Ashland is a desirable food destination and has the unique distinction of producing several Top Chefs and Iron Chefs in Oregon. The Ashland Culinary Festival has been a pivotal part of putting Ashland, and its chefs, on the Oregon food map, and luckily for visitors and locals, most of them are still bringing their talents to restaurant tables across Southern Oregon.

“The festival promotes our culinary scene in Ashland,” says Kelsey Frantz, projects and special events coordinator at the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. “It honors what we do all year, by giving people a chance to connect with our chefs and restaurant owners.”

Now marking its 10th anniversary, the festival’s Top Chef competition has been a favorite of festival-goers as evidenced by the packed audience, watching and rooting for their favorites.

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Franco Console, Chef de Cuisine, Lark’s Home Kitchen Cuisine. Image by Courtney Armstrong

Previous winners include Chandra Corwin of Cucina Biazzi; David Georgeson, who will be the Executive Chef at the soon-to-open Common Block Brewing Company in Medford; and Franco Console, Chef de Cuisine at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland.

There has been much anticipation in Southern Oregon’s bustling brew scene about the opening of Common Block Brewing Company in Medford. However, with Top Chef Georgeson (top photo) at the helm of the kitchen, local foodies are also standing ready for opening day. Word is that housemade pork and lamb sausage, pears and pumpkins and other local organic produce will appear as pizza toppings. David is also weaving craft beer into the recipes in fun ways, including desserts, sauces and dressings. The menu will feature share plates, salads, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, mains and desserts and the creativity is sure to beat any other brew pub in the region.

A master of showcasing seasonal ingredients, Console celebrates Oregon with every dish he imagines. Representing parent company Neuman Hotel Group’s strong partnership with local farms, orchards, creameries and wineries, he brings Oregon flavors alive through ingredients such as local, seasonal organic produce, hazelnuts, pears and marionberries. The region’s food truly shines at Lark’s under the direction of Console and his team.

Southern Oregon has nine Ashland Culinary Festival Top Chefs and three state winners of the Iron Chef competition held at Portland’s Bite of Oregon. Previous Top Chef winners who are also Oregon Iron Chefs include Neil Clooney, previous owner of Smithfields and current owner of Bird and Rye in Ashland; James Williams, recently retired from his position as Executive Chef at Omar’s Fresh Seafood and Steaks; and Billy Buscher, of Alchemy Restaurant & Bar at the Winchester Inn in Ashland.

If you’re seeking a taste of England, visit the latter of Clooney’s restaurants. The two-time Top Chef and Iron Chef has created a place where pies are no longer just for dessert. His “pub and pies” is a traditional English pub meets pie shop. Savory pies, snacks and salads keep patrons satisfied and returning for more. A British native, Clooney brings authentic flavor and ingredient combinations to every pie.

The 2016 Iron Chef competition set a new precedent as two Ashland top chefs competed. Williams cooked against challenger, Buscher; ultimately, the latter won the Iron Chef competition.

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Billy Buscher, Executive Chef, Alchemy Restaurant and Bar. Image by Courtney Armstrong

“It’s such an honor and feels a little surreal to be the new Iron Chef of Oregon,” says Buscher. “I have so much respect for James, that I was just happy to be up on the same stage as him and representing Ashland’s culinary scene.”

Since winning Iron Chef in Portland, Buscher has continued his work at Alchemy Restaurant & Bar as he leads a strong kitchen team in crafting dinner, bistro food and brunch. Buscher transforms classics such as scallops, house made ravioli and seared duck breast into a food experience beyond reproach. With no culinary degree, he has worked his way up in the restaurant industry, gaining skills and accolades along the way. Buscher is not competing for Top Chef this year, though he will be a celebrity judge and mentor for this year’s new Junior Chef competition.

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After a tour in the Public House kitchen, 2015 Top Chef winner Josh Dorcak is now working his magic at Scarpetta Restaurant in Ashland. Scarpetta’s authentic farm-to-table approach has distinguished itself in Southern Oregon’s culinary scene with local and sustainable ingredients as the backbone of their seasonal menu. For autumn fare, patrons have been treated to dishes that herald Josh’s well-known fermentation and sous-vide skills.

Dustin Farley, 2013 Top Chef winner and Executive Chef at Porters – Dining at the Depot, competed at the Iron Chef battle at the 2014 Bite of Oregon. Farley’s dish was praised for its flavors and presentation…and the 3rd place prize was his.

Farley whips up nightly creations which stay true to American steakhouse food. He prepares each dish with the finest and freshest local ingredients. You have not experienced extraordinary steakhouse fare until you’ve indulged in one of Farley’s ribeye steaks or grilled rack of lamb.

The Ashland Culinary Festival has shone a light on Ashland’s top chefs who have competed and won at local and state levels. Get a taste of local talent at the Ashland Culinary Festival, Nov. 3-6, at the Ashland Hills Hotel, 2525 Ashland Street. See http://www.ashlandchamber.com/ for more information.