Marcy Carriker Smothers
Beer Chef Brian Christensen Bruce Paton Fabio Viviani Gilroy Garlic Festival Jamie Lauren Marcy Smothers Top Chef

Gilroy Garlic Festival!

“What garlic is to food, insanity is to art.”
— Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Garlic Fun Facts

  1. It is estimated that Americans consume four pounds of garlic each year.
  2. The more finely you chop or mince your garlic, the more pungent the flavor.
  3. Poaching garlic in milk reduces the sharpness and bite.
  4. One clove of raw garlic is more strong than an entire roasted bulb.
  5. Like wine or chocolate, varieties have distinctly different flavors.
  6. 90% of the world’s garlic is grown in California; 70% by Christopher Ranch in Gilroy.
  7. California garlic has the best flavor! The bulbs should be firm and the roots intact.

Last weekend I was a judge for the Garlic Showdown at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The Garlic Showdown features four professional chefs vying for a $5,000 prize. All the recipes must feature garlic and the secret ingredient. The chefs are provided with a pantry of food basics, but they must bring their own pots, pans, knives, gadgets, favorite seasonings and their own sous chef.

At high noon, the secret ingredient was revealed: Heirloom tomatoes. Not a protein. A fruit. Interesting selection.
Making this event even more fun was the emcee Fabio. No silly, not the dude with the long blond hair from the covers of cheesy romance novels. Chef Fabio Viviani of Cafe Firenze and season five of Top Chef. His kibitzing with the crowd in his sexy Italian accent was infectious.

For the next hour the chefs cooked away while the judges walked around and observed. Each team had a unique style and strategy:

Chef Brian Christensen of Stokes Restaurant & Bar in Monterey, with sous Kevin, had every gadget imaginable – a grill, a deep fryer, a pasta maker, a mandolin. They used them all.

Chef Jamie Lauren from Top Chef and Absinthe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco, toiled with ultra efficient sous Wynn and admitted she had no plan.

Chef Bruce Patton, aka the Beer Chef, is Executive Chef at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco and communicated with his loyal sous Arturo in near silence.

Chef Ryan Scott, formerly of Myth in San Francisco and Top Chef, was having a blast collaborating with his sous pal Evan.
All chef-testants were instructed to stop at 1:00P. They served the judges their two courses in ten minute intervals. We had to eat and evaluate quickly. It was more difficult to do than I had imagined. We were instructed to assign points based on originality, appearance, execution, consistency and use of the secret ingredient. This proved to be the difference between winning and losing. There were stand outs from each chef, however only one of the four seemed to truly understand how important incorporating garlic and tomato was for the final score.

The winner was, by unanimous decision, Chef Ryan Scott.

The victor’s first course was blanched heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, hand torn pasta and tomato water. The entree was a sun-dried tomato and black garlic encrusted filet of beef topped with a savory tomato jam. Accompanying these delectables was a beef steak tomato and watermelon salad dressed in a smoked tomato vinaigrette with a sungold tomato and veggie succotash. Every bite was ethereal and bursting with fresh flavors.

I am still in the Gilroy Garlic Festival after glow.

Same time next year. Always the last full weekend in July. See you in 2010!

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