GILROY -- It all started with a greeting.
Gene Sakahara and Sam Bozzo, of Gilroy, always greeted each other each year at the Gilroy Garlic Festival with shouts of "Saka!" "Bozzo!" and a chest bump.
Past presidents of the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 1990 and '91, and both former school administrators, Sakahara and Bozzo wondered what to do next. They decided to form a cooking team -- they became the "Sakabozzo twins, separated at birth."
Although the Gilroy Garlic Festival that opened Friday has gone international -- around 100,000 visitors annually -- the "Sakabozzo twins" are two of the 4,000 volunteers who run the event and in the process help retain its friendly local atmosphere.
For the last 23 years, the Click and Clack of the Garlic Festival have cooked together at the yearly demonstrations and cook-offs, at one point going head-to-head with Luca Rutigliano, an executive chef from Rome, who has traveled around the world exhibiting his skills.
"Lost by a tenth of a point," Sakahara said.
As they demonstrated the making of the very sandwich that came in second to Rutigliano's piece -- a portobello mushroom and chicken sandwich with olive oil, lots of butter, marinara sauce, and 3 cloves of garlic -- the Sakahara and Bozzo joked and shouted out to friends and family in the crowd. At one point Sakahara, who once served as principal at Rod Kelley Elementary in Gilroy, recognized a young woman at the entrance to the tent:
"Hang on! I see a former student of mine ... you wanted to grow up and be an astronaut."
Kristy Granzow smiled -- and told him, "I'm an aerospace engineer."
Family connections are the norm at the three-day festival that continues at Christmas Hill Park through Sunday.
While Bozzo cooked up a grilled chicken sandwich with portobello mushrooms, his son Dave turned pepper steaks in the sun. His granddaughters also volunteer.
Meanwhile, Don Christopher, whose family farm dates back to 1956, has provided garlic to the festival since his friend Rudy Melone founded it in 1979.
"When we started it, we had no idea it was going to have such an effect on people eating garlic. But it does. And it's made the garlic sales go up, which is really good," Christopher said.
With the drought, Christopher said, some garlic ranches in San Joaquin Valley are losing their growers, who often choose to preserve their orchards rather than grow garlic. But the Gilroy farms, whose water is supplied by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, are doing just fine. Garlic companies have simply begun to expand to new farms.
The festival seems to be doing just fine, though--and with plenty of water stations around, visitors and volunteers stay hydrated throughout the day, so that they can enjoy garlic frog legs and garlic escargot, as well as the classic garlic ice cream.
Contact Andie Waterman at 408-920-5064. Follow her at Twitter.com/WaterAndie.
The festival continues Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. each day at Christmas Hill Park. Parking is free. Entrance gates close at 6 p.m. . Tickets are: general admission, $20; children, ages 6-12, $10; Seniors age 60 and over, $10. Save $2 online. For information call, 408-842-1625 or visit gilroygarlicfestival.com