Second time’s the charm for Great Garlic Cook-Off winner

A packed house of festival goers check out the Great Garlic

Jamie Brown-Miller’s quest to return the the Great Garlic
Cook-Off began in January as she busily searched for that pinch of
culinary magic that could separate her from the rest.
When in Gilroy, do as the Gilroyans do
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In Jamie Brown-Miller’s mind, one and done wasn’t an option.

“I wanted in again this year,” the vivacious Napa resident said.

Her quest to return to the Great Garlic Cook-Off began in January as she busily searched for that pinch of culinary magic that could separate her from the rest.

Turns out she found it in a very familiar ingredient.

Brown-Miller sent judges’ taste buds swirling with her Stacked Steak Napoleon on Garlic Paper with Asparagus, Radicchio, Shiitakes and Stilton, topping seven other finalists to become the 2011 Great Garlic Cook-Off champion, vibrantly accepting the coveted garlic crown and top prize of $1,000 on Saturday at the 33rd Gilroy Garlic Festival.

“Euphoria and disbelief,” Brown-Miller said as she waited to do a radio interview. “To come from not even placing last year, to winning this year, I think I’ve learned a lot in the last year when it comes to presentation and really making sure everything is done on time.”

So what triggered the five judges’ palates? The garlic, of course.

“I think that what I had this year was this unique thing in the garlic paper that stacked all those great flavors together and really made garlic the star. And that’s what this whole thing is about – it’s the Gilroy Garlic Festival.”

The show-stopping garlic paper, which carefully shaped and molded the rest of the dish, calls for eight egg whites, one teaspoon cream of tartar, eight cloves of crushed garlic and salt and pepper. It’s a short list of ingredients that yields loads of flavor.

“When it comes down to a horse race like that, what’s going to separate you and put that winner over the top is having something different, something creative, something we’ve never seen before that’s going to make us go wow,” celebrity judge Jay Minzer said. “At it was that garlic paper that made us go wow.”

Minzer’s soaring review didn’t seem likely after the personal chef to the stars disparaged Brown-Miller’s submission, calling it “unimaginative and horrible,” which caught the audience and Brown-Miller completely off guard.

“I’m kidding,” Minzer said to a relieved Brown-Miller.

“That was funny,” Minzer said afterward. “If it were any other contestant, I wouldn’t have done that. But I know Jaime has a sense of humor where she could take it.”

The victory, Brown-Miller said, served as a validation or as icing on the cake if you will.

“Competitions like this are a combination of not only your dish, but your showmanship, your personality, your presentation,” she said. “To me, it really solidified, ‘yes, I can do this, yes I’m a good cook. ‘I know I can cook, but it was a formal confirmation, yes I can.”

Rave reviews from judge Majid Bahriny, who owns four Mama Mia’s Ristorantes, helps too.

“That was my first choice. It was excellent,” Bahriny said. “All the flavors just came along very good, very nicely prepared. The flavors blended quite nicely.”

First-time Cook-Off participant, Emily Falke of Santa Barbara, placed second, delighting the panel with her Garlic Infused Tilapia, Beet, Parsnip and Sweet Potato Stacks with Watercress Aioli.

“On my gosh, I can’t believe it,” Falke said. “I think you’re just proud that it turned out pretty and that you are even one of the eight. There’s a lot of camaraderie. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Derek Thurman of North Carolina, the only male competitor in the field, made his third consecutive Cook-Off appearance and fittingly placed third with his refreshing Spicy Tuna Towers with Garlic 3 Ways.

Cooking began shortly after 8 a.m., and by 10 a.m., the stage was filled with busy-bodied chefs, along with their volunteer sous chefs, trying to stay as calm as the pressure mounted to meet the strict plating deadline. One by one, every 10 minutes, contestants turned over their pride and joy to the judges.

Moments from sending his Spicy Tuna Towers away, Thurman looked up when asked if he had a chip on his shoulder, being that it was his third go-round in Gilroy.

“Oh yeah,” he said grinning, a crisp glass of white wine nearby. “I want to win.”

Across the stage, first-timer Wendy Hector of Sacramento, returned to her cooking station after a short breather – the aroma of her Garlic-Covered Pork and Pork-Covered Garlic with Roman Gnocchi and Paprika Cream Sauce still lingering after being whisked away.

“I’m obsessed with garlic,” Hector said, adding that she was quite shocked when she learned her recipe made the final eight. “It turned out well, so I’m OK.”

The lot of five judges concurred that the contestants valiantly produced their best, and extended kudos for jobs well done.

“The contestants worked hard,” Bahriny said. “A lot of great recipes.”

And on the same page, head chef Evelyn Miliate, representing Raley’s said, “With the cook-offs there is always a group who work really hard ahead of time. It’s always appreciated the hard work they do.”

Stacked Steak Napolean on Garlic Paper with Asparagus, Radicchio, Shiitakes and Stilton ingredients:

Garlic Paper

8 egg whites

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

8 cloves of garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Steak

1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard

1 tablespoon honey

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 pounds of beef tenderloin, thinly sliced

Shiitakes

36 shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed

1/2 cup butter

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon truffle oil

Vegetables

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

36 asparagus

2 cups radicchio, chopped

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