Pass the breath mints. It’s time to consume garlic with reckless abandon. The Cleveland Garlic Festival is the annual fundraiser for the North Union Farmers Market. The two day event allows the market to operate weekly throughout the year in Greater Cleveland. I’ve gone for years. But this was the first year I got to participate!
The funds generated help them administer and expand their educational and charitable market programs, which include Food Stamp enhanced purchases/EBT-SNAP, Music at the Market, Chef at the Market and the Mighty Locavores K-2 educational programming in Cleveland Municipal School District.
As you make your way around Shaker Square, which hosted the festival, you could sample countless varieties of the vampire repellent. Purple, elephant, you name it. Plus local producers had samples of the other products they make from it.
Even more popular were the stands that incorporated garlic, like garlic fries, garlic pickles, garlic burgers, even ice cream and cotton candy.
Throughout the weekend, there was also a series of demos, and competitions, the Top Chef Garlic Grill Off. Local chefs were asked to bring their A game and feature various combinations, highlighting garlic. I was asked to judge the pasture raised pork and garlic round. Don’t mind if I do?!
Everyman chef, Mike Downing, of Garage Cookin’ presented his “tacanini,” or a cross between a taco and a Panini. The smoked pork had just enough subtle garlic and smoke flavor to it, and it was very tender. Loved the touch with the pickle, too.
Table 45 Chef Matthew Anderson gave us a dynamite pulled pork slider using pork butt, garlic used three different ways, a carrot slaw and a killer aioli. Can you tell I liked that one?
Chef Cameron Krahel, from Canal Tavern of Zoar, took the classic pork and beans to a new level, and even found a way to incorporate garlic in to the peach garnish…a great surprise. The vinegar-based barbecue sauce that he provided on the side was a better choice compared to a heavier, ketchup/tomato based one. And the beans were cooked to perfection.
Finally, Chris DiLisi, from Willeyville in the East Bank of the Flats, plated up the prettiest dish of the competition, using pork belly and tenderloin, among other ingredients. It not only packed the boldest garlic punch of all the dishes, but it also displayed many difficult culinary techniques.
The surprise bonus to those watching the competition? There were samples (full sized ones!) of all of the “contestants” provided to the audience in the demo tent. Admission to the festival was only $9, plus a whole meal’s worth of taste tests.What a deal!
We were asked to judge the dishes in five categories (flavor, texture, appearance, creativity and use of garlic). In the end, the scores were quite close, but my fellow judges (Tricia Chaves of Fresh Water Cleveland and ptaom.com, and Michael Feigenbaum of Lucy’s Sweet Surrender) and I chose Chef Krahel as the winner. The small town chef was genuinely surprised to nab the win, but he deserved it.
What a great way to spend a sunny Sunday. And I have 3 more cooking competitions on my calendar coming up the fall. Not a bad line up ahead for me! Think I could make a living with gigs like this?? I’m working on it!