First visitors flock to 33rd Garlic Festival

Rene Dominguez, holding his garlic bulb hat and wearing a garlic

With anticipation that could rival the Olympic Games’ opening
ceremony, the 33rd Gilroy Garlic Festival kicked off at 10 a.m.
today with the passing of a lit tiki torch from the flame of the
giant garlic bulb down a line of volunteers to Alley Row where it
ignited the first flame-up of the weekend.
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Today’s breaking news:
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CHRISTMAS HILL PARK – With anticipation that could rival the Olympic Games opening ceremonies, the 33rd annual Gilroy Garlic Festival kicked off at 10 a.m. today with the passing of a lit tiki torch from the flame of the famous giant garlic bulb down a line of volunteers to Gourmet Alley where it ignited the first flame-up of the weekend.

“The Alley needs to start cooking! Lots of people to feed!” festival president Kurt Svardal said.

An hour before the gates at Christmas Hill Park opened to the public, more than 100 people waited in line and in parked cars along Uvas Parkway Drive. Executive Director Brian Bowe said so far, so good.

“This is a fun start to the festival,” he said. “We have a little gray sky to keep us cool.”

By 10:15 a.m. clouds had fizzled and sunny skies already drove the first visitors to find shade.

Several dozen of the most eager garlic enthusiasts stood in line for food, even before booths opened for the day; and on the festival’s three stages sounds checks were prepping for the first performances. Read about Garlic Festival entertainment here.

Since 1981, Ron Krause and his wife Jill Goddard have made the road trip from Newhall in Southern California for the Garlic Festival. This morning, Krause didn’t hesitate to start in on his appetite for escargot. When asked about the flavor, Krause said it’s the same every year at the Garlic Festival. Not a bad thing, he said, “snails are just an excuse to eat garlic and butter.”

The Melones – of local fame (Rudy Melone was a founder and Garlic Festival legend) – host the Enchanted Escargot booth, where Krause and Goddard rushed to first, although it was only 10 a.m.

A special memory was in motion already; the couple were recreating a photograph from a 1983 trip to the festival: Krause holding escargot between his fingers and Goddard stood alongside.

“Hurry, the butter is burning my fingers!” Krause complained as cameras clicked. Flanking the couple was the 1987 Cook-Off winner and friend of the Newhall couple, Winistred Harano. The secret ingredient in her prized poultry recipe? Love.

“My boyfriend was my inspiration because he loves chicken wings,” Harano said about Reno Daidano, who stood nearby.

Chinando Pacis, who is from Hawaii and visting family in Livermore, decided to try his first bite of garlic ice cream Friday.

“It’s interesting. It tastes pretty good,” Pacis laughed.

The 33rd annual Gilroy Garlic Festival will continue until 7 p.m. today at Christmas Hill Park on Miller Avenue. The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the gate. Show proof of local residency (today only) and receive two general admission tickets at $12 each.

Read after-party options here.

Combo plates too popular, lines long on park side

Cooks briefly ran out of stir fry in Gourmet Alley around 12:15 p.m. Friday, causing lines to back up about 20 minutes for combo plates. Festival staff came by those waiting in line on the park side and mentioned that they may want to check out the food booths on the ranch side because lines were shorter there. “At least we have some shade over here,” one person waiting in line in Gourmet Alley on the park side said.

While the lines were long for the combo plates during lunch Friday, the other booths in Gourmet Alley had only a few people waiting. Some were a little confused about where the booth for the new Alley Wrap was.

“There it is over there,” said one festival-goer, pointing to the corner location on the park side of Gourmet Alley. Without a moment’s wait, hungry visitors walked right up to the window to purchase a $5 wrap.

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