James Gregory came from Modesto with his neighbors to attend Los Banos’ third annual Tomato Festival Saturday.
He found himself watching his friends participate in the cooking classes and picking up tips about his favorite fruit.
"We’re gardeners, we grow tomatoes,” " Gregory said. . "I think this was a good idea, I’m enjoying myself. Tomatoes have become so popular in the area.”
Organizers of the two-day Los Banos Tomato Festival believe they toppled last year’s mark of 10,000 attendees as people flocked to the Los Banos Fairgrounds to cook and taste tomatoes, listen to music, compete in food contests and play games.
Not all of the fun was had by folks from out of town. Jeff Bickle and Bella Ayala, both from Los Banos, prepared ratatouille under the direction of Kagome Inc. corporate chef Charlie Baggs.
Bickle said he’s had experience with the dish.
“I cooked it many years ago,” he said. “My grandmother used to make it.”
Ayala said for her the cooking classes were 50 percent educational and 50 percent fun.
The Tomato Festival included contests for children and adults. Children in different age categories competed in a pageant-style competition, the Little Mr. and Miss Tomato Contest. Adults tested their strength and agility in the Tomato Tug-of-War and competed in a CrossFit Workout of the Day obstacle course.
The winning tug-of-war teams were Hot Salsa from CrossFit, first place; Smashing Tomatoes from CrossFit second place; and teams from the California Highway Patrol and Kagome Inc.
Carolyn Dipiero came to the festival to see her daughter, a Fresno resident, participate in the CrossFit competition.
“Any time I get to see my baby is the perfect day for me,” she said.
Dipiero said the Tomato Festival is “really nice.”
“What I like about it is that it’s about tomatoes. California has overdone the wine festivals, and everywhere you trip you can go to a grape festival,” she said.
A plethora of bands played at the festival, headlined by the BOSTYX. The group, a combination of Boston and Styx, played a two-hour set and stuck around for autographs afterward.
Michael Amabile, a Tomato Festival Committee member, said the BOSTYX concert was his favorite part of the festival.
“There was tremendous energy at the concert,” Amabile said
He said he believes the festival went well, but next year he’d like to have the activities at the fairgrounds to be closer to one another. Amabile also said he’d like to see the tomato theme be more consistent among the food vendors. He said he still wants a variety of foods but with tomatoes incorporated in them.
Amabile also praised the tomato companies surrounding Los Banos that participated in the event.
“The largest focus of the festival is on educating people about the tomato. I thought they did a good job with that,” Amabile said.