On Sunday February 28th, Austin area restaurants converged at Barr Mansion to compete in the 2016 Lamb Jam. The American Lamb Board established the event in 2010 with the goal of promoting the under appreciated meat. The competition and tasting takes place in multiple cities each year including Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington DC.
For the price of entry patrons were able to sample globally-inspired lamb dishes from Austin’s finest chefs and enjoy wine and spirits from participating sponsors. Christian Calo of renowned Salt & Time was on hand for a butchery demonstration, breaking down a whole lamb. A few lucky attendees were even able to walk away with some free cuts of meat.
Here’s a summary of the day’s dishes grouped by region:
Brian Moses of Contigo served seared lamb shoulder. It was topped with a dollop of earthly pea-mint tahini and Israeli couscous. Smoked green olives added complexity and tang while papadum, a wafer thin Indian cracker, lent a necessary textural element. While it didn’t win the people’s choice or critics awards, this was a solid dish with complex flavors.
The only soup was served by Chris Hurley of The Bonneville. Shredded Moroccan spiced lamb shoulder bathed in a shallow pool of sweet roasted pear and chestnut soup. Microgreens provided for the event by Joe’s Organics added freshness and a peppery finish. The panel of judges voted this their favorite for the Middle Eastern category.
The team from Madrina made the trip down from Dallas for the event. Chef Nick Hurry created a hearty stew of braised lamb. A spoonful of cool herbed yogurt added creaminess and temperature contrast to the warm stew. A slightly sweet orange curd complemented the rich stew and diced tomatoes added acidity that brought the whole dish together.
Normally I’d describe the food from Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill as Texas comfort food. Danny Kievit provided a different flavor profile with his Vietnamese meatball dish. A crisp lettuce wrap enveloped a fried lamb meatball and crunchy rice. A creamy egg yolk stuffed into the meatball added richness. The sweet, salty and spicy flavors of nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) dressed the shredded veggies layered atop the meatball.
While other contestants served plated dishes requiring a utensil, I picked up Amir Hajimaleki’s Lamb Nigiri and ate it in one bite. The sushi-inspired dish was composed of a delicate piece of sous-vide lamb belly nestled atop glutinous rice. While small in size, the nigiri delivered big flavor and was the judges’ favorite Asian dish of the day.
Robert Lyford’s Patina Green Home & Market is located north of Dallas in Mckinney. This was my first time tasting his food and I was impressed. The Korean-inspired dish featured a gochujang (hot bean paste) lamb sausage with creamy rice porridge. Bitterness from charred rapini wasn’t overpowering and perfectly balanced a piquant kimchi puree.
In a town renowned for tacos, Chef Joe Anguiano from Vox Table showed that he’s got a good game. The lamb from his braised birria lamb taco was succulent. A chile pepper studded tomato salsa added heat and julienned radish crunch and freshness. A griddled corn tortilla was the vehicle for this savory yet spicy taco.
One of the more inventive dishes of the day was from Fork & Vine. Chef Camden Stuerzenberger made a spicy lamb chorizo that he served with pineapple escabeche; think sweet and sour fruit salsa. This was spooned onto a deep fried potato churro with a golden exterior and doughy interior.
The dish from Buenos Aires Cafe was typical of the type of fare served at the East side Argentinian restaurant. The lamb chorizo sausage was grilled on-site over a charcoal fire and was served in the style of an open-faced sandwich. It was finished with an herbaceous chimichurri.
Jacob Weaver and the team from Juliet put together an impressive dish complex in flavor, texture and temperature. The star was the braised lamb neck, a cut that is especially flavorful because it’s cooked on the bone. The meat was shredded and served with delicate potato gnocchi. While the gnocchi were pillowy soft, the addition of toasted hazelnuts added crunch. Finely segmented oranges added brightness and acidity and the cool temperature was a nice contrast to the warmth of the other ingredients. The panel of judges awarded this dish Best In Show.
Finally, the last dish I sampled was from Black’s BBQ. Lamb shoulder was cured and smoked lending a deep red color. The oak-smoked lamb was served with tzatziki yogurt and savory herb waffle with a texture reminiscent of a biscuit. A few drops of Black’s habanero bbq sauce added intense heat.
Here’s the complete list of winners:
Best Latin: Joe Anguiana, Vox Table
Best Mediterranean: Jacob Weaver, Juliet
Best Middle Eastern: Chris Hurley, Benneville
Best in Show: Jacob Weaver, Juliet
People’s Choice: Danny Kievit, Moonshine
*Disclaimer: My meal was provided at no cost, however, all opinions are my own. There was no guarantee of publication made nor was I under any obligation to provide positive commentary.