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Top Ashland chefs dish it out

Attention, foodies! (And isn’t everyone?) It’s the 10th annual Ashland Culinary Festival today through Sunday at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, located at Exit 14 off I-5.

Three days of events will culminate Sunday with the naming of 2016’s Top Chef.

If attendance at last night’s kickoff Ultimate Top Chef Dinner is any indication, the Ashland Chamber’s Visitor & Convention Bureau has another winner on its hands.

“It was sold out,” said V&C’s projects and special events coordinator Kelsey Frantz. “We were so excited to have six of our eight Top Chef winners on hand to prepare the six-course dinner.”

Participating were Neil Clooney, Smithfield’s, 2007-08; Franco Console, Lark’s, 2009; Chandra Corwin, Cucina Biazzi, 2010; Dustin Farley, Porters, 2013; James Williams, previously with Omar’s, 2014; and Josh Dorcak, Scarpetta Prima, 2015.

“It was a great way to celebrate our 10th anniversary, by featuring our winning chefs,” she said.

A full schedule of events is planned for Friday through Sunday, including some new to the festival.

“On Friday night we’re having our first-ever Top Mixologist competition,” Frantz said. It’s patterned after the Top Chef competition.

“Each bartender will be challenged to mix a drink with a secret ingredient,” she said.

Competing will be barkeeps from Alchemy Restaurant & Bar, Brickroom, Larks Restaurant, and Smithfields Restaurant & Bar.

The mixologist competition is part of the festival events tonight from 5:30 to 7, which also includes live music from Doug Warren, samplings from the Bear Creek Wine Trail, small bites, and a food demo from Chef Mark Bernetich of Sysco.

This afternoon there will be an Ashland wine tour which can be booked through Wine Hopper Tours at 855-550-9463.

“We want people to know why Wine Enthusiast magazine named Ashland one of the top-10 best wine travel destinations in the world,” Frantz said.

On Saturday, a new event is a Junior Chef competition from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Featured will be two teams each from Ashland High School and South Medford High School’s culinary program. Each team will consist of a chef and a sous chef. The competition will mirror the Iron Chef format with a secret ingredient or other challenge for the teams.

Billy Buscher of Alchemy, the 2016 winner of Iron Chef Oregon and Ashland’s 2012 Top Chef, will be a celebrity judge and mentor for the competition.

“One of the cool things is that each team will get to ask Billy one question during the competition,” Frantz said. “It’s like ‘phone a friend’ if they need it.”

A scholarship award will be presented to the top team, funded by the chamber and proceeds from a festival auction of dine-out certificates.

Ticketed hands-on culinary workshops will be held Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10 to 11:30. A limited number of seats is available. The Junior Chef competition can be chosen as a workshop when purchasing tickets.

The big event is the Top Chef competition. Twelve chefs from local restaurants will compete for top honors. Four rounds will be conducted from 12:30 to 2 and 3 to 4:30 Saturday and Sunday. The winners of each of the first three rounds will be joined by a “wild card” chef, chosen by the judges, for Sunday’s final round. (See the sidebar for a list of competitors and judges.)

The festival is partnering with the Ashland Emergency Food Bank by offering a $5 ticket discount for each adult who brings two non-perishable food items to the door. The food will be donated to the food bank.

On both Saturday and Sunday, the festival doors open at noon, with 30 participating vendors on site until 5 p.m.

Two food trucks will park on site — Nguyen Street Food of Talent on Saturday and NW Pine Apple of Medford on Sunday. Food vendors inside both days include Figgy’s Food Truck of Medford, Latinality of Grants Pass, and Luna Café & Mercantile, Ashland Hills Hotel’s own.

There is a variety of ticket packages available, including a VIP Pass for all festival days. Information about passes, workshops, tickets, and locations is available online at ashlandchamber.com. Click on “Events,” choose the Ashland Culinary Festival, and browse the site.

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.