I can still smell the garlic.
My trip to Gilroy, CA was certainly one that touched all senses and left an impact I’ll likely never forget. It was a trip that included lots of firsts as well.
- My first time entering a recipe/cooking competition
- My first time flying with both my parents
- My first time taking a real family vacation as an adult
- My first time having garlic ice cream
- My first time… well, I could go on and on.
It was amazing. From the minute we got out of the car at the hotel I was shocked that the myth was really true, the air in Gilroy, CA smells like Garlic. We spent Friday at the festival and w 0 w. Talk about lots of garlic. We learned they use 4 tons of garlic on Gourmet Alley alone! We had garlic fries, and deep fried garlic, and garlic ice cream, and garlic sweet potato fries, and garlic chicken stir-fry, and a garlic chicken sausage sub, and garlic roasted corn, and garlic shrimp scampi, and garlic calamari, and a garlic pepper steak sub, and garlic bread, garlic stuffed mushrooms, and garlic penne pesto. Did I mention we had some garlic? (see all my pictures)
It was really quite amazing. One of the cook-off committee members hosted a dinner for all of the contestants and it was lovely. Really beautiful home and a tasty meal cooked by one of the judges, Jay Minzer. I was surprised by a welcoming package that included all sorts of garlic goodies (one of which was a Garlic BBQ Sauce by one of the judges – Andrea Froncillo of The Stinking Rose Restaurant and The Franciscan). My grocery shopping was a breeze, the arugula was the hardest to find, but a quick trip from Gilroy over to Morgan Hill to Trader Joe’s took care of that. Before I really got started though, I nearly could have encountered disaster and I thank Margi Berry (competitor in the cook-off) for saving me. She was nice enough to give me one of her extra passes to the festival and when picking it up for her she suggested I check the fridge in the room as in a previous year, a girl had all her produce frozen because the fridge was too cold. Sure enough, I got back to the room and my arugula was freezing! It was still salvagable, but if I wouldn’t have checked it would have been completely ruined. So thank you again Mari for your kindness! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I was the new kid on the block, and I learned it pretty quickly. All the other competitors had at least entered recipe competitions and won. Many had even competed in live cook-offs before. Two (Margi Berry & Renata Stanko) had placed in the Gilroy Garlic Festival before and Derick Thurman (competitor from Charlotte, NC) competed last year.
The morning of the cook-off I was a nervous wreck and nearly made my mother cry. Fortunately kind words from friends on the phone, through text, and on Facebook helped put me at ease. Then there was Frank. “Frank?” you ask… he was my assigned chaperone and assistant, and guide to success. I couldn’t have asked for more either. He was fantastic.
After getting set-up I nearly enountered by second disaster, but Frank dissolved it before we even really started. He was smart enough to immediately turn on the oven to check that it came to temperature. Unfortunately the oven was 100 degrees off, but everyone worked it out and shifted me to spot #6 in the competion. That oven worked much better, but was not entirely accuate – it all worked out though.
Once I got cooking things got much easier and my stress level dissolved. I was rocking a very cool apron made by dear friend Lisa Specht and my phone barely stopped buzzing in my pocket as people were texting and posting on facebook. It was very fun to make posts live from the stage and even cooler that friends and family all over the country were able to watch along while the competition streamed on the internet.
The cooking wasn’t entirely flawless. The garlic took longer to roast than normal, and the pork didn’t cook all the way through. But again – I prevailed. Fortunately I cooked enough pork and that the ends were all done enough to use. I took plating down to the last 20 seconds and cameras hovered over me and the emcees asked me questions. The Royal Pastic Ware I used looked fantastic on the tray and Potentially Pretentious Pork Tenderloin with Garlic Five Ways was done.
I overheard some of the comments judges made and I took away that the grit cakes were sensuous and the fried garlic chips added great texture. And even though judge Jay had to take back his promise that he would rank me #1 if I successfully said ‘Potentially Pretentious Pork Tenderloin with Garlic Five Ways’ 1o-times-fast (see video) – I was still able to bring home the 2nd place plaque and $750!!
Standing up there during the awards ceremony I couldn’t help but think about all the talented cooks that were standing there and the gorgeous and interesting food they had produced. I went into the cook-off with joking cockiness, but truly believed just being there was winning enough.
You can picture it. We were all standing in a line at the front of the stage, and the emcee paced back and forth building tension. He then had the Garlic Festival Queen stand quietly behind third place and as they announced, Michael Labrador’s Garlic Paella with Garlic Allioli, he was adorned with a garlic crown.Then he started pacing again…
I was between Jamie Miller (Deconstructed Beef Wellington with Garlic-Tarragon Aioli) and Susan Mason (Emerald City Pelau). Something in my gut told me Jamie was getting second. Her beef wellington looked really nice. The emcee got quiet and I nearly fell out as I heard him say “Potentially Pretentious…” and felt the garlic crown go on my head. It was such an honor.
They had Michael and I step back, and one-by-one the emcee eliminated individual contestants until Margi Berry was crowned and awarded the $1000 first prize for her Warm Weather Watermelon Crabmeat Kissed South Seas Soup. (I tried it – and while I was originally scared of the idea of it and prior to the contest though – whhhaaaattt??? – it was good. She deserved to win. It was a very clever combination of flavors that you wouldn’t expect and she executed it very well.)
Sadly, since I placed I cannot enter the cook-off again for three years, but I guess that is the price you pay sometimes. I’d do it all again in a heart beat and think I might have the competitive cooking bug. There are most certainly other recipes brewing and contest submissions lurking.
All the recipe’s from the cook-off are available in the 2010 Gilroy Garlic Festival Cookbook, and the winning three will be published on the Web site – but for all that are curious – here it is…
Potentially Pretentious Pork Tenderloin w/ Garlic Five Ways
- 4 Heads of Garlic
- 3 TBS EVOO
- 4 – 6 cloves of garlic
- 2 TBS EVOO
- 1 cup of quick cook grits
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 TSP Salt
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup flour
- 2 TBS dried rosemary, crushed
- 1 TSP kosher salt
- 1 TSP garlic powder
- 1 TSP onion powder
- Fresh cracked pepper
- Vegetable Oil for frying
- 2 pork tenderloins (whole) (is enough to serve 6 + left overs)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 TBS fresh rosemary, minced
- Fresh cracked pepper
- 1 TSP kosher salt
- 2 TBS EVOO
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup fig preserves
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup Goat Cheese
- 4 – 6 cups baby arugula
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Pre-heat oven to 375
Remove the top portion of each head of garlic exposing the tops of the cloves
- Place heads on a sheet of aluminum foil (close together, but not touching) and fold the foil up around the sides, but do not close the top
- Evenly pour the EVOO over the garlic
- Gently close the aluminum foil over the top of the garlic and fold over just enough to stay closed
- Roast garlic for 45m – 1hr, or until cloves are tender
- Carefully remove garlic from foil and let cool on a plate, reserve oil in a large mixing bowl
- When cloves are cooled pop out of heads into a bowl
- Mash cloves in a mortar/pestle or with the back of a spoon until smooth
- Just prior to plating microwave the garlic until warm
- Peel cloves of garlic and slice with a knife or mandolin into thin pieces
- Add EVOO to a small pan and heat over medium heat until warm
- When warm add garlic pieces and fry until golden being careful not to burn
- Remove from oil and drain then store on a plate that has several paper towels on it
- Place garlic and bay leaves in a tea infuser (or equivalent device) that can be dropped into the pot and remain while cooking grits
- Combine chicken stock and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil
- Drop in packet of garlic and bay leaves
- Sprinkle in grits while whisking
- Stir in salt
- Reduce heat to low and cover
- Cook for 10 – 15 minutes or until grits are thick (cook out the majority of the water – uncover at end if necessary to allow water to evaporate)
- While cooking, line 9×13 baking sheet with a layer of plastic wrap that comes over the sided of the pan
- Evenly pour grits into the pan and tilt pan to spread across bottom
- Tear a piece of wax paper that will cover the top of the grits and gently press into grits forming an even layer approximately 1/2 inch thick
- Remove wax paper and place pan into refrigerator in order to cool the grits
- If grits are cooked right after garlic goes into the oven, most often the grits are cooled by the time the garlic comes out of the oven.
- When cooled, remove grits from pan and place on a cutting board
- Cut grits into even squares (2 – 3 squares per person based on preferred serving sizes)
- Add vegetable oil to a large electric skillet (about 1/4 inch in bottom of the pan) and heat to 400
- Mix flour, salt, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, and a few cracks of black pepper in a dish suitable for dredging the grit cakes
- Dredge grit cakes and cook in batches of of 6 – 8 depending on size of skillet
- Cook cakes for 2 – 4 min on each side or until golden brown
- Store fried grit cakes on a wire cooling rack until all are done and ready to plate
- Increase oven to 400
- Combine rosemary, garlic, salt, and several cracks of pepper in a small bowl
- Add and enough EVOO to make into a paste
- Divide mixture and rub onto the pork
- Drizzle remaining EVOO over the pork
- Heat large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat
- Place one of the pork tenderloins on the pan to sear it, about 1.5 min per side
- When finished searing the first tenderloin, set aside and sear the second one
- Return the first tenderloin to the pan and place in the oven
- Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until internal temperature is a few degrees below 140
- Remove and set on cutting board, tent loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to rest
- Just prior to plating slice tenderloin into 1/2 inch slices
- Add balsamic vinegar to sauce pan
- Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 3 – 5 minutes or until it starts noticeably reducing
- Add fig preserves and cook for an addition 9 – 11 minutes or until it just thicker than the consistency of pancake syrup
- Key is to time finishing the reduction when everything else is ready to plate
Soften Goat Cheese
- Place goat cheese in a zip top bag
- Just prior to plating microwave in 10 second increments until soft
- Cut tip of bag off in order to pipe out the cheese
- Just prior to plating, add arugula to mixing bowl with reserve oil from roasting the garlic and toss to coat
- Sprinkle in a pinch of kosher salt and a few cracks of pepper
- Place 2 – 3 grit cakes in the center of the plate
- Smear on a generous layer of the roasted garlic
- Pipe on a layer of goat cheese
- Gently nestle a bed of the arugula salad onto the top of the goat cheese
- Place 3 – 4 slices of pork (or more based on preference) on top of the arugula
- Spoon two or three spoon-fulls of the reduction over the top of the pork and then more around the outside of the plate
- Sprinkle fried garlic pieces on top of the pork