This year, children younger than 10 get in free, new shrimp dish at world-famous Gourmet Alley

Published in the July 19 – August 1, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

By Carly Gelsinger

Gilroy Garlic Festival
An attendee samples some of the world-famous garlic ice cream at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival. The ice cream is either a big hit for some or terrible for others. Have you sampled the garlicky ice cream yet? This year’s festival takes place July 28 to 30.

There’s comfort for many locals in the traditions of the Gilroy Garlic Festival — the faithfulness of a pepper steak sandwich from Gourmet Alley ties the community together in an almost sacred way — but this year, event planners aren’t sitting back and letting those traditions do their work for them. The 2017 Garlic Festival is pushing itself to be the best one yet.

“We are the world’s greatest garlic festival,” said 2017 Festival President Mike Zukowski. “Let’s own it.”

The motto of this year’s festival, “bigger, better, bolder,” is driving each volunteer committee to tangible solutions for a better customer experience.

Perhaps the most exciting piece on the docket for the weekend is Food Network celebrity chefs Giada De Laurentiis and Shaun O’Neale taking the cook-off stage, acting as the Masters of Ceremonies for a packed schedule of cooking competitions.

Photo courtesy Gilroy Garlic Festival
A couple enjoys food from Gourmet Alley at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, held at Christmas Hill Park from July 28 to 30 this year.

De Laurentiis stars in her own Food Network show “Giada at Home.”O’Neale was the winner of the seventh season of the Food Network show, Masterchef.

“When we got those two confirmed, we knew we’d be hitting the mark,” Zukowski said.

The Food Network will also be filming a documentary on a few of the cooking contestants, following them through the park and capturing the experience of the festival through their eyes.

Other significant updates have to do with what Zukowski called “flow.”

For example, the Rotary Wine Pavilion will be taking over the former children’s area. Zukowski hopes the shady area beneath towering redwoods will beckon attendees to a garden-like setting and evoke a completely different mood than the former location on the sunny Ranch Side.

Meanwhile, the children’s area will find a new home closer to the amphitheater to give families more space and to spread the full Garlic Festival experience throughout the 40-acre park.

The volunteers also moved some things around by the entrance to improve the first impression visitors have of the festival.

“It’s been an intentional process. We’re thinking flow, and we’re thinking spacial,” Zukowski said.

Zukowski, who is a family therapist with a practice on Church Street, is also passionate about making the festival as family friendly as possible. Entrance to children younger than 10 years old will be free.

“That change was dear to my heart,” he said. “We don’t need to be charging for little ones.”

Zukowski is proud of all the innovation from the committee leaders who have stepped up to deliver on the festival’s theme of “bigger, better, bolder.”


“You can throw that theme out there but delivering on it is a whole different thing. And they are delivering,” he said.
Gourmet Alley also has a new kid on the block (or the alley): the Gilroy Garlic Shrimp. Juicy, plump shrimp are bathed with a butter garlic sauce and lightly fried with a garlicky breading for a shareable finger food offering. Zukowski said the Gourmet Alley volunteers went through an arduous testing process before settling on this new dish.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is the largest garlic festival in the world, and during the weekend, the festival will be officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest garlic festival in the world.

But world records aside, at its heart, the Garlic Festival is about Gilroy.

“We get so used to having it every year, maybe it gets stale. This year is about making it fresh for our locals,” Zukowski said.

2017 Gilroy Garlic Festival:
When: 10 a.m. to 7p.m.
July 28, 29 & 30
Where: Christmas Hill Park Cost: Adult general admission — $20
Youth 10 to 16 — $10
Younger than age 10 — free
Seniors (60+) — $15
Active Military — $15 (must present valid U.S. Military identification)
Friday Locals’ Day — $15 adult/$10 senior
Resident 3-day pass — $30
Parking — $10
Save $2 per ticket by purchasing at Nob Hill Foods
For more information: For a mobile online experience, download the G-fest app at