Too close to terror

Food writer Pam Gelsomini had left a food festival just hours before a gunman hit
Thu, 08/01/2019 - 7:45pm

Pam Gelsomini was on a plane heading home to Block Island when she started to get an unusual amount of text and phone messages.

This was Sunday, July 28, and just hours before Gelsomini had wrapped up a three-day trip to the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, where she had participated as an amateur chef.

What had been, during the past 48 hours, a sunny, fun, family-oriented event became the site of the new American nightmare. A gunman cut through a fence and started to open fire, killing three and injuring many others, before police killed the shooter.

“It was mind-boggling how close this was,” Gelsomini said.

This was her first time at the Festival, and Gelsomini described a carefree, well-run event.

“The Garlic Festival has been around for 40 years. There are cooking events with professional chefs. The Gilroy Great Garlic Cookoff is for amateur home chefs,” she said. Entrants submit their own garlic-based dishes and out of hundreds of entries, only eight are invited. Gelsomini, who runs the Dish off the Block food blog and is a food writer for The Block Island Times, said her contest took place on stage in front of the judges. Tom Collichio, a seven-time James Beard Award winner and co-host of “Master Chef” was master of ceremonies.

“This was very cool from a geeky food perspective,” said Gelsomini. “It was a really fun time.” There was food and music. The festival, over the past 41 years, has raised more than $11 million for local charities, she said.

While the cookoff was on Saturday, Gelsomini said she “got to walk around the festival” and yet that memory hits her differently. “We were standing right where the shooter was.”

“When I’m in the air, when this is actually happening,” she said her friend was getting texts telling her “there is a shooting. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ She was giving me the play-by-play, and we found out the six year-old boy died. It was just terrifying. This is a horrible tragedy. When these things happen you’re horrified and saddened but it doesn’t hit home.”

The security component has become part of the narrative of almost any big event these days, whether it is the Super Bowl or the Boston Marathon, and Gelsomini said it will now be for the Gilroy Garlic Festival as well.

“You don’t know when or where these things will happen, but you can’t stay in a hole and close your doors. You can’t let them win.” Gelsomini said she supports the right to bear arms, but questioned whether any person needed an assault weapon. “Nobody needs that,” she said.

But Gelsomini is hopeful. “This is sad and scary, the state of the world we live in these days, but we need to persevere.”

When asked if she was going to return to the Gilrowy Garlic Festival next year, she said, “I’m already dreaming up garlic dishes.”