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This past weekend visitors and locals enjoyed this destination culinary event produced by Travel Ashland and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. The 13th annual Ashland Culinary Festival welcomed more attendees and more excitement than any other year in its history with an electric room captivated by the talent of Southern Oregon. Throughout the weekend there were sold out culinary workshops, live competitions on stage, vendor samplings, events throughout Ashland and more. The weekend's center point was the Top Chef Competition where 13 local chefs competed for the 2019 Top Chef title along with our annual Junior Chef & Top Mixologist Competitions.
The festival began with a SOLD OUT Ultimate Top Chef Dinner on Thursday evening which honored the history of this event and the amazing talent in Southern Oregon. The evening included a specialty cocktail sampling by 2018 Top Mixologist – Caitlin Hilligoss of Peerless Restaurant & Bar, samplings from the Rogue Creamery, Simple Café and AWEN Winecraft and five past Top Chefs winners from previous years, each preparing a signature course paired with a local winery. Top Chef courses were prepared by Skye Elder of Brickroom - Top Chef 2017, Franco Console of Larks Restaurant - Top Chef 2009, David Georgeson of Luna Café & Neuman Hotel Group - Top Chef 2011, Chandra Corwin of Cucina Biazzi - Top Chef 2010 and Neil Clooney of Smithfields Restaurant & Bar and Bird+Rye - Top Chef 2007 & 2008 / Iron Chef of Oregon 2008 & 2009. Award-winning wine pairings by Weisinger Family Winery, Platt Anderson Cellars, RoxyAnn Winery, Trium Winery and Eden Valley Orchards (Pear Cider).
On Friday evening, we kicked off our Festival with an evening of delicious bites and samples by local restaurants, distilleries and wine tastings by the Bear Creek Wine Trail all happening around the room as our 4th annual Top Mixologist Competition took place on stage in front of over 300 people. We welcomed 12 Bartenders to the stage to compete. Much like our Top Chef Competition, one bartender with the highest score from each round advanced to the FINAL Round. The fourth position in the FINAL round was the “Wild Card” Bartender – selected by the Judges, from the nine non-qualifying competitors, based on a similar set of judging guidelines as the previous rounds. The 2019 Wild Card Mixologist was Kalea Mckenna of Jefferson Spirits. Alongside her in the final round was 2016 Top Mixologist, Blake Henry of the Brickroom (advancing from round one), Jordan Shepard-McGuire of Larks Kitchen & Cocktails / Inn at the Commons (advancing from round two) and 2017 Top Mixologist Freddie Herrera of Mezcal Restaurant (advancing from round three). Each round had a secret ingredient which was required to be incorporated into their final drink. Ultimately it was Jordan Shepard-McGuire of Larks Kitchen & Cocktails / Inn at the Commons, winning first place and crowned the 2019 Top Mixologist with her drink titled the “Dazzling Margarita” using the secret ingredient – Pennington Farms Razzle Dazzle Jam (which is a mix of Raspberry, Blueberries and Marionberries) along with a Los Vecinos del Campo Mezcal, Agave Syrup, Cointreau and a salt rim with lime garnish. Coming in 2nd place was Kalea Mckenna, 3rd place Freddie Herrera and 4th place Blake Henry.
On Saturday, the Festival was honored to hold the 4th annual Junior Chef Competition, the first of its kind in Southern Oregon. A two-person Chef Team competed from Ashland High School, Grants Pass High School, Hidden Valley High School, North Medford High School, Phoenix High School and South Medford High School, six teams total. Junior Chefs first competed in a Quick-Fire Challenge Round (two rounds, three schools each) and were given 14 minutes to make a ‘Composed Salad & Dressing’ to showcase their knife skills and quick recipe development/plating. The top four scores from the previous two rounds moved onto the final round where Junior Chefs were given a secret challenge to complete much like the Top Chef Competition. The final four schools were Ashland, Grants Pass, North and South. For the final round, Junior Chefs were challenged to create a full plate with an Entrée, a pasta and a vegetable. Secret Ingredient - Salmon. Phoenix Yee & Ian Stevens, Juniors – Ages 16 from North Medford High School, won the 2019 Junior Chef title. Phoenix & Ian created a beautiful plate with Pan-seared Salmon over Yakisoba Noodles with red bell peppers, cabbage, mushrooms and a ginger sauce made with honey, ginger and lemon topped with microgreens. With winning, they were given the chance to shadow the Judges for the Chef Competition for the remainder of the weekend as well as receiving a scholarship which audience members contributed to by bidding on auction items in addition to local businesses contributing to the scholarship fund. The Junior Chef Competition is one of the highlights of this Festival and is a must-see event. Chef Cory Schreiber, James Beard Award-Winning Chef from Cooking from the Source was welcomed as the celebrity Judge and mentor for this competition.
The weekend continued with the Top Chef Competition and over 35 vendors to sample each day. Vendors included local wineries, chocolatiers, distilleries, creameries, breweries, food artisans, chefs, cooking products and much more. Guests enjoyed sampling around the room as the Top Chef Competition took place live on stage.
The Top Chef Competition results were as follows:
These three Chefs advanced to the final round along with Mike Hite of Alchemy Restaurant & Bar who earned the fourth slot in the finals as the 2019 Judge’s Choice WILD CARD Chef, selected from the nine Chefs who did not advance.
In the final round, Billy Buscher of Larks Kitchen & Cocktails / Inn at the Commons (2012 Top Chef & Iron Chef of Oregon 2016) earned his second Top Chef title alongside his talented Sous Chef John Rumble with his execution and plating of the following challenge – Chefs were given a Whole Chicken but could not use the breast, leg or thigh along with being required to use bacon and Burgundy Truffles and/or a White Truffle Oil in the dish. Chef Buscher’s plate is described as follows – Bacon Chicken Mousse Boneless Chicken Wing, Brie Truffle Creamed Leeks, Truffle Beurre Monte Poached Baby Fennel Bulb and Baby Kohlrabi, Crispy Chicken Skin, Celery Leaves and Curls, Shaved Truffle And Truffle Vinaigrette – outstanding!
All four Chefs who advanced to the final round should be extremely proud of their accomplishments as each round featured talented Chefs from across the Valley. 2nd place was awarded to Skye Elder of Brickroom, 3rd place went to Mike Hite of Alchemy Restaurant & Bar and 4th place was Julian Jones of Martino’s/Macaroni’s.
The Ashland Emergency Food Bank received many canned goods donated by event goers who received a discount on their ticket by donating two non-perishable food items. Join us next year for the 14th annual Ashland Culinary Festival, November 5th – 8th, 2020 at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites. To see photos and videos from the event, visit our Ashland Culinary Festival pages on Facebook and Instagram.
2019 Wild Card Mixologist & 2nd Place Finalist, Kalea Mckenna of Jefferson Spirits (left) and 2019 Top Mixologist, Jordan Shepard-McGuireof Larks Kitchen & Cocktails / Inn at the Commons (right) - Photo by Kari Young of @Meatballssmama
2019 Junior Chef Winners from North Medford High School, Phoenix Yee (left) & Ian Stevens (right) with 2019 Chef Competition Judge, Shaun O’Neale – Winner of MasterChef Season 7 on FOX & Author of “My Modern American Table” (Middle) – Photo by Kari Young of @Meatballssmama
2019 Winning Dish by Billy Buscher and John Rumble – Photo by Kari Young of @Meatballssmama
2019 Top Chef Finalists with the 2019 Competition Judges – from left to right – Chef Rebecca Peizer, Judge (Professor of Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America), Jeremy Gianino & Skye Elder of Brickroom (2nd Place), John Rumble & Billy Buscher of Larks Kitchen & Cocktails / Inn at the Commons (1st Place, 2019 Top Chef), Mike Hite & Matthew Cleveland of Alchemy Restaurant & Bar (2019 Wild Card Chef & 3rd Place), Jeremy Heady & Julian Jones of Martino’s/Macaroni’s (4th Place), Head Judge, Chef Tselani Richmond and Chef Shaun O’Neale, Judge (MasterChef Season 7 Winner & Author of “My Modern American Table”) – Photo by Graham Lewis Photography