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.
Chef Mark Bodinet of Copperleaf Restaurant in Seattle, WA dished out quality grilled lamb shoulder confit over creamy (we're talking super smooth creamy) parsnips with preserved huckleberries. Everything was lick the plate good but paled slightly when compared with my two favorite dishes of the afternoon.
The next two Chefs had dishes that were neck and neck for me. I did choose for the People's Choice but only based on conversation with the chef about lavender and lamb farms.
Urbana restaurant in Washington, DC brought Chef John Critchley and some amazing slow-cooked lamb leg with preserved lemon, dried herbs and flowers, rosemary scented gypsy peppers and cipollini onions served over amazing white corn polenta. The lamb was falling apart and all the herbs, spices and vegetables atop the silky polenta had me trying to get every last bit off the plate I could. I asked the chef about the white corn polenta, because I had never heard of it or seen it in the store, he said he gets it from Italy from a place that grinds is very very finely making the texture so nice. I plan to seek out this polenta and cook some at home- it was amazing! And any of you who follow The Culinary Librarian on Facebook know I love polenta.
Not only was I crazy for the dish Urbana served, their drink pairing was without question my top choice of the night- cider! Another favorite thing of mine. Foggy Ridge Cider is made in Virginia in small batches with local apples. Some of the apples, like the ones featured in the Serious Cider, came over from England and are grafted to grow in Virginia. Then the First Fruit variety uses all native heirloom American apples. Keep an eye out for Foggy Ridge in stores if you like cider. It will be in large bottles. Throughout the afternoon I saw more of Taylor, who was serving the cider, than anyone else at the event.
Chef Mali's dish was paired with Paso Robles wines from California.
Each of the four dishes was well-prepared and brought forth the very best qualities of lamb. Sometimes lamb can taste quite gamey but when the meat is fresh and the cook has enough finesse to know how to treat it, a distinctly flavorful protein comes forth. Now, since this was Lamb Jam Masters a winner needed to be crowned Master of Lamb! And also the winner of the People's Choice award. Chef Amanda Freitag was the MC of the event and announced the two winners as the afternoon started winding down.
People's Choice was awarded to Chef Bodinet for his grilled lamb:
And the overall Master of Lamb Jam was awarded to.....:
Chef Adam Mali! for his fantastic braised lamb shank. EWE Rock Chef Mali!:
The whole event was well-done by the American Lamb Board and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Not pictured here were the Dickson's Farmstand Butchery demo where a whole lamb was broken down, a lamb caricature artist, a make-your-own-spice-rub stand, a counting sheep competition with M&M's printed with teeny sheep and lastly a table full of lamb-a-licious swag- meat thermometers included! Lastly, all proceeds of the event went to Share Our Strength who works fiercely to end childhood hunger.
(Be forewarned there are photos of the butchery demonstration!)
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