Two from Ashland battle for the title of Oregon Iron Chef

Two Ashland chefs went all the way to Portland last weekend to try to out-cook each other — and take home the title of Oregon Iron Chef.

But in the end, after a perfectly poached blue marlin dish, the Best Chef in Oregon award went to Neil Clooney, chef at downtown restaurant Dragonfly Café and Gardens.

In the final round, Clooney — who also won the competition last year — battled against Franco Console, chef at Omar's Restaurant on Siskiyou Boulevard.

"It was really cool to make it an all-Ashland final," Clooney said Monday in the Dragonfly dining room. "It does speak wonders about our restaurants."

Franco beat out two other chefs during preliminary and semifinal rounds, before facing last year's winner.

The chefs were given 30 minutes to create and plate a dish using a "secret ingredient" — blue marlin — which was announced as the clock started.

Clooney, along with his sous chef Shaun Gibb, a former Dragonfly cook, poached half of the marlin in olive oil and garnished it with a peach and corn chutney.

They pan-seared the rest of the marlin with a bacon crisp, and served it with potatoes.

Console and his sous chef David Crabtree-Logan, who also works at Omar's, drizzled a white-peach gastrique over their seared marlin and served it with a beet and basil salad, mushroom polenta, and beet, garlic and basil chips.

Three judges tasted the dishes and scored them — but when the points were added up, Clooney and Console were tied.

"It was down to the wire there," Console said. "It was nerve-wracking."

After deliberating for several minutes, the judges decided to have the celebrity guest at the event decide. Rahman "Rock" Harper, who won season three of the Iron Chef America TV show competition, selected Clooney.

The moment was especially bittersweet for Console, he said, because he lost by one point to Clooney in last year's Food and Wine Classic in Ashland. Clooney also won the event in 2007.

Now, Console is even more determined to beat Clooney, he said. "I'm hoping to get up there and get him again," he said.

Console may feature his winning dish at Omar's, since it is similar to the food already served there, he said.

Clooney doesn't plan to make his blue marlin at Dragonfly, but will whip it up for his side business, First Place Food, a catering company that features his award-winning dishes, he said.

Meanwhile, both chefs will be honing their cooking skills: Console hopes to beat Clooney, and Clooney hopes to compete on Food Network's "Iron Chef" TV show in the next few years.

"I haven't applied yet," Clooney said. "I'm going to give it a couple more years."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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