You could say I'm developing a flair for meat-centric events. First there was the Duckathlon in May, then Meatopia in July and now you find the CL at Lamb Jam in September. What can I say, I like meat! 2011 marked the first year that the winners of regional Lamb Jam competitions came together in New York City to compete in the first Lamb Jam Masters competition. Hosted by the American Lamb Board, the lamb-tastic event was held at City Winery on a muggy Sunday afternoon. The finalists from competitions held earlier this year in Boston, DC, San Francisco and Seattle came in with their best lamb forward.
Sunday was my first visit to City Winery, but I doubt it will be my last. The warm spacious venue uses wine for its decor; the walls are artistically covered with wine glasses, bottles and barrels. It was the perfect place to hold Lamb Jam because it allowed the fans of lamb to graze the event at their leisure. The atmosphere was livened, also, by the musical stylings of Gotham City Bluegrass Allstars. In addition to the four chefs serving, each dish had a local (to them) wine, beer or cider pairing. Locally, the Meatball Shop, Pera, Dickson's Farmstand and The Little Cakes showed up to celebrate the goodness of lamb. The Meatballers served lamb meatballs (naturally) with basil pesto and a corn and tomato salad. Dickson's sliced up some lamb charcuterie to taste. Little Cakes had adorable lamb cake pops but sadly I didn't get one in time! They were presented on the cutest little patch of green grass. And finally Pera had a perfect little piece of lamb adana/kebab spiced with sumac and rolled in a freshly made lavash which was like biting into a tasty thin pillow filled with warm and gently spiced meat. Memorable. There were also some specialties from farther afield by way of Louisville's Jefferson's Bourbon Coke Slushies (dangerously good) and the Hudson Valley's Old Chatham Sheephearding Company's Camembert.
Of course I had to taste each lamb dish from the competitors and vote for the People's Choice. We'll lead up to my favorites:
First Chef Jason Santos from Blue Inc. in Boston, MA served poached lamb loin with black truffle, cauliflower espuma, bee pollen and fried garlic. The dish was served in little plastic shot glasses, presumably in its poaching liquid. The taste was good but the little cup was so hot it burned my hand to hold and I also detected some plasticy taste which was unpleasant. Had the lamb in such hot liquid been presented differently, or even just in glass instead of plastic shot glasses, I think the flavors would be have been much better and I'd have been less distracted by the technicalities of presentation.
The poached lamb loin was paired with Harpoon Brewery IPA or UFO White. I tried some of the UFO White and really enjoyed it. It is similar to a Blue Moon but it has a nicer finish and there is no bitterness to it. It is a beer I could see myself ordering next time I am at a bar or bringing to a party.