Afternoon heat no problem for garlic lovers

Winifred Harano, left, winner of the 1987 Cook-Off Competition

The Garlic Festival Queen got burned today – but not by the

You’re like, missing hair,

said princess Heather Brodersen, running a finger along the
slightly scalded bicep of queen Tiffani Petersen.

Luckily, we’re strong women,

said Petersen good-humoredly.

We’re going to go back for a second try.


The Garlic Festival Queen got burned today – but not by the sun.

“You’re like, missing hair,” said princess Heather Brodersen, running a finger along the slightly scalded bicep of queen Tiffani Petersen.

“Luckily, we’re strong women,” said Petersen good-humoredly. “We’re going to go back for a second try.”

The legendary flame-ups of Gourmet Alley were a tad torrid for the queen and second runner-up Megan Griffin, who faced the heat Friday at 11 a.m. alongside a squadron of pyro-chefs. When an errant gust of wind blew the flames a little too close for comfort, the young ladies reacted instinctively.

“We were trying to back away, and knocked over a table,” laughed Petersen.

Nothing a short visit to the medic and some ointment couldn’t remedy.

Other than a brief visit from garlic royalty, festival paramedics had little to report in the way of mishaps by 2 p.m. Several stood ready – albeit unoccupied – at their post in Christmas Hill Park near a row of unoccupied cots. No major incidents were reported at the festival, a Gilroy Police Department employee said Friday at 5 p.m.

Walking briskly nearby was Executive Director Brian Bowe, spotted just in time for an afternoon update.

“It’s real short,” he said, holding up a notepad with one-fourth of the blank space marked up in blue pen. “So things are going good. I judge my day by the length of my punch list.”

Not far away, celebrity chef Angelo Sosa socialized and sipped red garlic wine in the VIP tent behind the main cook-off stage.

“I just did this flaming thing,” said the esteemed guest and Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” runner-up.

Beads of sweat glistened on the lanky New Yorker’s brow as he smiled through a flushed complexion.

“I’m fired up. Literally.”

For someone who woke up at 4:30 a.m. on the East Coast and was thrown into the Gourmet Alley gauntlet an hour after arriving in San Jose, the culinary prodigy is a quick-witted ball of energy whose personality is electric.

He’s never been to the Garlic Capital, but Sosa’s first impression of his host city is spot-on. The 36-year-old parallels Gilroy to Truffles, France – “where everyone is obsessed with truffles.”

Sosa says he’s excited to catch a whiff of how local Epicurean icons get clever with cloves.

Not that he’s a rookie when it comes to being innovative in the kitchen. During his 3 p.m. cooking demonstration Saturday, Sosa will concoct a new dessert that promises to give garlic ice cream a run for its money: Candied garlic brittle.


His description of cooking this pungent delicacy resembles molecular gastronomy, as Sosa dropped words like “ISI canister,” “liquefy,” “dehydration” and “nitrogen.” He also adds sugar.

“Have I practiced?” he said, taking a break from chatting with a pair of young fans. “Of course. This is like the Emmys of garlic.”_

Speaking of garlic, diners are mowing down on the festival’s newest addition to Gourmet Alley in three years. Receival of the hand-held, garlic-infused, steak-and-shrimp Surf & Turf festival wrap is mixed, ranging from “delicious” to “needs improvement.”

As 2011 Festival President Kurt Svardal pointed out, the self-contained entree is the perfect solution to walking, drinking and eating at the same time. Gilroyan Lee Blaettler relishes this luxury.

“It goes great with the Gilroy Foundation’s sangria,” she said, between sips and bites. “But it would be good with a little more sauce.”

Lee’s husband, John Blaettler, said, “it’s very good for the price of $5.”

Reiterating Lee Blaettler, festival first-timer and Arroyo Grande resident Laura Fletcher observed the wrap could use a little more “dressing.”

When asked what he thought of the debutante dish, San Diego visitor Richard Warner initially made a “so-so” motion. He rates the comestible at a “four, with 10 being ‘great.'”

This mediocre score changed a minute later, however.

“Actually, I just got a really good bite. I bump mine up to a six now.”

No doubt, longtime attendees who develop watchful standards can be a tough crowd.

Although he admits, “snails are just an excuse to eat garlic and butter,” Ron Krause – who’s been eating the Enchanted Escargot for more than two decades – said his favorite dish has always been consistent.

When the festival opened at 10 a.m., Krause was the first person in line for his beloved gourmet mollusks. He was flanked by his wife Jill Goddard, who posed with her husband to re-create an image captured at the 1981 Garlic Festival.

“Hurry,” he said, holding a piece of escargot skewered with a toothpick. “The butter is burning my fingers.”

Taking the picture was their good friend Winifred Harano, who also happens to be the 1987 Cook-Off winner.

What inspired her first place “Garlicky Gilroy Chicken Wings?”

“My boyfriend,” said Harano, indicating to Reno Daidola, who stood next to her. “He loves chicken wings.”

Also improved and expanded this year is the children’s area, which touts a magical smorgasbord of kid-friendly everything: Locally made honey sticks in vibrant colors and flavors, building activities from Home Depot, a Garlic Post Office and wax hand making.

Which begs the question, why would anyone want a wax hand?

“Because they’re awesome,” rationed Ashley Potter, patiently standing in line with her 11-year-old twin to get a custom-colored, wax molding of her mitt.

Speaking of awesome, the brand new “Garlic Post Office” is adorable. Children, with no discrimination to their adult counterparts, can poke their faces through a painted backdrop depicting a pyro-chef clutching a saute pan. Once their picture is taken, it’s printed onto a postcard and addressed to the desired recipient before being dropped off in a garlic bulb mailbox.

Another hot attraction for young people is the Garlic Grab, a blowup encasement where blasts of air sends fake dollar bills whirling in a vortex.

“I was gonna get it,” said 9-year-old Adrian Morales of Santa Cruz, of the $50 bill that fluttered past his face, temporarily stuck to his nose – and got away before he could snatch it.

On the non-food side of things, hundreds of vendors comprise a formidable force of festival backbone. Some are relative newbies, like Tanya Fernandez and fiance Sean Olson from Huntington Beach. This is their second time touting all-natural soy candles in dozens of attractive aromas like “Pomegranate & Sage” and “Coco Mango.”

Sales are up compared to last year, according to Fernandez, whose booth was swamped with customers.

Gazing admiringly at a table spread with colorful ceramic “Isoka” flutes fashioned in the shapes of animals, aspiring flautist Stevann Hamilton from San Diego said, “does it come with the ability to play?”

“You have the ability. You just have to develop it,” said Luis Gervasi, a longtime vendor who said he’s frequented the festival “for many years.”

Reflecting on the family-like feeling that defines the event’s atmosphere, Bowe said vendors who become regular fixtures feel more like old acquaintances.

“This is our little party,” he said. “With 80,000 of our closest friends.”

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