The main event is a Gourmet Alley drive-thru with festival favorites

Morgan Hill Life file photo The 2021 Gilroy Garlic Festival is pared down from previous years. It will include a drive-thru Gourmet Alley, a Farm-to-Table artisanal dinner at Fortino Winery and a golf tournament at Gilroy Golf Course.

By Marty Cheek

Get ready to pick up your Gourmet Alley shrimp scampi from the comfort of your car.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival returns in a much modified version following its cancellation in 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Instead of the usual three-day gala to garlic at Christmas Hill Park that has been a staple of the South Valley region for more than four decades, this summer’s festival will offer a variety of other activities.

“The main event is the Gourmet Alley drive-thru at the Gilroy Presbyterian Church,” said Tom Cline, the president of the nonprofit Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, which organizes the event. “It’s going to be a smaller Gourmet Alley, but we’ll have the pyro chefs there, we’ll have our guys cooking the pepper-steak meat there.”

The drive-thru will be held in the church’s parking lot July 23, 24, 25, 30, 31 and Aug. 1. The pick-up times are 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Festival guests need to go online and order their meals for a specific pick-up date and time.

Morgan Hill Life file photo
The 2021 Gilroy Garlic Festival is pared down from previous years. It will include a drive-thru Gourmet Alley, a Farm-to-Table artisanal dinner at Fortino Winery and a golf tournament at Gilroy Golf Course.

“We’ll know how many meals we’ll need to prepare for that day and the different time frames,” Cline said. “When people arrive, they drive up, and we’ll prepare it and assemble it and we’ll take it out to them.”

Gilroy Presbyterian’s volunteers have long been dedicated to making one of the festival’s most beloved foods —  garlic bread. Their efforts over the years earned more than $75,000 to support the church’s various programs, said Pastor Trevor Van Laar.

“After we have received so much from our community through the festival, it was a no-brainer for us to support the festival this year and host Gourmet Alley at no cost,” he said.

The festival will hold a special Farm-to-Table Dinner event from 5 to 9 p.m., July 24, at Fortino Winery. The caterer/chef for the dinner will be Relish Kitchen & Drink, featuring Executive Chef Diane Sturla. The cost per person is $175.

All four courses on the artisanal menu will be paired with a selection of Fortino wine and include ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors in keeping with the festival’s commitment to local agriculture.

Entertainment will also be provided throughout the evening to enhance the experience for guests.

“One of our goals is to highlight the past and return to our roots,” Cline said. “This region is rich with local, hard-working farmers and ranchers who represent generations of families who have dedicated their lives to making this area known for producing quality agricultural products.”

The third festival event is a golf tournament. Held at the Gilroy Golf Course from 1 to 9 p.m., July 30, participants will enjoy an afternoon game while raising funds to support the work of the association, Cline said.

Golfers can sign up for $150. Hole sponsorships are available for $500, along with other sponsorship opportunities. The event will include a silent auction and garlic festival food at an evening meal. Those who want to only enjoy the dinner can purchase a ticket for $45 through the festival’s website ticket tab.

“It’s all about getting out there and having fun and sponsoring holes to raise money for the association. And then we’re going to have a dinner focused around garlic food, naturally,” Cline said. “It’ll be a great day on the greens.”

The organizers decided it was important to keep the tradition of a garlic gala going, even if it was scaled-down considerably from past years that could draw more than 100,000 guests.

Public health and safety requirements from the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the 2020 festival from taking place. The Gilroy community also faced trauma from the mass shooting that took place in the closing hour of the 2019 festival when three guests died, so this is a way to bring back the festival to help the South Valley community adjust emotionally.

Morgan Hill Life file photo
Volunteers prepare garlic bread during a past Gilroy Garlic Festival. A scaled-down version of Gourmet Alley will take place for six days over two weekends at Gilroy Presbyterian Church.

“In talking to different service organizations and our partners we have in the community, and with people in general and with the association specifically, people still wanted to have something,” Cline said. “We needed to do something within the community that is part of us. And to not have anything in the community just wouldn’t be right. It was hard enough last year.”

Except for last year, the Garlic Festival has been held every year since August 1979. Dr. Rudy Malone, then president of Gavilan College, was inspired to create the event when he read a newspaper article describing how a French town  hosted a festival focused on garlic soup. It claimed to be the “Garlic Capital of the World.”

At a Gilroy Rotary Club meeting, Malone suggested the “crazy idea” for a similar event locally. Garlic grower Don Christopher and restaurant chef Val Filice gave his idea their full support.

During the past decades, the festival has grown immensely, so with a reset of the event this year on a much smaller scale, the association can consider where it might want to go with its plans for the future, Cline said.

“In taking time to reflect about getting back to our roots and getting back to who we are and why we do what we do and why we’ve done this for 42 years, that’s the most important thing I see in leading and representing the association,” he said. “That’s my goal — to emphasize who we are as we keep the torch going forward.”

Marty Cheek