After missing out on a title at last year’s Great Garlic Cook-Off, Sechelt’s Stacey Clayton came home this year with a fourth place win for her garlic infused salad.
She beat out hundreds of chefs from across North America vying for one of eight spots on stage for the annual cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif.
The competition is filmed for television and chefs compete in front of thousands of spectators while being critiqued by celebrity judges.
Of the eight chefs chosen to compete, Clay-ton was once again the only contestant from Canada, so she did her best to represent our country.
The local mother, who likes to come up with fresh and creative ideas in the kitchen, made sure to bring some olive oil with her from the Sunshine Coast Olive Oil Co. in Gibsons.
“They completely sponsored me and gave me all my products to take down there, so I could represent the Coast on the cameras because down there they have different products for everyone to use,” Clayton said. “So I was able to have slightly better products than what they were offering.”
She also made sure to pick up fresh ingredients from farmers’ markets along the way.
“I think it makes a big difference,” Clayton said.
Her salad featured many flavours.
“’They called it the Gilroy Summer Salad. It was a salad with mixed spring greens and spinach and grilled radicchio and baby arugula, lots of celery leaves. And then I put strawberries in it and I did a roasted garlic goat cheese and garlic candied nuts,” Clayton said.
“I put more garlic in a salad than anybody’s ever heard of. I did a reduced strawberry balsamic dressing with garlic in it too, so there was garlic all over the place, just kind of shifted in different ways.”
By the time Clayton finished her summer salad for the judges, she had used four heads of garlic.
While last year a timing error by her assistant caused Clayton to plate her food in a hurry, which likely cost her the competition, this year the timing wasn’t an issue — it was the heat.
With the temperature in Gilroy hovering around 38 degrees on the day of the competition, Clayton had difficulty keeping her salad cool.
“Unfortunately it was so hot the candied nuts didn’t even set,” Clayton recalled. “We only have two hours and in that heat when stuff comes out of the oven, it doesn’t cool very quickly. So for my dish and a couple other women’s, it was tough to judge where it normally would be because of the heat.”
Despite the problem with the candied nuts and some wilting of the lettuce before judges could try Clayton’s dish, she ended up getting top marks for creativity and her use of garlic.
She ended up coming in fourth out of eight contestants.
“Coming in fourth was still a really big deal because I was a part of the exciting end conclusion. They eliminate you down to four people,” Clayton said. “So for me to go from not being able to finish last year with the glitches to be able to be part of the excitement just makes me want to go back and do it again.”
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