GILROY, Calif. — The “pyro” chefs in Gourmet Alley kept the heat on for the 34th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.
The higher the flames shot up — or sometimes, sideways — from the grill, the bigger the cheers from festival goers July 27-29.
Gourmet Alley serves about 100,000 meals over the course of the three-day event. At its peak about 25 volunteer chefs, most of whom have served here for more than a few years, rotate through.
“All the guys here are like brothers,” said Mark Baudour, a production supervisor at Salinas-based Coastline Produce who’s manned the grill for 27 years. He volunteers all three days, typically from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“A lot of people are intimidated by the flames, but once you’ve done it for a little while it’s not that bad,” Baudour said. “It’s not nearly as dangerous as it look. It is dangerous, but when you’ve been doing it as long as I have, it’s pretty easy.”
Still, he said, it would not be prudent for backyard cooks to mimic the cascading flames at home.
Baudour is one of many produce connections at the festival, which has raised more than $9.3 million for charity since 1979. Venue sponsors include Monterey Mushrooms, Taylor Farms and Church Bros. LLC, among others.
Gilroy-based Christopher Ranch supplies the “official garlic” of the festival. About 2 tons of their garlic is served on Gourmet Alley every year.
At the Christopher Ranch booth, there was steady foot traffic for the company’s Monviso garlic, grown in Gilroy and in the Central Valley’s Harris Ranch area. Fresh organic garlic grown in the Palm Desert area was also offered.
“The zing is in the Monviso,” said Jason Christopher, a refrigeration trainee in the family business.
“It means a lot to us and our family to have this festival here,” he said. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid.”
For festival goers on garlic overload and seeking relief, Tums Freshers was on hand as a sponsor, following in the footsteps of Scope Mouthwash last year.
The champion of this year’s Great Garlic Cook-Off was Laureen Pittman of Riverside with a crispy pork belly with caramelized onion, and fig agrodolce and creamy polenta.
Veronica Callaghan of Glastonbury, Conn., took second with her golden garlic chicken broccoli rabe lasagna cups with roasted jalapeño alfredo sauce and red chili oil.