First-time cooking competitor Bret Barker, a 12-year veteran tank commander with the U.S. Army, delighted the judging panel at the 41st annual Gilroy Garlic Festival to claim victory in the Champions for Charity challenge.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” said Barker of the opening cooking competition held July 26 on the Challenge Butter Cook-off Stage inside Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy. “It’s for a good cause. As a veteran, I support my fellow veterans and I support people who support veterans.”
With the victory, Barker—who was assisted in the competition by community nurse Dawnie Lynn—earned a $3,000 donation to the Gary Sinise Foundation, a charity that helps veterans and their families.
“This is the first time I’ve done a cooking competition like this,” Barker said. “I usually just cook at home because I enjoy good food and then they asked me to come out here.”
This year’s Champions for Charity challenge featured two teams (due to two last-minute cancellations) of local first responder heroes that compete in a three-round cooking challenge similar to the Food Network show Chopped. They prepared and presented an appetizer, entree and dessert from mystery basket ingredients unveiled at the start of each round.
The 2019 runner-ups were the duo of Herb Alpers, of Hollister, and Tom Evans, representing South Santa Clara Fire/CAL Fire.
“This is pretty amazing to be up here on this world renowned stage. It’s an honor to be able to cook on it,” said Alpers, who won the inaugural Champions for Charity challenge four years ago. “I’m just very humbled and amazed. This venue is amazing.”
Emceeing the Champions for Charity was chef Gerron Hurt, the Ninth Season Champion of Fox Network’s Master Chef competition. Hurt drew a crowd, signing autographs and posing for pictures with festival-goers and even tossing garlic into the stands.
“Absolutely adored everything put on a plate today,” said Hurt, a newlywed whose wife Brandi sat at a table on stage while her hubby added insight into the ingredients being used from the mystery boxes and entertained the foodies in attendance.
Along with Hurt, tasting and judging the food for Friday’s competition were: Mike Benson, of The Claddagh Pub and Restaurant in Gilroy; Adam Sanchez, of The Milias Restaurant in Gilroy; Mark Segovia of Segovia Catering in Gilroy; and Chef Eddie G. of the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.
“I was very impressed with all the techniques they used,” said Segovia of the competing teams. “Great job.”
The first mystery basket in the appetizer round included linguica, ciabatta bread and roasted garlic. The second entree round had mystery ingredients of red quinoa, garlic and pesto sauce. The final dessert basket included apricots, polenta, butter, cream cheese, sun dried tomatoes and Hazmat hot sauce.
“They put on a great event,” said Evans, who has teamed with Alpers the last four years. “We were able to instantly come up with a concept from the ingredients.”
Lynn, who won alongside Barker, was coming off a victory in the burger cookoff at the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras in May. That earned her a ticket to join the world food championships in Texas this October.
“This is pretty fantastic,” Lynn said. “I love to cook.”
The winning dessert prepared by Barker and Lynn was a polenta pancake/crepe in egg wash with apricot-garlic-cinnamon-hot sauce chutney and cream cheese with berries.