CLICK HERE to read stories published in the May 22 – June 4, 2019 Morgan Hill Life

By Robert Airoldi

Volunteers prepare food during a recent Mushroom Mardi Gras. This year’s 40th edition is shaping up to be one of the best ever, organizers say.
Morgan Hill Life file photo

Mushrooms and music will provide plenty of fun under the sun in downtown Morgan Hill this Memorial Day Weekend. The South Valley kicks off its summer family-friendly festival season with the 40th Annual Mushroom Mardi Gras held May 25 and 26.

New this year is the inaugural Amateur Blended Burger Cooking Contest. Four finalists selected from submitted recipes and pictures will compete from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Community & Cultural Center. The winner will receive a golden ticket to attend the World Food Championships in Dallas, Texas in October to represent the Mushroom Mardi Gras and Morgan Hill, according to Emily Bettencourt, the Cooking Contest coordinator. It is the ultimate food sport event in the world with more than 1,500 chefs, home cooks and pro teams battling for a total purse of $300,000. Mardi Gras judges include President of the California Cattlewomen Callie Borror, Morgan Hill Councilmember Rene Spring and Cecelia Ponzini from the Edward Boss Prado Foundation.

“Blending beef and mushrooms is a way to make your meal more flavorful, healthy and sustainable,” Bettencourt said. “There are only three qualifying events in California for the burger competition and Mushroom Mardi Gras is one of them.”

The finalists come from Springfield Mo, Fremont, San Diego, and Gilroy. Contestants were selected using their submitted recipe and picture, if they meet the criteria for the blended beef and mushrooms and if the picture look like a burger. For live judging, they will be using the E.A.T. judging method. “E” stands for execution, “A” for appearance and “T” stands for taste.

Also new this year is the Baby Feet Rest Area sponsored by St. Louise Regional Hospital. This area will give moms and dads a place to feed and change their little ones in a relaxed and private setting. It will be located on the corner of Third & Depot streets by Munchkinland.

Morgan Hill Life file photo

Back by popular demand, the Mardi Gras will open its premium wine-tasting event in the rose garden at the Community and Cultural Center. It was launched two years ago and proved a huge success, said the festival’s executive director Sunday Minnich. It’s $25 for advance tickets and $30 at the door for 10 tastings of award-winning wines from four local wineries — Martin Ranch, Fernwood, Guglielmo and Aver Family.

“It’s a wine lover’s paradise for people who want to taste some of the premium wines from our local wineries,” she said

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary, the entertainment at the amphitheater will run until 8 p.m. featuring headliner Uptown Funk, a Bruno Mars Tribute. They are also bringing back the Community Stage with kids’ entertainment including Sing with Grace Studios, Peter G Magic Show and Super Hero’s Stage Show Saturday and the Woody & Jesse Toy Story Show Sunday. It will also include demonstrations and entertainment from local studios. (See Mark Fenichel’s Music in the Air column on page 6 for a complete lineup for both days.)

Plenty of entertainment for children will also be found through the Mardi Gras. Strolling for photo ops will be “Super Hero’s” on Saturday and “Woody” and “Jessie” from the Pixar “Toy Story” animated films on Sunday. And, of course, the most fun fungi in the galaxy, “Mardi the Mushroom,” will pose for pictures.

Inspired in part by the Gilroy Garlic Festival and the Dickens Christmas Fair, the Mushroom Mardi Gras was started by local fire chief Brad Spencer to raise funds for the fire department. Morgan Hill billed itself years ago as the “Mushroom Capital of the World” because of its several fungi-growing facilities. The festival soon evolved into an event to raise money for scholarships for local students. Fifty-eight high school seniors will line up at the amphitheater Sunday at 1:30 p.m. for the annual ceremony.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Ron Woolf, the 2017 Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year, with the Mushroom Mardi Gras mascot and festival director Sunday Minnich, who nominated Woolf for the award.

Of course, food is always the main feature at the Mushroom Mardi Gras. Every year, the Gilroy Elks Club members make mouths water with preparing their delicious shrimp scampi that provides photo ops for flame-ups.

Two food courts will have something to please everyone’s palate.  The festival star — the mushroom — can be tasted in soup, skewered, stuffed, sandwiched, deep-fried, marinated, over rice and much more.  Other food choices include a wide range of gourmet food choices from local barbecue, BBQ Oysters, mushroom cheesesteaks, ethnic foods, burgers and bacon wrapped hot dogs. There will also be a variety of desserts & beverages.

For those who seek handcrafted arts and crafts, there is plenty of shopping this year with a sold out Artists Area in the Community Center parking lot off of East Dunne Avenue. Also returning is the Mushroom Expo where you can learn all about mushrooms as well as sample blended taco meat and receive a free tote bag.

And don’t forget the Run for the Shroom 5k/10k Fun Run starting at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, May 26, at the amphitheater.

Cooking demonstration stage chefs include the Sakabozzo team of Gilroy’s Gene Sakahara and Sam Bozzo, Patti’s Perfect Pantry’s Patti Tartaglia, Emily Bettencourt from Global Mushrooms and Chef Carlos Pineda from Rebekah Children’s Services who was the winner of the 2018 Gilroy Garlic Festival Cook-off. Morgan Hill Life will sponsor the Mushroom Mayhem Kids’ Cooking Contest at 11:30 a.m., Saturday.

A handicap accessible shuttle will take people from a parking lot at the corner of San Pedro Avenue and Church Avenue. Parking costs a $10 donation to the Sobrato Band Boosters.

Last year saw record-breaking crowds and festival revenue which enabled the nonprofit to increase scholarships this year from $55,000 to $60,000 to high school seniors who reside in the Morgan Hill Unified School District area. They are awarding scholarships to 23 students at Live Oak High School, 29 to Sobrato High School, three to Central High School, two to Oakwood High School, one to the Community Adult School and two Brad Spencer Memorial Scholarships. They also hand out $7,500 in mini grants to MHUSD elementary and middle schools and provide $22,000 in donations to school groups and local organizations who work the festival, for their fundraising efforts.


“Our goal is to raise as much as we did last year to continue increasing our scholarships and donations,” Minnich said. “A large part of our success is due to sponsors who help us keep the festival free for all family income levels to enjoy.”

Bob Benevento, the Mardi Gras board president, said the board is excited to present the 40th anniversary of the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras.

“We believe the festival puts Morgan Hill’s best foot forward, showing visitors from up and down the Santa Clara and Salinas valleys what a delightful community Morgan Hill is.  We’re also very pleased to be presenting $60,000 in scholarships to Morgan Hill students this year, as well as distributing another $25,000 to $30,000 in mini- grants and contributions to local schools, athletic and band booster clubs, sports teams, scouting and non-profits.  If the weather cooperates, we think this will be one of the best Mushroom Mardi Gras ever.”

Marty Cheek