Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Stinking Rose

Lovers of the fragrant, tangy, and just downright delicious bulb of earthly delights known as the stinking rose converged on Gilroy, California last weekend for the 30th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Up top there is a picture of a giant flaming garlic bulb standing in the midst of all of the garlic-loving mayhem. Before we get going here, let me just mention that it was hot there in the small town of Gilroy. And not like a "oh, it sure is nice to be outdoors" kind of hot, but a sweating in unfamiliar places kind of hot. Now, I am originally from the Valley, so heat like this I should be used to. But I have acclimated as a city boy, and my tolerance for the dusty valley heat has pretty well bottomed out.

In case you had any doubts, people will line up for anything if it's free. Make it a hot day with very little shade and offer people free ice cream, expect just a little bit of a line. And this, by the way, is no ordinary free ice cream, but free garlic ice cream.

Just steps away, you can walk right up and buy the stuff and in larger portions. But then it's not free there.

We opted for the less adventurous of the flavors and got the vanilla garlic ice cream. For the uninitiated, I realize that garlic and ice cream do not initially sound compatible. But have some faith, dear friends, in the mystic power of garlic. The garlic flavor infused into the sweet vanilla contrasts well but does not overwhelm. It is, certainly, not your typical flavor of ice cream, and honestly not one you would eat on any sort of regular basis. But if you never have, it is a must try, and on the rare occasion you come across it not a bad way to fight off the heat.

After perusing the arts and craft stalls and seeking occasional shelter in prime shady real estate, we sat in on a cooking demonstration by Devon Boisen, executive chef of Berkeley's Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto. Chef Boisen, a master of all things sea food, demonstrated the proper techniques for cleaning, boning, and skinning a salmon. Once he had quickly and deftly cut several perfectly sized salmon steaks, he walked the audience through a pretty simple recipe for poached salmon.

With a pan about half full of extra virgin olive oil, he warmed several cloves of garlic over a medium heat to infuse the oil with the garlic. Once the oil was infused, he submerged the salmon steaks in the oil, and let them cook over low heat. In the meantime, chef Boisen discussed how to make a simple gelatin-based infused sauce for the salmon, and the finer points of preparing fresh fish. This salmon recipe I might even try one day. Maybe.

But my biggest complaint about this here Garlic Festival? It seemed lacking in garlic stuff. I mean, apart from the main food vendors who sell a wide variety of garlicky foodstuff, it was more like a carnival than a food festival. I was just expecting, I dunno, more GARLIC. Christopher Ranch, the source of the garlic for the festival, was relegated to a small box at the edge of the grounds where they were selling a few of their fine wares. What's up with that? I guess I was expecting an all out free for all of people hurling cloves of garlic at each other like at the tomato festival in Spain. On second thought, that might not be such a great idea.

So, after a long day in the hot sun and valley dust, it was time to get moving along. But not before we stopped for the highlight of the Garlic Festival tour, the legendary garlic fries. Yes, you have had garlic fries before. But no, they were not this good. Gordon Biersch's got nothing on this.

It was a fun, albeit exhausting day. For those thinking about making next year your first visit, try to keep a few things in mind: First, you will wait in line, a lot. You will wait in line on the highway coming in to Gilroy. You will wait in line as you approach the parking lot, you will wait in line for the shuttle to take you to the main gate, and you will wait in line to get your tickets. You will even wait in line to get back onto the shuttle that will take you back to your car. You will wait in line for an ungodly amount of time. Advice? Buy your tickets online. If you're feeling frisky, get a hotel in Gilroy the night before, so you can wake up and go. Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water, and bring your appetite.



Maggie said...

Those fries look amazing! I'm not so sure about the garlic ice cream and I'm afraid of trying it in my home ice cream maker in case I can't get the taste/smell out. I'll just take your word for it.

Sarah said...

I'd leave the ice cream, take the fries. They look great!

Mr. Rosewater said...

Ya know, the ice cream was pretty good. I wouldn't reccomend it for your everyday ice cream consumption, but once in a while it can be fun.
However, the fries were obviously the highlight here...It didn't seem to matter how hot and dusty it was, there was always a line for garlic fries. They were amazing. Not to be missed.