“More an experience than a meal” – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News
Dining at MÄS, Ashland’s latest dining sensation, is a culinary adventure
Josh Dorack started MÄS five years ago as a pop-up restaurant in Ashland. [Photo by Lindsey Bolling]
MÄS chef Josh Dorcak tops raw bluefin tuna with roe. “The experimental phase of a restaurant like MÄS is over,” he says. “Each of these dishes is a knockout.” [Courtesy photo]
Luke VanCampen works in the MAS kitchen. [Photo by Lindsey Bolling]
Sea scallops are a regular protein served at Ashland’s MÄS. [Courtesy photo]
A foodie foray into Portland and Seattle convinced Andrew and Michelle Finazzo that “the best of the Northwest” was back at home in Rogue Valley.
The Medford couple, in no time, booked a reservation at Ashland’s MÄS. Even after an epicurean excursion, they were eager to explore the latest culinary trails that MÄS chef-owner Josh Dorcak is blazing.
“You’re just going on a trip,” says Andrew Finazzo, 44. “It’s an adventure.”
Dorcak’s journey to Ashland began at the Cordon Bleu-affiliated California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and progressed to restaurants in Seattle, Berkeley, CA and Phoenix-Scottsdale, Arizona. On vacation in Northern California, Dorcak decided to keep driving north on Interstate 5. He woke up the next morning to a winter wonderland that charmed him enough to leave the hustle and bustle behind. from big cities for the relative peace and quiet of Ashland.
“It’s automatically a very comfortable feeling,” he says of his visit to Ashland 15 years ago.
Dropping a calling card on Erik Brown’s former Amuse, Dorcak was hired as the head chef to prepare French-inspired Pacific Northwest dishes.
A few years later at Ashland’s Lorella, he met then-dishwasher Luke VanCampen, an Ashland native who became his sous chef and business partner at MÄS and its sister restaurant, NAMA.
Along the way, Dorcak, now 36, won top chef honors at the 2015 and 2016 Ashland Culinary Festival before being recognized as the state’s “Iron Chef” at the 2017 Bite of Oregon in Portland.
The accolades, however, didn’t sway Dorcak as much as a pilgrimage to Tokyo, where he and VanCampen, now 25, realized they could run a restaurant with just their four hands and create a kitchen that the diners in the area had never seen. Their observation of Japanese methods and mentality, Dorcak says, “tipped the idea of what a restaurant is on its head.”
Beginning as a popup five years ago, MÄS has made a dizzying impression on southern Oregon.
“We love sitting at the bar watching them prepare the food,” says Finazzo, “and within a few bites you’re blown away. When we go to MÄS it’s almost like we’ve been to 10 restaurants.
Indeed, MÄS’ 10-course set far exceeds all other multi-course meals in Southern Oregon restaurants. And the $185 per person cost easily identifies it as the region’s priciest dining destination. But the Finazzos testify to family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances that MÄS is more than its price.
“It’s really more of an experience than a meal,” says Michelle Finazzo.
“Every time we go there, it’s a memory,” echoes her husband.
The couple rave about Dorcak’s succulent duck breast, surprisingly flavorful custards and Japanese milk bread topped with eggs to mimic sushi.
The dish that immediately precedes the dessert seduces with its subtle sweetness, explains Andrew Finazzo. Pairing wine and sake, he says, shows MÄS’s versatility and Dorcak’s willingness to take risks – a boon for customers who can forgo their dining decisions and step out of their comfort zone.
“He really, really pushes the boundaries,” says Finazzo.
It’s a common reaction, say Dorcak and Finazzo, for MÄS customers to swear they usually “hate” an ingredient, but “love” the way Dorcak prepares it. He encouraged vegetarians and vegans to set aside their ethics for a single evening of unparalleled fresh seafood. Dorcak even manages to characterize items customers would never have thought to eat – magnolia blossoms or koji mushrooms, for example – as delicacies.
“The experimental phase of a restaurant like MÄS is over,” says Dorcak. “Each of these dishes is a knockout.”
Dishes defy description at MÄS, which constantly adjusts to seasonality and even occasional availability windows. An early spring menu lists: dashi; kohada; geoduck, lovage and mirin; king crab and magnolia; eggs, potato and koji; trout and kohlrabi; lamb and herbs; morel compote; wagyu, roasted cabbage and egg yolk; cherry blossom and woodruff.
“We promote overwhelming access to quality ingredients,” says Dorcak. “Any chief in a big city would say, ‘It’s amazing here. “”
Although one farm in Ashland grows produce almost exclusively for MÄS and NAMA, Dorcak and VanCampen still draw inspiration from farmers markets and natural landscapes. Their cuisine has been dubbed “Cascadian” in national publications. But Dorcak says the term more accurately describes not the finished dishes, but their annual efforts to seek out and preserve native bounty as a “stepping stone to other seasons”.
“Wild ingredients are really interesting and have all kinds of potential,” he says. “Our pantry is this localism stuff.”
As metropolitan West Coast restaurants head to MÄS, locals are still claiming the restaurant for themselves — as comfortably as eating from Dorcak’s kitchen, Finazzo says. Once they taste MÄS, no one takes such a “treasure to have here in Jackson County” for granted, he says. “It tastes good for Medford, Oregon – or Ashland.”
Click here to read the 2022 edition of Notre Vallée.