The 11th Annual Ashland Culinary Festival, which began Thursday with the sold-out Ultimate Top Chef Dinner, continues through Sunday, Nov. 5, at the Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, one of Doug and Becky Neuman's stable of Rogue Valley hotels. Twelve Ashland restaurants will compete for the coveted 2017 Top Chef title, which has been won the previous two years by Josh Dorcak of MÄS.
Dorcak started MAS, a pop-up restaurant that focuses on multi-course tasting menus — typically of 10 to 12 courses — and highlights seasonal menus at its highly anticipated events, in an attempt to showcase regional ingredients and cuisine. He forages his own wild food ingredients, and began his career in Ashland as Chef de Cuisine at Amuse Restaurant with Erik Brown, prior to which he worked in various culinary environments nationally in both California and Arizona. Most notably, he worked under two-star Michelin chef Josiah Citrin, whose Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica is considered one of the best restaurants in the country. Citrin himself apprenticed under Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles before opening his own restaurants.
In addition to the participation of numerous top regional chefs, mixologists from some of Ashland's top venues will also compete. Blake Henry of Brickroom, last year's winner, will not be competing due to a festival rule that forbids winners from the previous year from participating in the mixology competition. However, the field of competitors has doubled from four to eight, so Ashlanders should have the opportunity to get twice as plastered as they head into their winter festivities.
Those preparing Thursday's chef's dinner included Neil Clooney, the English-born owner of "meat-centric" Smithfields (and prior to that, the popular Dragonfly), as well as Franco Console of Larks, James Williams (now an independent culinary artist who won the title a few years back when he worked with Omar’s) and, of course, Dorcak, who will be cooking with his 8-year-old son as an assistant chef.
The much vaunted Junior Chef competition will also be back, with young people from Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass competing. Other events will include wine education classes with sommelier Drew Gibbs, who is also co-owner of the Winchester Inn in Ashland, which operates Alchemy Restaurant. The Ashland Food Coop will host cooking classes, with an emphasis on cakes and tarts under the tutelage of Denika Voget of Coquette Bakery, which is based on one of the oldest family farms in the Jacksonville area. Platt Anderson Cellars, the popular small-batch winery that is the only winery in the Rogue Valley located within the Ashland city limits, will lead a painting and wine-tasting event at their tasting room in the Ashland Arts Center. Gill Anderson, the jovial owner of the winery, has recently taken his brand to competition, where it won two medals at the coveted San Francisco Chronicle 2017 Wine Competition.
Cooking competitions will be judged by renowned chef, author, and food and wine educator John Ash, who is also a two-time James Beard award recipient. He will be joined by Portland restaurateur and fellow James Beard recipient, Corey Schreiber, who was the founder and owner of the legendary Wildwood in Northwest Portland before closing it in 2014.
With everything in place, and with so much talent to go around, the 11th annual Ashland Culinary Festival should be a feast for the senses and a hazard to the waistline.
The Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites is at 2525 Ashland St., Ashland. For more information, various passes, packages and event tickets online, go to ashlandchamber.com/culinaryfestival and click on “Tickets.”
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.