GILROY, Calif. (KGO) -- The flame from a tiki torch, lit from a massive burning garlic bulb perch high on the grounds of Christmas Hill Park, ignited a master grill to kicked off the 41st annual Gilroy Garlic Festival on Friday morning.
The garlic inspired food stalls are the big draw, but it's in the festival's kitchen area where things really heat up
"We are chefs that play with fire," says Ashley Schaffner. She grew up with the festival. Her father is one of the original cooks, going back to 1978. And now, she is the only female pyro chef at this year's event.
The pyro chefs cook up the garlic calamari and scampi, which has become the festival's signature dish. They cook in big, heavy pots with flames that burn upwards of seven feet high.
"This isn't like being in your own kitchen where you know where everything is, like, 'Oh, I will just grab this.' No, this is like fast. It's quick. It's hot! But it's so much fun!"
Gilroy is one of the largest producers of garlic in the world. This year, two tons of garlic was donated for the festival. Some of the more unusual items include garlic ostrich, garlic frog legs and garlic ice cream.
And where there is food, there will be chefs. Chef Gerron Hurt, who won last season of Master Chef, is attending for the first time. He says the Gilroy Garlic Festival has gained an international reputation. It what on his bucket list.
"Garlic is a staple. It goes with everything. Like one of those aromatics, parsley, rosemary, lemon, that makes every dish better. Like Paula Dean loves butter, I love garlic!" says Hurt.
Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio and the Real Housewives of New Jersey and cookbook author Teresa Guidice will be both be out on Saturday. And professional bar-be-que teams will battle it out in a Garli-Que BBQ Challenge.
On Saturday night, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat performs with her new band Gone West.
This year's festival hours have changed. Gates open daily at 10 a.m. Friday goes until 7p.m., Saturday until 8 p.m. and Sunday night closes out the festival at 6 p.m.