Gilroy Garlic Festival: Don't Forget the Breath Mints

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Gilroy Garlic Festival

Bill Strange, official Gilroy Garlic Festival photographer

If you're traveling through the San Francisco Bay area, and you notice a complete absence of vampires and the distinctive fumes of garlic wafting through the air, it's likely that the Gilroy Garlic Festival is in progress.

Held the last full weekend in July in Gilroy, California, the Gilroy Garlic Festival attracts tens of thousands of foodies and families each year for cooking demonstrations, entertainment, gourmet food and wine, and samples of unusual creations that use the local cash crop as their main ingredient. The festival, which has raised millions of dollars for local charities during its more than three decades of existence, will take place in 2011 from July 29 to 31.

Gourmet Alley at the Gilroy Garlic Festival is where you'll find artists, crafters and the food: garlicky bread, popcorn, chicken, beef, fish, mushrooms and, yes, ice cream. Organizers say the vendors are carefully screened to ensure a wide variety of quality dishes.

Then there's the Gilroy Garlic Festival Recipe Contest & Cook-Off, where finalists from across the nations prepare their garlic-infused creations to be judged by a panel of six judges comprising food experts and celebrities. The first-place winner goes home with $1,000 prize and bragging rights. It's a contest for the home cook: no professional chefs or other food specialists are allowed to enter.

What festival would be complete without a queen? Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen is chosen each year to represent the festival throughout the year. Young women ages 18-24 who live in the surrounding area are eligible, and they are judged on a personal interviews, talent, evening gown and "garlic speech." Oh, and besides beaming about all things garlic during the three days at the festival, the winner and two runners-up are awarded scholarships by local organizations.

Other activities at the 2011 Gilroy Garlic Festival include 46 concerts on three stages, plenty of entertainment for children, more than 100 artists and crafters from across the country showing their work, and appearances by Fabio Viviani of the "Top Chef" TV show.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a great bargain, too. Admission for the 2011 festival is $17 for adults, $8 for ages 6-12 and seniors, and free for children younger than 6. Admission includes parking, musical entertainment, cooking demonstrations and special area for the youngsters. Parking is free.

And as long as you're in the area, go ahead and book your hotel room for a few more days. There's plenty to do around Gilroy, and if you rent a car, you can be in San Francisco in less than two hours.
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