Chef Showdown with a Twist

Jade Bromley

The Ashland Culinary Festival is a wonderful event where the chefs of Southern Oregon come together in a four-day food convention at the Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites. There are food tastings, fresh products, cooking demonstrations, and workshops. For nine years, local chefs have competed in a Chef Showdown to prove they are the top chef on the Ashland food scene. This year, the Ashland Culinary Festival hosted a first-ever Junior Competition comprised of Rogue Valley high school students. Four of Ashland High’s students had the chance to participate, as well as four students from South Medford High. This is a very unique opportunity that shows how lucky the young chefs of this region are to live in a place that is so invested in the area’s students. The professional Showdown has twelve local chefs, four rounds, and one top chef. The junior competition was composed of four teams, two from Ashland High and two from South Medford. The winning team earned a chance to shadow the esteemed judges of the competition the day after the competition. Each team consisted of two people, a head chef and a sous chef. Ashland’s two teams were Gabbi Livni and Rose Eschtrutch Harrison, and Shea Scott and Eve Kempe.
In preparation, these young chefs practiced within the time constraints and with a variety of ingredient limitations. In the first round of competition, the teams from the same school duked it out to see who would go up against the winning team from the other school. The logistics of the competition were similar to many cooking competitions. In each round of competition, the competitors were presented with previously undisclosed items including a protein, nuts, and most likely some sort of vegetable. All of the ingredients were local products. They then had an hour per round to compose an appetizer for the first round and an entrée for the second round without the assistance of a recipe. The “celebrity” judges decided the winner of each based on originality, technical execution, flavor and textural components, and presentation and cleanliness of work station. Scott and Kempe were the second runners up, and the winning team was Eschtrutch Harrison and Livni. The competition was also practice, as the chefs plan to go to Skills USA in April. Skills USA is a network of programs, competitions, and other opportunities in the field of skilled labor. The more cooking and competing the chefs do, the better prepared they will be for other competitions. Congratulations to the winning team and to everyone who participated in this event, and good luck in future competitions.