One of the highlights of the event is the opportunity to taste many local foods, wines, beers and spirits.

The three-day Ashland Food & Wine Classic will offer a suspenseful showdown this weekend between the town's top chefs as well as a dessert competition and plenty of opportunities to sample wine, beer, spirits and local food.

The third annual event, put on by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's Visitor & Convention Bureau has become a popular draw for both locals and out-of-towners, with 450 attending last year. With the recession lightening, organizers are hoping for twice that number this year, said chamber marketing director Katharine Flanagan.

"We created the event not just to showcase the culinary season here, but, it being the weekend after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival closing, to invite people back," said Flanagan.

"It's a destination culinary event and includes the First Friday art walk ... and it reminds people of the coming holiday shopping season here."

The event kicks off with a wine reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Ashland Springs Hotel, where the eight competing chefs will be introduced. Their cook-off competition will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.

Competing chefs will be David Georgeson of Larks, Franco Console of Omar's, Tim Williams of Martino's, Skye Elder of Black Sheep, Will Shine of Tabu, Mario Chavez of Oregon Artisan Foods, Chandra Corwin of Cucina Biazzi and Miles McCollum of Tease Restaurant. The four finalists from Saturday's event will compete again at noon on Sunday, with the final two going head to head at 2:30 p.m.

Cooking competition judges are Neil Clooney of Dragonfly, who is a two-time Top Chef from the first two Food & Wine Classics, Mark Bernetich, a corporate chef for Sysco, and Jennifer Strange, a local freelance writer.

One of the highlights of the event is the opportunity to taste many local foods, wines, beers and spirits. Offering their wares will be Rising Sun Farms, Deux Chats Crackers, Noble Coffee, Cascade Peak Spirits, Standing Stone Brewing Co., Caldera Brewing Co., Branson's Chocolate, Recession Candy Company, Wild Rose Winery, Slagle Creek Winery, Troon Winery, Eden Vale Vineyard and South Stage Cellars.

The Food & Wine Classic features workshops in many locations around town, including Sushi Making at Paddington Station, Farm to Table with THRIVE at Ashland Co-op Community Classroom on A Street, Heart Healthy Holidays by Providence Medford Medical Center at Ashland Springs Hotel and Wine Education at Winchester Inn.

Eight judges for a dessert competition will be chosen by raffle. Entrants include Munchies, Apple Cellar, Larks, Wild Goose, Standing Stone, Black Sheep, Winchester Inn and Tease.

Produce for the cook-off is donated by Whistling Duck Farm, Salant Family Ranch, Blackberry Lane Farm, Blue Fox Farms, Dunbar Farms and Barking Moon Farms.

Ashland hotels are also offering "Classic Packages" with reduced room rates and meal vouchers, including, Albion Inn B&B, Ashland Springs Hotel, Hersey House Inn, Plaza Inn & Suites, Stratford Inn and Winchester Inn.

More than two dozen restaurants and businesses will offer discounts to customers with Food & Wine Classic tickets.

The entire event costs $25 for the weekend or $15 a day. The Friday evening reception is $10.

Tickets are available at www.ashlandchamber.com, at the Ashland Chamber office, 110 E. Main St., or at the door. For more information, call 482-3486.