Gilroy Garlic Festival - Part 2

More about the Gilroy Garlic Festival….
Although most visitors think the Garlic Festival is all about the food, it’s not. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is all about the people. In this case, the people who put on the event. Believe it or not, this beloved event is produced by a group of people who love their community so much that they volunteer year after year. There are actually only three full-time staff members who work for the festival year round. The rest of the worker-bees are made of volunteers who help on committees year round; who help with setting up the festival at Christmas Hill Park the week before; who help buttering garlic bread, pouring beer, emptying trash, parking cars and much, much more during the three days of the event.

One of the “fun-est,” and certainly most flashy, jobs at the festival is that of the Pyro Chefs. According to my source, there are only about 70 Pyro Chefs in the entire world, and about 25 – 30 who are actively cooking. There are not a lot of establishments who would probably hire a Pyro Chef without having the local fire marshal breathing down their back! But Gourmet Alley at the Garlic Festival is the perfect place – and the Pyro Chefs are volunteers.

A Pyro Chef is defined as someone who cooks with serious flame. As you can see from the photo above of Jon Vickroy, a certified Pyro Chef (or should that be certifiable?!), sunglasses are required equipment for the job – along with a fire extinguisher close by! This year I got to see first-hand as Jon trained an “aspiring” Pyro Chef on the techniques, important communication among chefs and handling of that enormous skillet at the grill. Jon was training a member of the media who had made many visits to the festival over the years, and to Gourmet Alley, but Stanley (we8there.com) had never been schooled in the finer points of being a Pyro Chef.

The Pyro Chefs at the Garlic Festival cook in Gourmet Alley, the area where all the food the festival actually cooks and sells comes from. It is hot, it is frantic, it can look like organized chaos, but it is the “fun-est” place at the festival. Watching the Pyro Chefs cook-up the calamari and scampi and yelling “fire in the hole!” Hearing the stir fry chefs bang the gong for every loaded tray of stir fry garlic chicken that is complete, and the garlic bread brigade who will spontaneously breakout in song and dance (if you can call it that!) during the buttering of the bread.

The volunteer support and community involvement for the Garlic Festival is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It tells you a lot about the quality of Brian, Joanne and Chris, the three staff members who steer this group of volunteers along the successful path they proceed along. An amazing job, and commitment, by all. Well done Gilroy.
(photo credit - Bill Strange)

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