It was a weekend of excitement at the four-day 12th annual Ashland Culinary Festival, including a sold-out Top Chef Dinner, the third annual Mixology Competition, third annual Junior Chef Competition, and of course, the popular Top Chef Competition, from Nov. 8-11.
More than 1,800 visitors and locals enjoyed this destination culinary event produced by Travel Ashland and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. The 12th annual Ashland Culinary Festival welcomed more attendees and more excitement than any other year in its history. Throughout the weekend there were sold out culinary workshops, local samplings from food artisans, restaurants, award-winning wineries, breweries and so much more. The weekend’s center point was the Top Chef Competition where 12 local chefs competed for the 2018 Top Chef title.
The festival began with a sold out Ultimate Top Chef Dinner on Thursday evening which honored the history of this event. The evening included a specialty cocktail sampling by 2017 Top Mixologist — Freddie Herrera of Hearsay Restaurant, a recreation of last year’s winning dish in the Celebrity Quick-Fire Cooking Challenge (which challenged our contestants to make their best grilled cheese on stage), bites from the Rogue Creamery 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), Billy Buscher of True Kitchen & Bar (Top Chef 2012) and James Williams of Truffle Pig Craft Kitchen (Top Chef 2014).
Friday evening kicked off with an evening of delicious bites and cocktail samples by local restaurants and samplings by the Bear Creek Wine Trail as the third annual Top Mixologist Competition took place on stage in front more than 250 people. This year 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” cartender selected by judges from nine non-qualifying competitors.
Each round had a secret ingredient which was required to be incorporated into their final drink. Ultimately it was Caitlin Hilligoss of Peerless Restaurant winning first place and crowned the 2018 Top Mixologist. Coming in second place was Kalea Mckenna, third place Blake Henry and fourth place Freddie Herrera.
Saturday the festival was honored to hold the third annual Junior Chef Competition, the first of its kind in Southern Oregon. Two-person Chef Teams competed from Ashland, Grants Pass, North Medford and South Medford high schools.
Kara Fisher and Bailey Goble, seniors from South Medford High School, won the 2018 Junior Chef title. They were challenged to create a full plate with an entrée, a starch and a vegetable. The entrée was required to include pork tenderloin, seared and cut into medallions and also feature a cold sauce along with it. Kara and Bailey created a beautiful plate with medallion pork, cheesy polenta, apple bacon, blue cheese and spinach.
The weekend continued with the Top Chef Competition and more than 30 vendors to sample each day. Vendors included local wineries, chocolatiers, creameries, 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:
Round one winner: Brandon Ruyle of Belle Fiore Winery received the highest score for his creation using the secret ingredient (octopus) and was challenged to create a Latin dish using at least three specialty Latin ingredients on the plate.
Round two winner: Skye Elder of Brickroom received the highest score for his creation using the secret ingredient (sous vide pork belly) which had to be plated on the dish in two distinctly different ways.
Round three winner: Luke VanCampen of MÄS received the highest score for his creation using the secret ingredient (fresh pasta sheets, prosciutto and wild mushrooms). Chefs were required to keep the fresh pasta sheets whole.
These three chefs advanced to the final round, along with Raider Babcock of Standing Stone Brewing Company who earned the fourth slot in the final as the Judge’s Choice wild card chef.
In the final round, Luke VanCampen of MÄS earned the most points alongside his talented Sous Chef Josh Dorcak (2015 & 2016 Top Chef & current Iron Chef of Oregon).
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. Second place was awarded to Skye Elder of Brickroom (2017 Top Chef), third place went to Raider Babcock of Standing Stone and fourth place was Brandon Ruyle of Belle Fiore Winery.
The Ashland Emergency Food Bank received many donations from event goers who received a discount on their ticket by donating two non-perishable food items.
Join us next year for the 13th annual Ashland Culinary Festival, Nov. 7–10, 2019, at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites. To see photos and videos from the event, visit Ashland Culinary Festival pages on Facebook and Instagram.
Kelsey Frantz is the projects & special events coordinator for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce/Travel Ashland. For more information, go to www.ashlandchamber.com, call 541-482-3486 or stop by the office at 110 East Main St.