Virtual event recreates Gilroy Garlic Festival favorites

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FIRE IN THE HOLE Pyro chef Steve Janisch flames up garlic-laden calamari during the Virtual Garlic Festival at Christopher Ranch executive vice president Ken Christopher's home July 24. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

The venue may have been smaller, and there may have been 80,000 less people in attendance, but for just under an hour, the Gilroy Garlic Festival was back.

On July 24, the day the 2020 festival was scheduled to begin before it had been canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, a team of chefs, production crews and other community leaders hauled in boxes of garlic to Christopher Ranch executive vice president Ken Christopher’s San Martin home, which was transformed to replicate the Garlic Festival grounds.

White tents, hay bales, stoves and more filled Christopher’s yard. Pyro chef Steve Janisch, a Garlic Festival staple for 40 years, was thrilling the small group of attendees, as well as the thousands of viewers at home, with a flame-up show.

The July 24 show was the finale of the Virtual Garlic Festival, a live-streamed event that took place weekly throughout the month. The virtual festival, hosted by Christopher, featured live cooking demos and other activities with special guests including chef Carlos Pineda, Gilroy Foundation executive director Donna Pray and artist Nacho Moya.

Christopher said the previous live-streamed events were a lead-up to July 24’s finale, with the goal of keeping the spirit of the festival alive until its scheduled return in 2021.

“We wanted to make sure we treated it with the utmost respect and put a lot of time, resources and energy into it,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it fun, informational and light-hearted. It’s a way for everyone at home to safely experience the best of Gilroy.”

Pineda was joined by chef Kishon Southy and other members of Kneaded, a catering company operated by the Culinary Academy of Rebekah Children’s Services. The chefs competed head-to-head by cooking Gourmet Alley favorites such as pesto con pasta and pepper steak sandwiches, and were judged by Christopher and Garlic Festival Association president Tom Cline.

In the end, however, the judges couldn’t decide whose dishes were tastier and awarded all plates the highest marks.

Pineda said he was humbled to be a part of the event, and added that the Virtual Garlic Festival was the next best thing to experiencing Gilroy’s most famous gathering.

“It gives us a boost to be more involved next year and to help grow it to the best it can be,” he said.

Christopher Ranch donated $5,000 each to St. Joseph’s Family Center and the Culinary Academy live during the virtual festival. In addition, viewers at home had the chance to earn prizes such as “Gilroy Strong” T-shirts and a delivery of Gourmet Alley dishes cooked by the Culinary Academy.

To view the Virtual Garlic Festival, visit facebook.com/thechristopherranch.

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