Gadzooks! G-Fest does it again

Dylan Hofstetter, 3, and his siter Dallas, 5, from Benicia, run through the flags Sunday on the park side of Christmas Hill Park during the 2013 Gilroy Garlic Festival.

The world’s self-proclaimed preeminent annual three-day celebration of garlic and all things garlicky raked in well over $2 million and easily topped the 100,000 mark, surpassing the numbers from the 2012 Garlic Festival by more than 5 percent.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival closed Sunday evening without any major hiccups, and with Gilroy locals and visitors from the Bay Area and beyond proclaiming their enjoyment of the boundless food, ample entertainment and temperate weather. 

Overall revenue over the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday rounded out to $2,047,054 – representing a 5 percent spike, according to 2013 festival president Dennis Harrigan.

Attendance was also up approximately 1,766 from the 100,240 attendees who filtered through Christmas Hill Park for the 2012 festival.

“A measure of the festival’s 4,000-plus volunteer workforce is children and grandchildren of the visionaries who pioneered this community endeavor 35 years ago,” said Harrigan. “Today, this celebration has now exceeded $10 million in funds provided for participating nonprofit organizations. I cannot conceive of a community standing together taller than Gilroy.”

The festival attendance and revenue numbers are off the Garlic Festival’s recent 2011 peak, when about 109,000 people attended, Harrigan said. “We took in almost $2.2 million in revenue” that year, he added. 

Security officials, law enforcement personnel and members of the Gilroy Police Mounted Enforcement Unit ran a tight ship as usual, reporting just seven arrests over the course of the three-day event according to Sgt. Pedro Espinoza with the Gilroy Police Department. Six were for being drunk in public; one for resisting arrest. 

This was the first year festival attendees could use credit and debit cards to pay for admission and Gourmet Alley dishes, and Harrigan admitted there were some problems with that system due to “user error” among volunteers. But those issues can be resolved next year with better education among the volunteers running the system, he said.

Gourmet Alley is where volunteers cook and serve up the tried-and-true festival mainstay dishes – some of which have been on the menu for decades, including garlic shrimp scampi, garlic French fries, garlic pesto pasta and pepper steak sandwiches.

Gourmet Alley’s Zesty Garlic Fried Calamari, created by Mama Mia’s restaurant owner Majid Bahriny, was inaugurated this year at the Garlic Festival and was a “big hit,” according to Harrigan. “That’s going to be a big money maker for us” in future years, he said.

In fact, the new calamari dish was completely sold out by 4 p.m. Sunday, according to Don Christopher, Garlic Festival Founding Board member and Christopher Ranch owner. Gourmet Alley burned through 15 gallons of calamari cocktail sauce on Friday alone, according to Harrigan. 

Lolita Mills, 59, and her daughter Stacey Mills, 36, attended the Garlic Festival for their first time Sunday. Lolita said she can finally check the Gilroy festival off her “bucket list,” though she didn’t know what to think of the free garlic ice cream when she made it to the end of the line.

“I came with no expectations” of the festival, Lolita said. Every aspect of the festival – including parking, food lines and crowd control – seemed to be “very organized,” she said.

The Mills had already tried the festival’s garlic bread, blackened shrimp and ravioli dishes by about 1 p.m.

“The portions are just enough so you can try something else, and the prices are good,” Lolita said.

“I give (the festival) a nine out of 10” quality rating, Stacey Mills added.

Christopher also added: the sales of garlic pepper steak sandwiches at Gourmet Alley were at an “all time high.” Gourmet Alley volunteers cooked and served about 10,000 pounds of garlic steak and about 8,000 pounds of calamari throughout the weekend, as of about 3 p.m. Sunday, according to Gourmet Alley Co-chair David Reynolds.

Reynolds rattled off similar unfathomable quantities of the different ingredients served, which came out to well over 50,000 pounds of food – facilitated by about 3,000 volunteer shifts.

“(The volunteers) are the only thing that makes this thing happen,” Reynolds beamed.

Enjoying the new calamari dish Sunday morning was festival attendee Dan Tran, 24 of San Jose, who was attending the event for his third year with his girlfriend, sister and another friend. The calamari was Tran’s first dish of the day, but his plan was to try as many of the edible offerings as he could before the festival closed.

“We’re here for the garlic,” said Tran, and that sentiment was, predictably, echoed by many other festival patrons. “We’re going to eat anything that looks enticing.”

Even though temperatures exceeded 80 degrees all three days of the festival, “the weather was the best we’ve had for some time,” Christopher said while sipping on a glass of ice water backstage at the Garlic Cook-off arena Sunday afternoon.

The stands in front of the Cook-off stage were packed all day Sunday, as ABC and Bravo culinary star Carla Hall emceed a full schedule of demonstrations and competitions, including the Garlic Showdown which pits professional chefs against each other in a timed cooking contest for a $5,000 prize.

This year’s Showdown winner was Jason Gronlund, Vice President of the Culinary Department at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill in Orlando, Fla.

The 35th Garlic Festival also featured for the first time, on Friday, the Garlic Bowl which placed the cafeteria staffs of longtime college athletics rivals UC Berkeley, Fresno State and San Jose State University against each other in a cooking competition. Fresno State took home first place in the contest. 

“The college cook-off was huge,” Christopher added. “We hope to do it again” in future years.

Festival attendees Angie Kelly and Jennifer Sappington, of San Leandro, agreed with Christopher’s observation about the weather being more agreeable to outdoor feasting and dancing than previous years.

The two friends have attended the Garlic Festival for the last four years.

“This is the coolest it’s been. There’s a nice breeze,” Kelly said.

They were each eating a bowl of Gourmet Alley’s Pasta Con Pesto and earlier they enjoyed free servings of garlic ice cream, of which they each gobbled “about eight” bite-sized cones, Kelly said.

“I love it,” she said. “The garlic fries are next.”

“We always load up” on garlic treats, Sappington added.

For some, attendance at the Garlic Festival has become a family tradition, even if it’s a young one. Ray Huggins, 32, was at the festival Sunday with his wife, 13-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter. He called the festival a “ritual” for his family, and this year was their fourth time attending.

“We like the stuffed mushrooms, and the alligator and fried green tomatoes,” said Huggins, who drove up with his family from their home in Monterey Sunday. “It’s a get-away from the fog in Monterey, and we came to waste some money on food.”

Brothers Billy, 25, Steve, 28, and Steven Hou, 26, of San Jose, were at the Garlic Festival Sunday with “14 and counting” relatives from all over the Bay Area. This year was their fourth go round.

“It’s a great tradition, and a great family environment,” Billy said. “Everyone is friendly, and it’s a good day to relax. It’s one of the summer days we look forward to (every year). There’s a great vibe from everybody, and there’s garlic everywhere.”

Volunteers at Gourmet Alley cooked and served up the following quantities of various ingredients throughout the three-day weekend:
-5,500 pounds of garlic
-8,000 pounds of calamari
-10,000 pounds of garlic pepper steak
-7,000 pounds of peppers
-4,000 pounds of onions
-7,750 pounds of mushrooms
-9,000 pounds of French fries
-500 pounds of parsley
-250 pounds of basil
-3,500 lemons
-9,000 sausage links (or about .85 mile of sausage, at six inches per link)
-14,000 loaves of garlic bread
-3,600 pounds of shrimp
Source: David Reynolds, Gilroy Garlic Festival Gourmet Alley co-chair


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