Garlic and friendship: A perfect combination

Celebrating the 2013 Gilroy Garlic Festival are Josiah, Carly and Georgiana Gelsinger, Jolie Munoz, Andrea Joseph, Lora Schraft and Michael Moore.

You’ll find me at the Garlic Festival almost every year. If I’m not meandering around with friends, I at least take a quick break from work Friday to swing by and grab a peppersteak sandwich and some garlic bread.
This year was no different than previous years, except that I invited a girlfriend who had never experienced a single one of Gilroy’s 35 famous Garlic Festivals. Although she’d just returned from a week-long camping trip with her kids, she made the drive over from the Monterey area and we caught the final day of the three-day ode to the clove.
Something I genuinely enjoy is introducing people to new things: I’ve taken several friends to their first professional hockey games; Surprised a friend for her birthday with her first airplane trip (to Vegas, of course); and introduced family and friends to ethnic cuisine they’d never tried before.
So I was looking forward to walking the grounds of Christmas Hill Park with someone who hadn’t seen the flame-ups, who hadn’t tasted garlic ice cream, who had yet to see Gilroy in all of its garlicky wonder.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
Though we’ve been pals since elementary school, my friend and I are somewhat different. Where I tend to be more calm and introverted, she is outgoing and excitable. It sure was fun to watch.
We arrived early and decided we would grab some food from Gourmet Alley before lines grew too long. I started with some pasta con pesto and garlic bread, while she went for a combo plate No. 2, so she could get a random sampling of food. We enjoyed our meals, but she went on and on (and on) about the scampi, which I overheard several people around the festival mention as the best ever.
We wandered through the vendor booths and finally made it over to the Cook-Off stage, where we found seats at the top of the bleachers and settled in for the Garlic Showdown. Florida chef Jason Gronlund, assisted by sous chef Jay Minzer, took the $5,000 prize with two dishes judged as best of the four competitors. Although we weren’t fortunate enough to taste the creations, my friend and I both agreed that the winning “Pork Fillet with Hash” was hands down the most delicious-looking plate of food shown on the big screen.
During the Garlic Showdown, I got texts from friends and colleagues who were also at the festival, and who wanted to gather together for a souvenir group photo. We put on garlic necklaces and garlic hats and took an official 2013 Gilroy Garlic Festival photograph.
A trip to the fest wouldn’t be complete – especially for my first-time festival goer friend – without a taste of garlic ice cream. We got into the longest line I’d ever seen for the free treat, just in front of a first-time mother-daughter pair from Patterson who excitedly chatted and asked if I’d ever tasted it.
Thankfully the line moved briskly and when we arrived at the window, my friend got two cones. But me? I’ve had it before and it’s really not my thing, so I passed.
But something I couldn’t pass up sat in a booth a few spots over, so as she cooled her palate with the ice cream – which she thoroughly loved – we got into the line for the famous garlic fries. The fries, piled sky-high with chopped garlic and a side of ketchup, didn’t disappoint.
After taking a break in the shade, we began to meander back toward the ranch side, stopping here and there to watch kids play inside bubbles, listen to a band play and swing by the garlic mercantile so she could buy a magnet for her refrigerator.
Back on the ranch side, we made a final stop at Gourmet Alley – for more of the amazing garlic bread. My friend’s two children, who claim to not like garlic (blasphemy!) and were happy to stay home, do eat garlic bread, so she wanted to take some for them to enjoy. I decided to grab another order too, to snack on later at home.
Before heading out to my car, we stopped at the edge of the festival grounds for a “selfie” photo. Who would have thought that two little girls who met in fifth grade when one asked the other about her earrings, would – after all these years – remain close friends, sharing 30 years of friendship and a mutual love of garlic?
Thank you, Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Andrea “Andi” Joseph is the Features and Business editor and chief designer for the Gilroy Dispatch, Morgan Hill Times and Free Lance News.