Pleasant temperatures, mellow vibe keep G-Fest crowds infused with fun

The pair re-created the original photograph Friday at the 2011

Wait times to rival Disneyland, time-honored family traditions,
a pepper steak pinch and singed royalty: The cornucopia of
mini-vignettes that emerged from the 2011 Gilroy Garlic Festival
merit their own novella.
Watch a video of what people were eating at the festival
View more photos of the 2011 Gilroy Garlic Festival at our
Wait times to rival Disneyland, time-honored family traditions, a pepper steak pinch and singed royalty: The cornucopia of mini-vignettes that emerged from the 2011 Gilroy Garlic Festival merit their own novella.

With combo plate lines stretching 100 patrons or more on a balmy Saturday afternoon, foot traffic in Gourmet was a nonstop cycle of people standing in line to eat, people eating and people sitting in the shade, recovering from their food comas.

“It’s his first time at the festival,” said Christine Baker, a resident of Hughson, CA. She affectionately petting her husband’s head. “He just tires out easy.”

Richard Baker was curled up on a shaded hay bale amid a swarm of diners, sleeping peacefully with his head in Christine’s lap.

Demand was never-ending all weekend for other popular items such as garlic fries from the Christopher Ranch booth, where Young Life volunteer Ron Zimmerman estimated their booth would fly through 45,000 pounds of potato by the end of Saturday.

Where there’s a craving, there’s a will. Garlic Festival attendees are poster children for a religious commitment to eating well.

“No,” replied San Franciscan Wilson Chan, a festival first-timer and stranger to garlic ice cream. “I haven’t had it. That’s why I’m willing to wait.”

Pepper steak sandwiches ran out 1.5 hours prior to closing time Saturday; a dilemma that exemplified finesse and patience of volunteers like Debby Esposito. She spent 15 minutes explaining and graciously apologizing to a guest why the Alley Wrap was being substituted for the Pepper Steak Sandwich on his combo plate.

“I don’t want to go through that again,” she joked afterward, of the small but well-handled confrontation. “I was scared for my life.”

Ron Krause, the first and only early bird in line for Enchanted Escargot when the festival opened Friday morning, was one of few who evaded long wait times for food. At 10 a.m. the man made a beeline for his beloved mollusks, an indulgence he admits “are just an excuse to eat garlic and butter.”

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.”

Behind the camera was Winifred Harano, the festival’s 1987 Cook-Off winner.

What inspired her champion “Garlicky Gilroy Chicken Wings?”

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

Krause and Goddard are two of myriad festival-goers with long-standing Garlic Festival traditions.

Cruising around in a kooky hat shaped like a plush, stuffed animal chicken, Consuela Siller said her family has been visiting the festival “forever.”

“Whoever spills their beer first, wears the hat,” she said, pointing to her head.

As since no one had made the party foul yet, Siller sacrificed her dignity and donned the feathery statement first.

During a weekend filled with some haze in the mornings, but mostly clear, sunny skies, Siller was one of dozens sporting fanciful headwear.

“That’s always the true wildcard – the weather,” said Brian Bowe, the festival’s executive director. “We lucked out with that.”

With temperatures ranging in the mid to high 80s, Garlic Queen Tiffani Petersen said the climate was milder than last year.

She did get burned – but not by the sun.

“You’re like, missing hair,” said princess Heather Brodersen, running a finger along Petersen’s slightly scalded bicep Friday afternoon.

The legendary flame-ups of Gourmet Alley proved to be 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.

Heavily publicized highlights, including a celebrity chef from the Big Apple and a debutante Gourmet Alley entree, drew mixed and colorful reviews.

When asked what he thought of the new steak-and-shrimp Alley Wrap, San Diego visitor Richard Warner initially made a “so-so” motion. He rated the comestible at a “four, with 10 being ‘great.'”

This mediocre score changed a minute later.

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

Warner was one of thousands who sampled the newest addition to Gourmet Alley. Some raved about its taste and hand-held convenience, several craved more sauce, and Laurie Mintzer of Lafayette wanted the contents to be “evenly distributed.”

As for the festival’s headlining personality, “Top Chef” Season 7 runner-up Angelo Sosa came equipped with a frisky sense of humor.

“I don’t have crabs … that was a joke,” said the lanky New Yorker. “But I like cooking with crabs.”

Viewers in the front row were all over his garlic brittle after Sosa hopped off-stage to hand out free samples. Loud crunching noises echoed through the microphone as people masticated the novelty morsels.

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.”

Not far off from the Cook-Off Stage, the renovated amphitheater made its grandiose splash into Garlic Festival history, securing its place as the social hotspot in Christmas Hill Park. As the soulful sounds of JJ Hawg and Shane Dwight demanded dancing, inhibitions were cast aside as the young and young-at-heart danced in front of an audience stretching all the way to the amphitheater’s top row.

Also drawing crowds was Beatles tribute band Because. When the uncanny look-a-likes took to the Gazebo stage Sunday afternoon, their rendition of “A Hard Days Night” incited nostalgic fan frenzy.

Reflecting on the welcoming atmosphere that defines an event where food and good, clean fun are common variables among thousands of strangers, Bowe said vendors and volunteers feel more like family.

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


View the All Things Garlic photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Children’s Area at the Festival photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Cook Off Stage photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Dancing at the Festival photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Flame Ups in Gourmet Alley photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Garlic Ice Cream photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Gourmet Alley Volunteers photo gallery at our photo gallery

View the Local Musicians at the Festival photo gallery at our

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