The Lamb Jam was lambtastic

With the approach of the coming weekend, I’m holding on to great memories of last week’s Lamb Jam at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. As part of the judging panel, I had the tough task of tasting 17 plates of lamb, along with 17 wines, and choosing favorites in a number of categories.

Events like this are sometimes disappointing since the participating chefs have to prepare huge amounts of food for the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people who pay to sample around. The sheer volume can result in mediocre food. But not at the Lamb Jam. Maybe it was the caliber of the represented restaurants. Adding to that, I believe, was the focus on producing high quality dishes showcasing one ingredient: high quality lamb.

Also impressive was the versatility of the lamb, and the wide variety of resulting dishes. Take, for example, the lamb shank category, which featured an array of preparations that provided a tour of the world. The dishes (shown above in a row, and more close-up here) in this category included:

  • Pho-braised lamb shank fresh rolls (Monsoon East)
  • Braised lamb shanks with balsamic-Mission Fig conserva (Steelhead Diner)
  • Lamb shank with ancho chile tacos(Flying Fish)
  • Braised lamb shank cabbage rolls (Bell Harbor)
  • Braised lamb shank with Sicilian wine, rosemary and vegetables (Barolo)

It’s quite a challenge to taste 17 dishes matched with wine in such a short time—judging them on taste, creativity, and presentation. It’s also quite filling. But judge we did, announcing the following winners:

  • Best Shank: Monsoon East for Pho-Braised Lamb Shank Fresh Roll with Pho Gelee, Vermicelli Noodles, Micro Cilantro and Spicy Hoisin Condiment
  • Best Loin: Barking Frog for Sous Vide Superior Farms Lamb Loin, Coffee and Cocoa Nib Farro Risotto, Fall Squash Crépinette and Balsamic Glazed Onions
  • Best Shoulder: Lola for Anderson Valley Lamb Shoulder, Sweetbreads, Quince and Sumac Tagine
  • Best Leg: Ponti for Superior Farms Lamb-Waterchestnut Potstickers with Black Vinegar-Ginger Dipping Sauce
  • Best Wine Pairing: Nell’s for Braised Lamb Shoulder with Hummus, Rosemary and Black Currants paired with Northstar’s 2006 Merlot, Columbia Valley
  • Most Creative: Monsoon East
  • Best in Show: Barking Frog

From the judges’ perspective, it was interesting to see that the People’s Choice Award went to Steelhead Diner for their Braised Lamb Shanks with Balsamic-Mission Fig Conserva and Truffled Hominy Polenta, while Barolo got honorable mention nods for their Stinco di Agnello Brasato (Braised Lamb Shank with Sicilian Wine, Rosemary and Vegetables).

As for me, I gave Barking Frog highest marks for creativity, appreciating the combination of ingredients and flavors (with pork caul fat holding the squash together), though I deducted points for execution because my plate was quite over-salted. (I heard others make similar comments, and when I tried another plate after judging, ran into the same problem.) Several dishes tied on my Best in Show ballot, but I chose Lola’s as my overall favorite based on its boldness.

But the one dish I wanted more of despite being stuffed: Monsoon East’s fresh rolls. The plating was pretty and the taste compelling—especially the pho gelee. I grabbed a roll as my final bite as I exited the conference center.

The Lamb Jam was sold out and such a success that there’s already talk of repeating it next year…

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