There were many new activities at the four-day 11th annual Ashland Culinary Festival last weekend. But in the final analysis, the big news is always who wins the Top Chef Competition.

The 2017 winner is Skye Elder of Brickroom.

In the grueling four rounds of competition, Josh Dorcak of MAS scored high points in the first round, Elder took honors in the second round, and Stefano Cipollone of Standing Stone Brewing was high-point winner of the third round.

The three entered the final round, along with Brent Herud of Larks Restaurant, who earned the fourth slot as the judges’ choice wild card chef.

The secret ingredient for the final round was wild coho salmon. Elder, assisted by his sous-chef Jeremy Gianino, was up to the challenge, earning the most points with his “Wild Coho Salmon Two Ways” presentation. His plate included coriander seared coho with coconut jasmine rice and a wasabi caramel lomi lomi salmon with radish Napoleon. It was the first win for Elder, a Southern Oregon University graduate.

Second through fourth place winners were Herud, Dorcak and Cipollone.

The festival began Thursday evening with the sold-out Ultimate Top Chef Dinner. Six past top chefs each prepared a signature course, paired with wines from local wineries. Participants included Neil Clooney, Franco Console, David Georgeson, Billy Buscher, James Williams and Josh Dorcak. The top mixologist of 2016, Blake Henry of Brickroom, offered a pre-dinner cocktail sample with Rogue Creamery artisan cheeses.

Other highlights

Chef John Ash and Dennis Slattery won the festival’s first Quick Fire Cooking Challenge, featuring professional chefs teaming up with amateur chefs. The challenge: Make the best grilled cheese sandwich in 15 minutes.

Dezmond Barros and Coy Wimberly, seniors at North Medford High School, won the second annual Junior Chef Competition. The competing teams were given secret ingredients and a challenge to complete, much like the Top Chef Competition. All competitors won a college scholarship and the winning team received $1,200 for their school’s culinary program. Local businesses and individuals donated to the scholarship fund.

Freddie Herrera of Hearsay Restaurant won the mixology competition, with Ross Jones of Larks and Jess Jeffrey of Alchemy taking second and third honors. The bartenders worked their magic with the secret ingredient, locally harvested huckleberries.

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank received donations from many event goers who each received a discount on their tickets by donating two non-perishable food items.

Next year’s festival is set for Nov. 8–11 at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites.

—Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.