The 12th annual Ashland Culinary Festival promises all the excitement and suspense of a Food Network chef competition combined with enough tastings and samplings to please any foodie.
Set to feature top chef and junior chef competitions, a contest for mixologists and several culinary workshops, the festival runs Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 8-11, at Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, 2525 Ashland Street.
With more than 100 restaurants, Ashland is well-suited for a celebration of fine cuisine and spirits.
“The festival honors creativity and celebrates Ashland’s thriving culinary scene, from our award-winning wines, Oregon Iron Chefs, artisans, farms and so much more,” says festival organizer Kelsey Frantz of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.
“We are excited as our 2018 Top Mixologist competition is growing, and we have 12 local bartenders participating this year,” she says.
The kickoff event — the 2018 Ultimate Top Chef Dinner slated for Thursday in the Stardust Lounge at Ashland Hills — is already sold out. Prepared by former top chefs Franco Console, Billy Buscher, James Williams, Skye Elder and David Georgeson, there will also be samples of specialty cocktails by 2017’s top mixologist Freddie Herrera of Hearsay Restaurant, wine tastings by Platt Anderson Cellars and bread and cheese from Rise Up! and Rogue Creamery, respectively.
The festival’s first competition is for mixologists, and its four rounds begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Twelve competitors will show their stuff during the first three 20-minute rounds. The top competitor of each round, plus a wild-card bartender chosen by the judges, will vie for top honors in the fourth round.
The Junior Chef Competition gets underway at 10 a.m. Saturday. Four teams will compete from local high school culinary programs. Competitors will receive an ingredient or challenge to work from.
The winning team will win a college scholarship and have a chance to shadow festival judges during the Top Chef Competition.
This year’s junior chef teams are Quinn Vogel and Rafael Rodriguez of Ashland High School; Shealynn Church and Olivia Murphy, Grants Pass High School; Thomas Bates II and Zander Prescott, North Medford High School; and Kara Fisher and Bailey Goble, South Medford High School.
The main event is the 2018 Top Chef Competition Saturday and Sunday. Look for 12 local chefs using ingredients from local farms and artisans. There will be three preliminary rounds. The top competitor in each round, plus a wild-card chef chosen by the judges, will advance to the final round Sunday at 3 p.m.
This year’s competing chefs are as follows:
12:30 to 2 p.m. Saturday — Shawn Alamo, Black Sheep Pub; Tony Efstratiadis, Plancha; Louis Merino, Hearsay; and Brandon Ruyle, Belle Fiore Winery.
3 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday — Raider Babcock, Standing Stone Brewing Co.; Mario Chavez, Onyx Restaurant; Javier Cruz, Simple Café; and Skye Elder, Brickroom. Elder won the competition in 2017.
12:30 to 2 p.m. Sunday — Franco Console, Larks Restaurant; Mike Hite, Alchemy Restaurant; William Snyder, Curbside King; and Luke Van Campen, MÄS.
The emcee, host and head top-chef judge is Cory Schreiber. He is founder of “Cooking from the Source,” Wildwood Restaurant, and winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Pacific Northwest.
Judges joining Schreiber are John Ash, a two-time James Beard award-winning author, teacher and restaurateur from the San Francisco Bay Area; and Tselani Richmond, an instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute who says she has a love affair with food.
Culinary workshops taught by experts in their field will be offered between 10 and 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Most will be held away from the festival location.
The food won’t be limited to what can be seen during the competitions. Festival visitors can sip and sample from more than 30 vendors on Saturday and Sunday.
Ticket prices range for the various events at the festival and can be purchased in advance at ashlandchamber.com. Save $5 by purchasing tickets online, or by bringing two nonperishable food items to the door.
Also see ashlandchamber.com for information about the culinary workshops.
Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland.