founder and “Godfather of Garlic” – Vickroy recalled the famed fraternity of burly cooks took up an entire row. He described the scene, saying “it looked like the entire offensive line from the Minnesota Vikings.”

The memory of Filice isn’t far from conversation on a foggy Thursday morning as Svardal, Bowe and Davis orchestrate the unloading of a 1,000-pound garlic bulb. Svardal will have the honors of lighting the torch atop the iconic metal statue Friday morning, and will extinguish the flame Sunday night.

All three men donned lime green polo shirts from 2010, a customary “official shirt retirement” reserved for Garlic Festival’s eve.

Bowe said he will always remember Filice imploring officials to “take care of the volunteers.”

“I have no question he would be happy,” said the executive director, speculating how Filice would feel about the event’s growth. “He was very proud of this event, and rightly so.”

Earlier that week, Bowe acknowledged the festival grounds as a micro-world unto itself. When he drives up and down Miller Avenue in the middle of January, the man who lives and breathes garlic as a vocation says he doesn’t see Christmas Hill Park.

Rather, “I see the wine pavilion, Gourmet Alley, the shade structures … it’s funny,” he said. “I can’t get beyond it.”

Garlic Festival 33

– Christmas Hill Park, Miller Ave. in Gilroy

– 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday (gates close at 6 p.m.)

– Tickets can be purchased at the gate. Discounted admission can be purchased in advance at or at Nob Hill Foods. Show proof of local residency (Friday only) and receive two general admission tickets at $12 each.

Drinking at the festival

ID checkers from Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, which hosts three beer gardens at the festival, will be stationed at the ticket sales booths and carding any festival-goers who appear 35 or younger. Patrons 21 and up will receive a wristband, which varies in color each day of the festival. Draft beers for sale will include Bud, Bud Light, Modelo, Heineken, Sierra Nevada, Shock Top, Stella Artois. Bottled Corona will also be available.

After festival party options

– The Claddagh Pub and Restaurant: The kitchen will be open late, serving food until 10:30 p.m. today and Saturday. TRY: Celtic Calzone. LOCATED: 1300 First St; (408) 848-5050.

– Station 55 Bar & Grill: Second Wind, a rock ‘n’ roll band, will play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday. JJHawg (pulling double duty – at the Fest on Saturday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on the Gazebo Stage), a rock/country band, will play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday. Karaoke begins at 7 p.m. on Sundays. TRY: A red velvet cupcake. LOCATED: 55 Fifth St.; (408) 840-2444.

– The Milias Restaurant: The Milias will serve food until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and feature a live piano player. The bar will be open until midnight. TRY: Pesto wrapped goat cheese with proscuitto and grilled baguette crostini. LOCATED: 7397 Monterey St.

– 9 Lives Club: Three ska/funk bands will be playing at 8 p.m. Friday. Saturday will feature music, drink specials and dancing. TRY: Shaking your stuff on the dance floor. LOCATED: 7430 Monterey St.; (408) 337-5100.

– Lizarran Tapas: Will host a “Garlic Fest After Party” from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday for a $5 cover charge. There will be two DJ’s; dress to impress. TRY: Any one of their paellas. LOCATED: 7400 Monterey St.; (408) 842-2095

– Gilroy Bowl: Will be open as late as they have customers Friday and Saturday. Games cost $2 a person; $2.75 to rent shoes. TRY: Bowling, beers and Karaoke. LOCATED: 7554 Monterey St.; (408) 842-5100.

– The Westside Grill: DJ at 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. TRY: Drunken clams; bread pudding with warm caramel sauce. LOCATED: 8080 Santa Teresa Blvd., Ste. 100; (408) 847-3800

– Sushi Omakase: Will have a DJ on Friday night. TRY: The lobster bisque. LOCATED: 6905 Camino Arroyo; (408) 846-7874.

Leave your comments