The Craft of Cooking, and the Art of Eating: A Look at Three of Ashland’s Most Inspiring Food Artists
Life itself is a binge, as Julia Child once said, and beautiful food is a unique joy of living. Inspired chefs are artists in their industry—using fresh ingredients, complex flavors, and complementary color and texture combinations to make masterpieces.
“New, fresh ingredients are my paint and canvas,” says one of Ashland’s finest food artists, Billy Buscher, of Alchemy. I asked Buscher, and mixologist Jen Akin, of Alchemy, Erik Brown of Amuse, and Chandra Corwin of Cucina Biazzi to show off their innovative artistry last week. The plates they created expressed both the food’s freshness and chef’s craftiness. And, for anyone who loves food as much as I do, there’s nothing more happy-dance ensuing than seeing it so artfully displayed.
I first met Buscher at Alchemy, and his was a dazzling presentation to follow—a plate of: day boat (never frozen) scallops and crispy braised pork jaw atop duck fat roasted shallot and fava bean puree, with a sous vide egg yolk drizzle and side of pickled heirloom carrots and snap peas. It was a bright display of fresh, earthly colors that matched the springtime vibrancy outside.
Buscher’s philosophy on the presentation of his food is, “Number one, [it] has to be delicious…it should taste just as good as it looks.”
And it did, it definitely did—flavorful but not overpowering, super fresh, and expertly cooked. There was no doubt of the artistry behind Buscher’s cooking, and his presentation only complemented the food, and his abilities.
Alchemy’s bartender, Akin, holds many awards for her art—top four Heaven Hill Bartender of the Year, top five Portland’s Northwest Tequila Festival, and Bombay Safire’s Most Imaginative Bartender, to name a few. Befitting the name Alchemy, Akin creates her own bitters and tinctures, to blend with the stock of obscure and delicious liquors she’s curated at the bar.
Turmeric, sprigs of fresh thyme, cardamom, celery bitters, and chive oil were some of the mysteriously magic ingredients in her drinks.
“Picking a favorite drink is like picking a favorite child,” Akin said. “I take what I like, what’s seasonal and fresh, and make drinks that are accessible and friendly—while still being unique,” she added.
In Alchemy’s newly built kitchen and bar, the two are excited to continue growing, and innovating their artistic food and drinks.
Erik Brown was the next chef I met, at the French inspired Amuse Restaurant. Brown’s food philosophy is simple, “I take a few fresh ingredients and give them a refined twist.” He believes in presentations that “let the food speak for itself.” In a style of understated elegance, Brown prepared a couple small plates: one of prawns and fingerling potatoes over spicy orange romesco sauce, another of rich sweetbreads, and a beautifully presented array of scallops over English pea puree, with a sofrito oil drizzle, and pancetta and roasted carrot on the side. The plates were simple, and asked for slow savoring. A touch of gracefulness was apparent in the delicate spreads of sauces, and light drizzles of oil.
“The artistic part of food really is in the plating,” affirms chef Chandra Corwin of Cucina Biazzi, adding, “I love the process from beginning to end.” She believes in, “transform(ing) ingredients into a dish that looks appetizing and tastes appetizing.” Her first work of art (she couldn’t limit herself to one): Beef tenderloin atop horseradish cream sauce, with a dollop of Rogue Creamery’s ‘Smokey Blue’ and crispy leeks to garnish. The leeks looked playful, and the tenderloin sensuous—and smoky, tangy Rogue cheese put a little ‘hallelujah’ in each bite. The next plate: Wild Columbia River Sturgeon atop radish top pesto, with a frisee, radish, and fresh herb salad. It seemed to pay homage to Chandra’s Alaskan roots, and elicited my Pacific Northwest sentimentalities as well. The tender, buttery, full of flavor fish, sweet pesto, and bitter frisee paired together in a lively, honestly delicious way.
Chef Billy Buscher and Bartender Jen Akin of Alchemy
Billy’s sweet spring scallops and Jen’s magic mixed drinks
Chef Erik Brown of Amuse
Scallop, pancetta, peas–Erik’s refined artistic flair
Chef Chandra Corwin of Cucina Biazzi
Chandra’s fresh, bright, and beautiful creations