Whew … a sigh of relief follows yet another great Gilroy Garlic Festival

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Mark Derry

Been to the Cook-off Stage at the Garlic Fest before, but I’ve never stayed for a whole segment until Sunday. Carla Hall kept me in my seat. The winner of “Top Chef” TV show and the current star of “The Chew” on ABC, is, as my mother used to say, “a riot.” Her mix of down-home humor, witty banter with the crowd, incredible culinary skills and ability to articulate the creative cooking process is a treasure. Add her genuine outgoing nature and she’s a perfect fit for our fest. One of Gilroy’s top chefs, Donny DeLorenzo, who was cooking up peppers and onions, said Carla delighted the crowds on her walk-about through Gourmet Alley, graciously posing for pictures and talking with the crowds for a long time. Carla loved the fest and the fest loved Carla. So, hopefully, we can extend that invite to come back soon because she’s the real deal.
Real deal delicious every year: the flame-up calamari, first on the menu and first in my mouth. Again it was good to the last drop all the way through to the mop up with the garlic bread. Our pyro chef crew is outstanding as entertainers, but even better as chefs. Plus, the rock music playlist accompanying the pyro chefs in the background is some of the best at the fest and right on the money.
On the money, too, country star Charlie Worsham on the Vineyard Stage. He’s a rising star who’s going to be a headliner in the not-too-distant future. Charlie from Mississippi enjoyed the adoring crowds and our funky fest. Daughter Mariah and her friend Shayna waited in line to meet the heartthrob and took home a hug and a signed photo. The KRTY 95.3 country radio crew always does a great job bringing the stars out for the fest and setting up their fun booth for the crowds.
Crowds ate up the new addition food this year, the fried calamari, situated apart from Gourmet Alley alongside the garlic fries booth. Miss Jenny and I were comme ci, comme ça on the dish, our pieces were far too large and the batter didn’t stick well. But it sold out and others delivered positive reviews.
Reviews of the trash pick-up – or rather the trash pile-up on Saturday – were universal thumbs down. Apparently, the liability insurance folks put the financial hex on the tried-and-true method of keeping the festival grounds clean – small tractors towing teens with fresh garbage cans on a trailer roaming the grounds. The back-up plan, whatever it was, crumbled Saturday and it was a mess. An all-garlic-points-bulletin went out and everyone who had an official Garlic Festival shirt on came to the rescue to get things cleaned up. A Board meeting Saturday night resulted in a back-up plan that worked.
Worked at the Gilroy Foundation booth with the smiling sales crew – Miss Jenny, Patty Filice, Andrea Habing and Theresa Costa. Rookie Steve Costa worked the northside of the booth as co-bartender and he took to it like roots to dirt getting a headstart (pun intended) on drinks to fend off the thirsty hordes. Jimmy Habing and my daughter Mariah provided the back bar support along with the effervescent Gina Anderson, her dad, Foundation President Frank “Attaboy” Angelino, and Foundation Exec Direct Donna Pray’s grandson, 13-year-old Brady Gibson visiting from his Kentucky home. Brady’s the kind of kid with such gentle charisma and smarts that it makes you think you might be voting for him to run the country someday. Anyway, making sangrias and wine coolers Saturday morning sounds like a “cush” job, but man oh man does it get slammed. That’s a good thing, mind you. The more moolah we make for the “Give Where You Live” organization, the more that gets given back to the community for scholarships, programs for our schools and money for organizations like Mary Cortani’s heartwarming and successful Operation Freedom Paws which pairs struggling armed forces veterans with companion dogs. How important is our three-day festival? A new record: net $31,000 for the Gilroy Foundation.
Net local Chef Mark Johnson from The Grove Restaurant next year for a segment on the Cook-Off Stage. Has the skill, the personality and could be a very good friend to the festival in a food advisory capacity as well.
Crowds at the fest tapped our local artist, Whitney Pintello, with the People’s Choice Award for her entry into the annual poster contest competition. Her richly textured guitar against a brick wall backdrop featured garlic bulbs painted on the body of the instrument with a striking color scheme. What the Pintello win says, I think, for next year’s judges is that subtlety when paired with a strong artistic image can – and often should – trump the central garlic bulb image that generally dominates the competition.
Garlic Festival dominates the competition again. Weather gods smiled down, challenges became victories and additions made it, once again, the best fest yet. Congratulations to Volunteer President Dennis Harrigan, and may the next be the best fest yet again.
Reach Editor Mark Derry at [email protected]

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