Ashland fine-dining chef is semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard Foundation award

By Justin Higginbottom (Jefferson Public Radio)
Feb. 29, 2024 2 p.m.
This is the height of wildflower and bumblebee season on the meadows of Mount Ashland.

Wildflowers and bumblebees in the meadows of Mount Ashland, seen here in this undated picture. Josh Dorcak's Japanese-inspired fine dining includes local ingredients, like wildflowers and vegetables, sometimes from Ashland’s own mountains.

Jes Burns, OPB/EarthFix

It’s the second time Josh Dorcak, who runs the restaurant MÄS, was chosen as a semifinalist for “best chef.”


Josh Dorcak has dubbed his menu “Cascadian cuisine.” It’s Japanese-inspired fine dining that includes local ingredients, like wildflowers and vegetables, sometimes from Ashland’s own mountains. JPR’s Justin Higginbottom visited Dorcak at his cozy restaurant, MÄS, where he first explained how he made it to Ashland from his hometown in Silicon Valley.

Dorcak: I randomly ended up in Ashland on a drive. I just went for a drive north and ended up in Ashland at like three o’clock in the morning. So I really didn’t know where I was. I was looking around and it had snowed on the Cascades and it was blue. And I was just like, “What is this little beautiful place?” I’ve traveled and worked up and down the West Coast. But I’ve always come back to Ashland. So most of my entire career as a chef has been in this valley, in town — actually in this alleyway. I’ve been here for almost 18 years now. And so it’s just been this really cool progression of seeing this town change in the culinary world. But also it allows me to do this restaurant Mäs, which is an evolving thing.


Higginbottom: During your time in the region have you seen the food scene, especially fine dining, change at all?

Dorcak: Totally. I mean this whole area has always been ripe for it. And there’s always been these little gems. Now I feel like with the new wineries that have come online and some of the new restaurants that are in town, this younger crew of people living here are able to do what they want to do. It’s like this compressed talent that now is exploding.

Higginbottom: Do you think Ashland is a nurturing space for some of these very talented chefs?

Dorcak: Yeah, there’s no doubt. This restaurant being actually able to exist here, I think is quite amazing. And I think there’s lots of room. Michael Donovan once told me that Southern Oregon is like the Wild West. Nothing is claimed. You just have to do the work. You’re not in a big metro area where you’re able to see what’s popular and maybe gravitate your business model towards that. I think in Southern Oregon we have this unique opportunity to define exactly what we want our culture to be and what it is to us because it just hasn’t really been done.

Higginbottom: Can you talk about what kind of food you make here and your process behind that?

Dorcak: It’s all process. The food is process. We’ve dubbed it “Cascadian cuisine” from the very start of the pop-up. I’m not sourcing 100% of my ingredients from this greater region that I’m talking about. But the majority, yes — like all of our background seasonings, soy sauces, misos, all the weird fermented things that we make. We’re trying to preserve these moments and timestamps in our seasons. So our background flavors are all coming from Ashland and the Applegate surrounding farm areas. So that’s been a cool thing to see where the starting point of Mäs was where I was going out and foraging and finding all the ingredients locally, because I had time to do that. And then it’s evolved over the last six years. It’s kind of like the evolution of the modern man poster. It was first this really cool creative food — creative because it just had to be out there. I was finding shriveled-up carrots and trying to give that a story. You have to really think deeply about what you are trying to convey with that food being so simple. And then now, with how we’ve evolved, it’s like the refinement of just truly excellent courses with layers and layers and years of background maybe in a dish.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.