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Alchemy's Buscher is 2016 Oregon Iron Chef

Ashland’s restaurant scene just picked up new cachet as Alchemy Restaurant chef Billy Buscher took home the coveted 2016 Iron Chef of Oregon award.

In the finals, Buscher competed against another Ashlander — last year’s Iron Chef James Williams of Omar’s. The much-watched event took place Aug. 13 at Bite of Oregon in Portland.

The medals keep piling up for both chefs: Buscher was Ashland Culinary Festival 2015 Wild Card Chef and runner-up, and also 2012 Top Chef. Williams was Ashland Culinary Festival Top Chef 2014. Buscher’s sous chef was Bert LaTurner of Alchemy.

In the final round, the two chefs were given a basket of previously secret ingredients to incorporate into the dish in a half-hour time span: Nicky USA Water Buffalo, Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese, rutabaga, tenderbite beans, Irish fingerling potatoes and finger limes.

“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.

“It’s very humbling, a bit surreal, and very exciting. ... There are a lot of good chefs in Oregon. I did it with a lot of support from James (Williams) through the rounds. We are a tight community of chefs in Ashland, and there’s a lot of respect between the two of us.”

Williams told Buscher just to cook “like you normally do” at the restaurant and “don’t overcomplicate things. Just focus on the ingredients like you do at work.”

Describing his cooking process in the final event, Buscher notes, “We made a fingerling potatoe and bleu cheese fondue, sliced yellow wax beans and compressed them in shiso leaves and tossed them in finger lime vinaigrette. Yellow wax beans don’t have a lot of flavor, so it was all about pulling out as much flavor as possible (with other ingredients).

“The water buffalo we seared black and blue with a little bit of shiso. We did a garnish of fresh tarragon and fresh basil with friend shiso, and made fried fingerling potato chips, garnished with tarragon honey.”

In the 10th annual Ashland Culinary Festival, coming up Nov. 3-6 at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, 12 local chefs to be named later will compete in the popular Chef Showdown, using local produce and a secret key ingredient. The event includes culinary workshops, mixology and food demonstrations, with the chance to sample and buy from 30 food artisans, farms and restaurants. It’s sponsored by the Ashland Visitor & Convention Bureau, with info and tickets at www.travelashland.org, Facebook and other social media.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Chef Billy Buscher of Alchemy Restaurant & Bar at the Winchester Inn won the 2016 Iron Chef of Oregon competition at the Bite of Oregon in Portland. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta