The weather may have been mild, but the cook-off stage was hot this weekend when Rebecka Evans, of Danville won first place in the Gilroy Garlic Festival’s famed Great Garlic Cook-Off challenge.
Evans, 56, squared off against seven other finalists from all over the country on July 30, when she secured the crown and a $5,000 first-place prize with her garlic goat cheese bacon soufflé with creamy garlic mustard sauce.
“I am thrilled. This is a top competition among food competitors. All of us want to be part of this,” said Evans.
Cloves of the pungent bulb were sliced, minced, sauteed, baked and fried by contestants—each submitted an original recipe containing at least six cloves of garlic.
Evans, who keeps a food blog “At Home with Rebecka,” is no stranger in the kitchen or on the stage—she was a professional opera singer for 15 years and has been participating in the competitive cooking circuit since she was 25.
“I love competing and I love food sport,” said Evans.
In 2015 alone, Evans placed in several food competitions, including World Food Championships for both bacon and seafood, earning “Fourth in The World” and first runner-up titles, respectively.
Marcie Morrow, co-chair of this year’s cook-off committee said she loves the whole process of the competition.
The recipes are indulgent and each year 20 of the entries are selected and prepared as part of the decision process in naming the final eight.
“Just reading the recipes, you gain five pounds,” said Morrow.
“That’s one of the bonuses. It’s getting to cook and be part of the selection process and then being able to call the people that have entered and tell them that they are a semi-finalist for this competition. That’s exciting too,” Morrow said.
The cook-off stage is in constant motion, with each of the eight contestants assisted by their volunteer ‘chaperone’ to prepare their original recipe. Each begins at 15-minute intervals and has two hours to prepare their dish for the judges.
Dawn Davis, Morrow’s co-chair, said the best part of working as a committee member for her is the excitement.
“It’s fun. The contestants—the amateur cooks on Saturdays are so excited to be here. The judges are excited to be here,” said Davis.
Second-place winner and regular food competitor Veronica Callaghan of Glastonbury, Connecticut, was crowned and awarded $2,500 for her roasted garlic pizza with spicy rosemary caramelized onions, figs and bacon.
Joanne Robinson, local artist and mother of the Garlic Queen, Kyle Perez-Robinson, sat on stage as a VIP in honor of her artistic contributions to the contest—the artwork on the aprons. Robinson tried Callaghan’s pizza and said it was amazing.
“The caramelization of the pizza crust was super good. It was really the best pizza I think I’ve ever had,” said Robinson.
The last award of $1,000 and the third place crown of garlic cloves and flowers was given to Kelly Velasco of American Fork, Utah. Velasco said she’s been cooking all of her life and she loves it—especially making risotto. Velasco placed with her garlic risotto stuffed mussels with garlic herb toast. Her husband, Frank Velasco, said he fell in love with his wife’s cooking. “Her asparagus risotto is what she gave me when we were dating. That’s what captured my heart.”
Evans said because you can’t always control the conditions, soufflés can be hard to pull off. She feels part of her success in competitions is finding a new dish. “Look at past year entries. Look for things not done before,” said Evans.
Rebecka Evans of Danville for her garlic goat cheese bacon soufflé with creamy garlic mustard sauce
Veronica Callaghan of Glastonbury, CT for her roasted garlic pizza with spicy rosemary caramelized onions, figs and bacon
Kelly Velasco of American Fork, UT for her garlic risotto stuffed mussels with garlic herb toast
Just reading the recipes, you gain five pounds.