Gilroy Garlic Festival

Way back in July, Dave and I headed down to Gilroy for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.  I’d seen the festival featured on Food Network a few times – imagine Marc Summers saying “They even have garlic ice cream!”.  Ever since I learned that we live within an hour’s drive of Gilroy, I have been determined to go.  I actually submitted a recipe to their recipe contest (and obviously did not make it to the finals) and had planned to go on Saturday to watch the recipe contest cook-off, but when I found out that Fabio Viviani from season five of Top Chef was hosting the celebrity chef cook-off on Sunday, my mind was made up.  I wanted to see Fabio in person!

Arriving at the festival, it was a little overwhelming.  The festival was big, and it was HOT out that day.  It wasn’t moist-Florida-hot or dry-California-hot, but a disgusting mixture of the two that had us very uncomfortable the whole day.  Dave was hungry, so we headed straight for the food.

Most of the food signs looked a lot like this.  Garlic this, garlic that…you can imagine.  Dave opted for the crab garlic fries and said they were just okay.  I wasn’t very hungry, and did I mention it was HOT?  I waited on buying food.

The famous garlic ice cream!  Who knew they had different flavors?  Dave wanted to try this, but the line for free samples was hugely long and he wasn’t about to pay for something with that kind of grossness potential.

There wasn’t a whole lot of space in the bleachers around the cook-off stage, so we stopped by a few times just to see what was going on.  Fabio is just as hilarious off camera as he was on Top Chef.  He had a beer or two during the cooking time, and interacted a lot with the crowd, who was sitting close enough to talk to him without a microphone.

When there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on for him to talk about, he started giving out stage props to the audience, like watermelons and potted plants.  Hilarious, I tell you!

Jamie Lauren, also from season five of Top Chef, was competing as a celebrity chef.  She was very cool and collected.  As cool as you could’ve been that day, I suppose.  The stage and most of the bleachers were under a sun-blocking tarp, but it was still HOT under there.

Fabio hugging Jamie while the judges tasted her food.  Super cute.

While we were leaving the stage area, I saw Ryan Scott from season four of Top Chef.  It was like meet-the-Top-Chef-contestants-day!  I wasn’t sure at the time what he was doing there – turns out he was competing, and actually won!  He must’ve been on the other side of the stage with his back to us, because I totally didn’t see him cooking.  He was really nice and took a picture with me, even though I was probably extremely sweaty by this point.

Just in case you wanted to see more sweaty me, here I am with Dave and one of the Christopher Ranch garlic guys that were all over the festival.

When I finally did get a bit hungry, this was the first vegan-friendly thing I could find, a spinach wrap with rice, grilled veggies, salsa and balsamic vinaigrette, ordered minus the cheese it came with.  It was decent and certainly filling, but not the garlic-fest I was hoping I would taste.  Walking around, the only other possible vegan option I could see was a falafel sandwich and maybe garlic fries.  It was fine, really, because the food there was quite expensive and I didn’t want more than one thing anyway.  We were hoping that there would be smaller portions available at lower prices, for sampling, but in true festival style, everything was overpriced.

One of the more well-known parts of the festival is probably “Gourmet Alley”, where they cook up big pans of different garlic dishes to serve two long rows of concession stands.  Every once in a while the guy on the left would pour in some wine and light a huge flame.  I felt bad for these guys, they probably lost half their weight in sweat that day!

On the way out I grabbed some garlic kettle corn.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds!  It’s essentially kettle corn with garlic powder sprinkled on.  Lots of garlic powder.  The popcorn was good, but not something you want to eat a lot of, and not something you want to eat if you’re going to be within a five foot radius of another person for the next day.

All in all I had a nice time, but was very happy to get in the car and crank up the AC.  I would like to go back next year now that I know what to expect, unless it’s that hot again, in which case I will just relive my experience by re-reading this post.

Here is the recipe I submitted for the contest, if you are curious or feel like making a tasty-but-complicated garlicky recipe.  I wanted to go the southern root and do something they might not see from another contestant and the dish is actually very good, but I definitely went too complicated and if I submit a recipe next year I’ll tone it down.  The winner this year was a Garlic Butter Cookie, which sounds disgusting in a strangely intriguing sort of way.

Garlic-Crusted Grit Cakes with Succotash Hash, Mango-Habanero Sauce & Quick Pickles

This recipe is lengthy, but steps 1-5 can be done ahead of time or the night before.

2 cucumbers, peeled, halved and seeded
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

Grit Cakes:
2 Tbs margarine
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup quick grits

Mango-Habanero Sauce:
1 mango, diced
1 habanero pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Succotash Hash:
1 1/2 lb white new potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 Tbs canola oil
medium white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
10 oz baby lima beans, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/2 lb okra, sliced, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
3 ears corn, kernels cut off (about 2 cups of kernels)
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 heaping Tbs fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Garlic Crust:
20 cloves garlic
1/2 + 1/8 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
6-8 Tbs + 3/4 c plain soymilk, divided
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs paprika

extra fresh parsley, chopped

1. To make the quick pickles: Cut each cucumber half into three pieces lengthwise then slice these pieces thinly. Whisk the remaining pickle ingredients (rice vinegar through salt) in a medium bowl; add the cucumbers. Stir to combine, cover, and refrigerate. It is okay if some cucumbers are not completely covered by liquid.

2. To make the grit cakes: Melt the margarine in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute, being careful it doesn’t burn. Add the water, salt and pepper, and whisk together. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in the grits while whisking; turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook 5 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Transfer the grits to a lightly oiled, square 8-inch X 8-inch cake pan, smoothing the top. Place pan on a trivet on the middle shelf in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes.

3. To make the habanero-mango sauce: Place all sauce ingredients (mango through salt) in a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate.

4. To make the succotash hash: Bring a shallow layer of water to a boil in a large pot with a steamer insert. Add the potatoes and turn the heat down to medium; cover the pot and steam for 10-12 minutes, just until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

5. While the potatoes are cooking, stir the pickles. The cucumbers should have released some liquid and should all be submerged.

6. Once the potatoes are done, heat the canola oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté 5 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and minced jalapeno; sauté 1 minute. Add the lima beans and okra and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomatoes and reserved potatoes and continue to cook for 7 more minutes. Add the remaining succotash ingredients (corn kernels through black pepper); stir well, and cook until the mixture is heated through. Turn heat to low and keep warm, stirring occasionally.

7. Remove the grit cake from the refrigerator and gently turn it onto a clean cutting surface. Cut the cake in half one way, then in thirds the other, to make 6 rectangles. Turn each rectangle onto one side and cut through the middle, making 2 thinner rectangles. Turn this flat again and cut diagonally, to make 4 triangles. Repeat with each rectangle, wiping off the knife as needed. This will yield 24 triangular grit cakes.

8. To make the garlic crust: Mince the garlic cloves; combine with the 1/2 tsp salt on a flat surface. Use the edge of a chef’s knife to scrape the garlic and salt mixture, turning it into a paste. Add the cornmeal and baking powder; mash together well with a fork to combine. Transfer the mixture to a wide, shallow bowl and whisk in the 6 Tbs soymilk. If the mixture is too thick, add more soymilk 1 Tablespoon at a time until it is a good consistency for coating the grit cakes. Pour the remaining 3/4 cup soymilk into a wide, shallow bowl. Mix the flour and paprika together, and place on a plate.

9. Heat a lightly oiled non-stick griddle over medium-high heat. Turn the oven on warm. Dip each grit cake in the soymilk, dredge in the flour and then the garlic mixture, making sure to coat both sides well with the garlic crust. Place on the griddle and cook for about 1 minute, until the crust is golden and fragrant. Flip and cook on the other side for another minute. With a spatula, remove the grit cake to a plate in the warm oven. Repeat until all grit cakes are coated and cooked, adding more oil to the griddle as needed.

10. To serve: Drizzle habanero-mango sauce onto each of 6 plates. Mound the succotash in the middle of the plates, then lean four grit cakes on the succotash with the skinny triangle point facing up. Using a slotted spoon to drain, place a spoonful of the pickles on top of the succotash. Drizzle with more sauce if desired, and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Serves 6.

Nutrition Facts

Amount Per Serving
Calories 652.45
Calories From Fat (15%) 98.86
% Daily Value
Total Fat 11.77g 18%
Saturated Fat 2.01g 10%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1934.92mg 81%
Potassium 1705.41mg 49%
Total Carbohydrates 133.69g 45%
Fiber 13.69g 55%
Sugar 33.06g
Protein 17.19g 34%

(I got a new recipe program that calculates nutritional information.  Neat, huh?  I want to figure out a way to post it to the blog in a nifty grid, but for now text will have to do.)


  1. VeggieGirl said


  2. Diann said

    I’ve always wanted to go to this festival because I think garlic belongs in everything! I thought you would get lots of free samples – what a disappointment. BUT – how fun to see all the Top Chefs! Your contest submission looks fantastic!

  3. Ricki said

    I actually heard about this festival in a documentary film I used to use in a food course I was teaching! It sounds like such a great event–and look at all that GARLIC!! 😉

  4. Cyn said

    I love both garlic and Top Chef! This sounds so fun. Too bad there wasn’t more yummy vegan food.

  5. Lucky girl! I’ve always wanted to visit a food festival.

  6. mihl said

    A whole festival dedicated to garlic? That is too awesome. Your grit cake picture is a piece of art. It is so beautiful.

  7. veganappetite said

    Garlic festivals sound like a dream come true… so cool to see all the photos.

  8. Carrie said

    Eeek I’m so jealous!!! Well, not of the heat, but I’m jealous of everything else! Sounds like a fab time!

  9. Dawn said

    Garlic crusted grit cakes? I am now unable to concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day. That sounds fabulous.

  10. bazu said

    Oh, this takes me back to my childhood! I grew up in the Bay Area and have fond memories of Gilroy and its garlic fest. Cool!

  11. veganappetite said

    Nothing like two comments in one day on one post. Sorry about that! I just wanted to tell you that there is always next time for Food Network Friday and we’ll love to have you take part whenever!

  12. Ooh, I wanna go to the garlic festival! I love garlic so, so much! Raw, cooked, whatever….I love it all. I would have had to try the garlic fries.

    Question: What’s the name of your nutrition analysis program? I’ve been counting calories on my Lose It iPhone app, but when I make things from scratch (which is most of the time), I have to hand calculate everything…it’s a pain in the ass.

  13. jessy said

    you bet i’ll be trying your recipe, Erin – the dish looks like a winner to me! i love it!

    so awesome on all the Garlic Festival Fun! yay! that’s sweet that Fabio & Jamie were there – and that you got a picture with Ryan. hooray! garlicky kettle corn sounds interesting; i’m sorry your wrap was disappointing & that it was so darn hot out! looks like you two had a lot of fun though. happyface!

  14. Mom said

    Terrific descriptions and photos…it was almost like being there with you. (Wish we had been!)

  15. Mandee said

    So much garlic!

    Those grit cakes look fantastic. I haven’t seen grits here, do you think I could use polenta or another cornmeal instead?

    • veganhomemade said

      Mandee, I think polenta would probably work just fine since it thickens up like grits. Polenta tastes more “corny”, but it would still be good.

  16. Vegetation said

    Mmmm I love your grit cakes! They look yummy!!! And you did well sticking out the festival in the heat. I am NOT a heat person at all!!

  17. chow vegan said

    I’ve been to the garlic festival once long ago, and that ‘s enough for me. Too hot and not much vegan food. Sounds like not much has changed since then. Although I would have loved to see the Top Chefs there. Your recipe looks so beautiful and tasty! 🙂

  18. xVeganx said

    I don’t think there is nearly enough garlic at this Gilroy event too satisfy my needs. Joking of course but there was one time when I probably ate close to 50 cloves in a day (they were pickled and I ate them like popcorn they were so good)

    That recipe sounds pretty good and the nutrition facts are crazy. (not crazy as in the dish will kill you but crazy in they exist!)

  19. […] It was recommended to purchase a recipe management program, and I went with Living Cookbook after reading lots of reviews on Amazon.  So far I’m very happy with the software, and am working on importing all of my collected loose recipes.  One of the great features is having nutrition information for each recipe, like you can see at the end of this post. […]

  20. recipejohn said

    May be the garlic grit cakes preparation is a lengthy process but the fact that the output is delicious makes it more interesting, i think for garliclovers its a treat.

  21. Minnie said

    You might want to try to make it to the Garlic Festival on Friday – arrive early. It will be cooler, much less crowded and not so overwhelming. I live there and worked at the first 18 festivals (starting in 1979) in a wine booth.
    Friday is the local “secret” and the only time I would go…IF I was gonna go 🙂

  22. HippeVeganBodhi said

    I was a volunteer there for CIC, Christian In Commerce… I LOVE garlic, its the main thing i will use on every food i eat! Salad, Fries, Sandwiches anything… even i mix my cucumber salad… I miss going there for all the times I have been living in Arizona. Now i am back since 2008, and The first time i was there, and heard Garlic Ice cream, even thou i don’t eat any dairy product, but that really tempted me to taste it. So I grabbed little cone of one, and it was soooo good! And i regret for eating that. LOL But then the Garlic Fries and Kettle Popcorn was soo good, I kept going back to the Kettle and get more examples while i was volunteering around till end of the day, bought a bag!
    I will go there again this year!

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