The Best of the Best in the North West! Ashland Culinary Festival
For the past seven years, the artisan and culinary hub of Southern Oregon, known as Ashland, has celebrated their bounty of food, drink, talent and creativity. This year over 20 mouthwatering vendors offered samples and innovative culinary workshops to expand both local and visiting palettes. The Ashland Culinary Festival was held on November 8th – 10th, at the Historic Ashland Armory. The three day event showcased extraordinary local chefs as they competed for the title of “Top Chef”. Not only is this a chef competition, the culinary kickoff on Friday started with food demos by Mark Bernetich of Sysco & Dale Fowler of Regency Grill, appetizers, local wines and brews with live entertainment by the New Reeds Saxophone Quartet. Both Saturday and Sunday included a culinary workshop followed by a chef competition. The hands-On Culinary workshops offered were:
• Wine Education with Certified Wine Sommelier, presented by Drew Gibbs – General Manager of Alchemy Restaurant and Bar at the Winchester Inn.
• Got Culture? Using Fermented Vegetables in Meals-Holiday Edition, presented by Kirsten Shockey of Mellonia Farm.
• Ganache/Molding Demo, presented by Lillie Belle Farms.
• Together Forever: Beer & Wine Tasting, presented by Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer.
• Navigating the modern day food shopping experience, presented by Chef Cory Schreiber, Lead Emcee & Judge of the Ashland Culinary Festival.
Unfortunately on Sunday I had to miss my favorite part, the “Best Dessert Competition and Demos”. Following this delicious experience, they held a “Chef Showdown” where the final 4 chefs competed for the Top Chef Award. Dustin Farley (Top Chef winner) and Terra Sharp (Best dessert winner) of Larks proudly earned their 2013 titles, congrats! Last year’s winner, Billy Buscher, representing Alchemy Restaurant and Bar at the Winchester Inn, attended this year’s event to defend his title. The other contenders were Stefano Cipollone – Avalon Bar & Grill, Dale Fowler – Regency Grill, Anna Hogan – Salame, Dawn Strickmeyer – Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, Maggie Trujillo – Caldera Brewery and Restaurant, and James Williams – Omar’s Fresh Seafood and Steaks.
What vendors were there to “Sip, Sample, & Taste” you asked?
• Bear Creek Boutique Wineries
• Belle Fiore Winery
• Box R Ranch
• Brandy Peak Distillery
• Caldera Brewing Company
• Cary’s of Oregon
• Del Rio Vineyards
• Eliana Wine
• LaBrasseur Vineyard
• Ledger David Cellars
• Milagros Fresh Mexican
• Platt Anderson Cellars
• Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
• Serra Vineyards
• The Spice & Tea Exchange
• TesoAria Vineyard & Winery
• Vintner’s Kitchen
• Weisinger Family Winery
• Willamette Valley Vineyards
One thing I absolutely love about going to these events is not only feeling unconditionally spoiled by artisan food excellence, but learning about the “new folks in town”, such as Platt Anderson Cellars and The Spice & Tea Exchange. It is great being able to meander around with a complimentary wine glass in hand (yes, I point that out because I now have a collection of these from events over the last few years in Southern Oregon), not on a schedule and without any motives. You bump into strangers and start a conversation about their favorite wine and why. Some vendors are even nice enough to share their recipes with you on what they have prepared for the day. Then, the next time you find yourself hosting another group of hungry guests you can showcase your local farms and artisans in your very own kitchen—and look like a top chef pro yourself! Speaking of, many thanks to over 15 of them for donating food for this event and lead sponsor, Sysco.
Being my first year as an event attendee, I came in not knowing exactly what to expect. Instead of grabbing a bite to eat before this 7 hour event as well as a notepad for writing all my stolen culinary inspiration at this educational experience, I brought a large appetite and a camera to capture it all. Rather than thinking of it as an event you walk around and sample food until you are so stuffed you can hardly make it into your car, think of it as an engaging experience in which you are in total “awe” with those master artists. In regards to the photo ops—I quickly gave up with my photography skills after seeing one of Ashland’s finest local photographers rapidly and professionally capturing these moments of “foodie” brilliance. Huge thanks to Graham Lewis for offering his pictures up for this blog! Not only does he have the eye, he has the equipment to feature his eye! Make sure to enjoy these pictures by viewing them on our Facebook album!
Next year, I will be sitting on the main stage as a judge…ok not really but it would be nice. Next year…I hope you can join me at another one of Ashland’s best events. The heat was on (literally and figuratively) and I cannot wait to see what next year’s competition will look like. A big thanks to Katharine Flanagan and her staff at the Ashland Chamber’s Visitors and Convention Bureau for putting this on! Save the date before it is too late…it will be held on November 7th-9th, 2014.
Bonnie Ryan, Web Content/Social Media/Blogger
Southern Oregon Visitors Association (SOVA) AKA Travel Southern Oregon