Gilroy’s garlic party XXV kicks off perfectly

Pepper steak chef Steve Andersen uses rosemary to apply

GILROY
– Scores of patrons eager to roam the festival grounds they’ve
been enjoying annually the past 25 years cheered and hollered as
longtime festival volunteer Steve Janisch lit two icons of the
Gilroy Garlic Festival – the burning garlic bulb and the Gourmet
Alley skillets.
GILROY – Scores of patrons eager to roam the festival grounds they’ve been enjoying annually the past 25 years cheered and hollered as longtime festival volunteer Steve Janisch lit two icons of the Gilroy Garlic Festival – the burning garlic bulb and the Gourmet Alley skillets.

Janisch, a famed calamari pyro chef, completed the last leg of the torch run with flame in hand and ceremoniously began Garlic Festival XXV.

“You could say he’s very familiar with fire,” Garlic Festival President Janie Mardesich quipped before the start of the silver anniversary festivities. Mardesich, a 17-year volunteer veteran, is president of the three-day, internationally renowned event.

Chef Val Filice and garlic-producer Don Christopher blew the torch out afterward. Friday morning’s lighting of the bulb and skillets officially started the 2003 Gilroy Garlic Festival, potentially the largest garlic bash that has come to define Gilroy culture as, at the very least, one filled with dedicated volunteers and creative chefs.

This year’s first person in line was seven-year festival patron Frank Demichelis, a Hollywood native visiting a Gilroy relative.

The white-bearded 65-year-old arrived at 8:30 a.m. at the gate by bus. It is the first time he was first in line.

“I’m a garlic fan. I eat 10 cloves a day,” Demichelis said, explaining his Garlic Festival faithfulness.

The early morning excitement Friday was followed by Opening Ceremonies held on the famous garlic cook-off stage. County Supervisor and former Gilroy mayor Don Gage spoke at the ceremony and current Garlic Town Mayor Tom Springer presented the new city flag to the community.

Both men were backdropped by bright pre-noon skies Friday. Mostly sunny skies will blanket festivalgoers this weekend. The five-day forecast for Gilroy ranges from the high 80s to the mid 90s with little or no clouds.

“The weather has been really cooperative,” Cook-off Chairman Mike DiPietro said Thursday afternoon as he and crews put the finishing touches on the stage, the bleachers and the cooking stations where eight garlic chefs will vie for $1,000, $750 and $500 prizes.

This year’s cook-off contest takes place from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Although no Gilroyans made it into the 2003 finals, six of the contestants hail from California. An Alabama resident and a Texan also qualified. Last year’s winner Beth Royals came from Richmond, Va.

Garlic chefs will be found elsewhere on Christmas Hill grounds Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Enter Tom Lapworth of Palmdale, Calif. The retired executive chef and avid RV driver – who carries a business card that says ‘Have passport, Will travel’ – has made a 20-year habit out of the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Already on Thursday, Lapworth was parked off Santa Teresa Boulevard with other RVers beginning to straggle in.

Lapworth has a rabbit with garlic recipe that is near legendary in his parts, but has yet to be invited to enter the cook-off.

“I submitted the recipe for about eight years straight and never got in, I don’t know why,” said Lapworth. “When my daughter was 16 years old, she invited her boyfriend over for dinner for the first time and that’s what she asked me to make.”

While folks like Lapworth epitomize the spirit out-of-towners bring to the Gilroy fest, Donna Pray and her daughter Whitney Pray and daughter-in-law Carrie Pray are examples of the Garlic Festival’s local backbone.

On Thursday, the Pray women constructed and decorated the wine cooler booth that will refresh festival patrons and raise funds for the Gilroy Foundation – a premier Garlic Town nonprofit organization.

“Yeah, we got offers of help from our husbands, but we told them we were fine without them,” Donna Pray said.

Festivities will wrap up Sunday at 7 p.m. amid stepped-up police and Sheriff’s enforcement. Historically, Sunday nights play host to a higher level of rowdiness and sometimes violence.

Roughly 125,000 people are expected to come to the Garlic Festival this weekend. More than 4,000 volunteers will operate various entertainment, arts and crafts and, of course, food booths.

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