Ann Epstein could not have been more overjoyed if she had just been named second runnerup for Mrs. America.

She bounced up and down and squealed, then threw her hands over her mouth. Just as quickly, she pulled them away.


Even Anne Epstein couldn't stand the way her hands reeked of garlic.

Epstein cut her jubilation short to embrace the first runner-up, "fat, 50 and physically unfit" Helen Headlee."Great!" Helen Headlee exclaimed when she collected her honorary garlic braid and her $50 prize. "Now I can pay my utilities bill."

Then there was silence. The suspense in the Gavilan Community College cafeteria was thicker than the gravy. Who would be the grand winner in the first annual garlic cookoff of the first annual Gilroy Garlic Festival?

"kelly Greene of Mill Valley," announced Chief Judge Rose Emma Pelliccione, Miss Gilroy Garlic 1955, "for her Asian Chicken."

The proprietor of Squeezer's Palace, a Mill Valley sauna and message salon, accepted her victory with suitable Marin County grace. "Hey, far out," said Greene. Pelliccione was somewhat less mellow, because the victor's crown (made, naturally, of garlic bulbs) kept slipping off her head.

While Pelliccione attempted to secure the fallen crown to Greene's long blond hair, Greene made the kind of victory speech that might have won her the garlic-cooking contest even if her Asian chicken hadn't.

"I am truly into garlic," said Greene. "I mean, I would rather have garlic, than chocolate.

Garlic is an all-purpose tonic, and I'm a firm believer in it." Greene smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "I squeeze bodies, I squeeze garlic."

Her only problem, said Greene, was in limiting the amount of garlic in her winning recipe."Usually I use about 40 cloves," she said, "But for the contest I thought I'd better cut back some."

Like the other nine finalists in the garlic cookoff, Greene had pulled into Gilroy early that Saturday morning. Selected by Pelliccione from more than 500 entrants, the finalists had been asked to have their recipes prepared by judging time, 11:30 a.m.

Contestant Anne Epstein, however, blazed in from North Hollywood just an hour before judging time. Her plane was late, Epstein told Pelliccione at least 27 times.

Nervously, Epstein eyed her competitors. "Omigod," she said. "These are heavy-duty garlic freaks."

Of course they were, or they wouldn't have come to this hot, dusty little town 90 miles south of San Francisco, and they certainly wouldn't have entered a contest offering a paltry $100 top prize and requiring them to use at least three cloves of garlic. But this was Gilroy's first-ever Garlic Festival, part of its celebration of the assumption of the title of Garlic Capital of the World. The winning recipes were part of what festival organizers hoped would put Gilroy and its garlic on the gourmet map.

Still, the response to the contest surprised even its organizers. With just one release to a number of newspapers throughout the state, more than 500 entries poured in.

"I didn't intend to enter at all," said Mike Filice, 71, a retired vintner from nearby San Martin. "But then one of my hunting buddies reminded me of the recipe I make when we go hunting."

The recipe, Antipasto Aglio, calls for a mere 30 cloves of garlic.

"Listen, we go out on the safaris," said Filice, "oh, about 10 or so of us, we take along 25 pounds of garlic for a 10-day expedition."

Filice did not say what kind of bounty these garlic-filled expeditions yield.

While Filice sauteed a mountain of garlic cloves, competitor Jeanne Marks stood in a corner, watching all the activity with smug amusement.

"Mine's a very complicated recipe," said the housewife from Aptos, Calif. "You go out and catch a fish and you throw all this junk on it."

Marks pulled back the tin foil from her Pyrex dish, revealing a freshly caught red snapper bathed in an aroumatic sauce.

"It's all that brandy," Marks said with a rapturous grin. "It smells fabulous."

Not everything, and certainly not everyone, in the Gavilan College cafeteria smelled fabulous. Between the garlic people and their garlic products the stench of garlic was staggering.

"Listen," said Bob Dixon, a fireman from Santa Cruz who was making a quiche that could have come off the cover of Family Circle magazine, "if you're a garlic eater you don't notice it."

"How do you deal with garlic breath?" mused Jeanne Marks. "You hang around other people with garlic breath."

Kelly Greene was stunned by the question. "Offend me?" she asked. "Are you kidding? I think garlic breath's great." "Smell that," Mike Filice commanded, then thrust his nose into his 30-clove garlic sauce. "Heaven on earth."

Filice might have been appointed the festival's official ambassador of garlic, for to hear him tell it, the weed cures everything from indigestion to impotence, from depression to divorce. "Garlic keeps families together," he insisted in a tone that no one could take seriously.

Unlike his competitors, some of whom said they dream up recipes for the contests they enter impulsively while they are waiting in gas lines, Mike Filice said he never really expected to win the Gilroy Garlic Cookoff.

Even in the Garlic Capital of the World, he said, and even among heavy-duty garlic freaks, "the odds were against me. Thirty cloves of garlic was bound to scare the hell out of 'em."

GARLIC-CITRUS SHERBERT 1/2 ounce lemon juice (about 4 lemons) 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel 1/8 cup garlic juice (4 to 5 cloves) 1 can (8 ounces) mandarin orange slices packed in juice, drained 1 cup sugar 2 1/2 cups milk 1 1/2 cups half and half cream Combine lemon juice, peel, garlic juice, orange slices and sugar in a small bowl. Let stand at room temperature 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Combine with milk and cream in canister of hand crank or electric ice cream maker. Churn-freezer following manufactuer's directions. Serve immediately, or store in freezer, then let stand at room temperature up to 30 minutes to soften slightly before serving. -- Katherine Kirsch and Carol Jean Wihieski KELLY'S ASIAN CHICKEN 1 frying chicken (3 to 3 1/2 pounds), cut into serving pieces 2 to 3 tablespoons peanut oil 1 head garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped 1 or 2 small dried hot red chilli peppers (optional) 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/2 cup white vinegar 3 tablespoons honey 1 pound Chinese noodles (mein)

Brown the chicken in peanut oil in a wok or a large, heavy skillet. Add the garlic and the peppers as the chicken becomes nearly brown. Then add remaining ingredients except noodles. Keep cooking the chicken over high heat until it is done, about 10 minutes. There should be a few spoonfuls of sauce left to glaze the chicken and moisten the noodles.

While the chicken is cooking, plunge the noodles into boiling water until they are tender, about 3 minutes if they are fresh, 8 to 10 minutes if they are dried. Drain them well. Serve the chicken over the noodles. GIN-GAR CHICKEN 8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped 1 piece fresh ginger root, 1-by-1-inch, peeled and roughly chopped 1 cup plain yogurt 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 1/2 pounds chicken, cut up

Put the garlic, ginger and a small amount of the yogurt in a blender or a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until it forms a puree. Add the remaining yogurt and the seasoning. Pour this over the chicken and let it marinate overnight in the refreigerator, up to 24 hours. Broil the chicken over charcoal. Serve it with lemon slices to be squeezed on the chicken at the last minute. VEAL SHANKS WITH GARLIC 3 hind leg veal shanks, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces about 1-inch thick 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1 or 2 large carrots, thickly sliced Bouquet garni (see note) 1 cup dry white wine 2 or 3 cups brown veal stock, chicken or beef broth Salt, pepper 4 heads of garlic, separated and peeled Chopped parsley for garnish French bread, sliced and toasted

Brown the veal shanks in the hot oil in a large braising pot. Remove the meat from the pot. Add the onion, carrot and bouquet garni (note: this is a bundle of celery, thyme and parsley that is removed from the dish before serving). Saute the vegetables until they are browned and softened. Drain as much of the oil as possible. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the vegetables into a layer at the bottom of the pan. Arrange the veal shanks on top. Add the wine and let it boil away, but take care not to burn the meat or vegetables. Add the broth, enough to just cover the meat, bring it to a boil and add the garlic cloves. It is all right to smash the garlic cloves lightly to make them easier to peel. Cover the pot, place it in the oven and let it bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the veal is fork tender.

Drain the liquid and measure it. There should be 2 cups. If there is more, reduce the liquid over high heat. The vegtables may be pureed and added to the sauce to thicken it. Place the meat on a platter and garnish it with chopped parsley. Serve the garlic cloves separately in a small bowl with a knife for spreading them on the toasted French bread slices.

Because of the lengthy cooking time, the garlic loses much of its pungency and becomes sweet, rich and buttery. Serve this dish with a robust red wine. GARLIC PUDDING (for a 6 cup mold) 2 bulbs garlic 1 cup sugar 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/4 tablespoon salt 1 1/4 cups cold water (garlic water) 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel 1/4 cup lemon juice 2 egg whites 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Wrap garlic bulbs in foil and bake until well done (soft). Remove from foil and boil in 1 1/2 cups water until water has taken on a garlic flavor.

In a saucepan combine sugar, gelatin and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups

In a saucepan combine sugar, gelatin and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water. Stir over heat until dissolved; remove from heat. Add another 3/4-cup garlic water, lemon peel and lemon juice. Chill until partially set.

Turn into a large bowl. Add egg whites and beat with electric mixer until mixture begins to hold its shape. Turn into mold. Chill until firm. Unmold. Garnish with sprinkles of nutmeg and serve with custard sauce. CUSTARD SAUCE (2 cups)

:In a heavy saucepan mix 4 beaten egg yolks with 1?4 cup sugar, dash salt and 2 cups milk. Cook over low heat until mixture coats spoon. Cool and serve.