That sweetly pungent smell wafting up from the south can mean only one thing — the Gilroy Garlic Festival, the granddaddy of California food festivals, is coming.

This 41st annual event will be held, as always, on the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the month (July 26-28) at the city’s Christmas Hill Park, with garlicky food, cooking competitions, recipe demos, live music and vendors.

Here’s what’s new this year, plus a refresher on tickets, transportation and more:

THE CULINARY CELEBRITIES: Making his first appearance in Gilroy will be Tom Colicchio, the James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur who serves as host and head judge of the long-running “Top Chef” series. At the festival, he will host the Great Garlic Cook-Off at 10 a.m. Saturday, then demonstrate one of his favorite garlicky recipes and do a Q&A with the audience.

Tom Colicchio during ‘Top Chef.’ (Michael Hickey/Bravo) 

Teresa Giudice, one of the stars on “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” will head to the cooking stage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to demonstrate healthy Italian recipes passed down in her family. She’s the author of three bestselling cookbooks, “Skinny Italian,” “Fabulicious” and “Fabulicious! Fast & Fit.”

THE COOKING CONTESTS: Here’s the chronological lineup:

Kicking off the festival’s culinary competitions will be Friday’s 11 a.m. Champions for Charity, with first responders showing off their culinary skills. Gerron Hurt, the season 9 “MasterChef” winner, will emcee this one. The winning team will donate the $3,000 prize to the charity of their choice.

At 2 p.m. Friday, wannabe culinary stars ages 9 to 18 will compete in the second annual Garlic Chef Jr. Each contestant will cook or bake an original recipe containing at least six cloves of garlic. Hurt will emcee. After the winning chef is announced at 4 p.m., Hurt will be back on stage for a cooking demo.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Colicchio will emcee the Great Garlic Cook-Off, an annual tradition that pits some of the nation’s top amateur chefs against each other. Four of the eight finalists are from California: Ellen Rivera of Gilroy will prepare her Ribeye Triple Garlic Coconut Rice Bowl with Zippy Sauce; Robyn Price from Brea will re-create her Cocoa-Coffee-Crusted Garlic & Bacon Cheesecake with Caramel Drizzle; Emily Falke from Santa Barbara is making Chiles en Nogada with Roasted Garlic Walnut Sauce; and Merry Graham from Newhall scored a finalist spot with her Garlicky BBQ Pork Fluffy Japanese Pancake with Strawberry Sriracha Syrup.

Sunday’s big event is the noontime Garlic Showdown, an Iron Chef-style competition for professional chefs. Defending his two titles (2017 and 2018) will be Carlos Pineda, chef from the  Culinary Academy / Rebekah Children’s Home in Gilroy. Going up against him will be Mark Segovia of Segovia Catering in Gilroy, freelance chef Jon Toste and Steven Catalano, executive chef at the Foster City tech company Zoox. The emcee for this contest will be Alexander La Motte, executive chef at the Rosewood CordeValle Resort in San Martin.

THE FESTIVAL FOOD: The sizzling pyro chefs at Gourmet Alley will serve their classic recipes for garlic scampi, pasta con pesto, pepper steak sandwiches, calamari and more. Vendors will sell sliders, hot dogs, nachos, burritos and other festival fare. And festival-goers can buy tickets to sample ribs at the Gilroy Garli-que BBQ Challenge and cast their vote for People’s Choice.

THE MUST-TRY: As always, the most unusual item at the fest is the garlic ice cream. You’ll love it or hate it — but you have to try it. And it’s free, courtesy of Olam Foods of Gilroy.

THIS YEAR’S NEW COCKTAIL: The Garlic Festival Mule, in a signature copper mug, was so popular that it sold out last year. It’s back this year ($17 with logo mug, refills $12), and there’s a new cocktail too. The Whiskey Daisy ($12) is a whiskey sour made with Jameson.

BEST FREE SOUVENIR: You can learn to make a garlic braid to take home. Just show up at the Garlic Grove area (near the Garlic Cook-Off Stage) at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. on any festival day.

THE OTHER FREE SOUVENIR: You don’t want a nasty sunburn courtesy of the hot Gilroy sun. Make sure to wear sunscreen and reapply frequently.

THE MUSIC: You’ll find live music — rock, blues, jazz, swing, reggae — on three stages, but country rules at this festival. For the first time, a Saturday evening concert will be presented, with Grammy-winning Nashville singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat and her new band, Gone West, taking the Amphitheater Stage at 6 p.m.

On what’s dubbed “Country Sunday,” KRTY 95.3 will again present up-and-coming musicians. This year’s noon to 3 p.m. lineup is Waterloo Revival, Caylee Hammack and King Calaway.

THE TRAFFIC: If you’re driving, do not follow GPS instructions and be wary of Waze because streets near the park will be blocked off. Instead, follow the electronic signs (and the long line of cars) on Highway 101 south and other freeways to this year’s parking lots. They open at 9 a.m. Parking costs $15; the shuttles are free. Note: You’ll be parking primarily on “graded agricultural fields,” so comfy closed-toe shoes are recommended.

THE GARLIC TRAIN: If you want to avoid the backed-up traffic on Highway 101 and save on parking, consider taking the Garlic Train on Saturday or Sunday. It’s a charter that will leave Diridon Station in San Jose at 10 a.m. both days. When you arrive in downtown Gilroy one hour later, a free shuttle bus will ferry you to the festival. For the return trip, hop on the bus at 3 p.m. to catch the train back north. It will leave Gilroy at 4 p.m.

Train tickets include festival admission: $43 adults, $38 seniors (age 60-plus) and $33 youths (ages 10-16). Buy online at

THE DEALS: You can save $2 off each ticket by buying online in advance (print out your tickets or download the bar code to your phone for scanning) at or at any Raley’s, Nob Hill or Bel Air store. Admission is $18 online/store for adults (or $20 at the gate), $13 for seniors (or $15 at the gate) and $8 for youths (or $10 at the gate). Kids ages 9 and under get in free. Parking also costs $2 less when purchased online.

Plus you can save $2 on a combo food plate when bought in advance. So that’s $13 online for pasta con pesto, calamari, half a pepper steak sandwich and garlic bread.

THE HOURS: Note the new hours this year: It’s 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday (you get one more hour to chow down, listen to music) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Entrance gates close one hour before the event closing time.

THE LAST WORD: More than 4,000 volunteers put on this festival annually. So your admission, food, wine, beer and souvenir monies go to good causes, making your garlic breath well worth it. Since 1979, the festival has raised more than $11.7 million for local nonprofits and schools.