by Susan Ellis
Gary Gardo and his wife consider Ella Hernandez something of a daughter, but that hasn't stopped the trash-talking. Nope, not at all.
That's because on Friday, during the Art Trolley Tour on South Main, it's Gary vs. Ella, neighbor vs. neighbor, in the "Taster's Choice" cook-off.
Ella is the reigning champ, Gary the challenger. It's up to the tour's attendees to cast their vote for that evening's master chef.
The rules are simple enough: Each gets $100, and each must make a meat dish and a vegetable dish. Voters can sample the dishes for free and then cast their vote via ballot. The winner gets a trophy and, perhaps more importantly, bragging rights.
Gary, who's lived downtown for 8 years ("It's a vacation every day"), considers himself a good cook. For the contest he's making Korean BBQ tacos with marinated and grilled beef accompanied by slaw.
Gary says he has had a few practice runs and "I got a few ideas from the food trucks last weekend, though I hope [my food] is better."
Ella, a downtown resident for 3 1/2 years, says her winning dish last time was a banh mi sandwich. This time, she's taking it up a notch by making a Bacon Explosion, which is 2 pounds of sausage wrapped in 2 pounds of bacon.
Ella is not sure what she'll be making for her vegetable dish. But, she says, laughing at her absurd attempt at nutritional logic, "You need it to balance out the heaviness of the bacon!"