I want to post a quick piece on what a great time I had before and during the Lamb Takedown last weekend. This was my first public cooking competition, and although I didn’t win, the experience of planning, cooking, serving and socializing was spectacular!
Matt Timms, was the ideal organizer and deserves public recognition. He put together the event, secured a perfect space at Thirsty Bear (with free drinks for the cooks!), got 300 pounds of lamb donated by American Lamb, which cut the costs to competitors greatly, as well as fabulous prizes, and he emceed the event in a way that kept everything running smoothly. I never heard a single complaint, which is rare in a room with 250 foodies.
My plan was to play to the versatility of lamb as a protein. I tend to think of it, as many do, as a meat found primarily in Greek and Indian food, but really it works in so many ways. I crafted a very straightforward lamb meatball (well, 300 straightforward lamb meatballs) seasoned with shallots, garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and allspice that is really tasty on its own, but works with a broad spectrum of flavors. To compliment, I produced a diverse array of sauces and slaw in every color of the rainbow (literally), plus beige and encouraged the eaters to customize them as they saw fit.
I ultimately went with a red marinara, orange sweet and sour, roasted yellow pepper coulis, green mint yogurt, blueberry chili sauce, spicy purple slaw and a beige mushroom gravy. People would ask which was my favorite as they stepped up to the overwhelming selection of squeeze bottles, but I couldn’t pick just one, so I described the applications of each. I told people that blueberry chili was only for the brave, which goaded a few into putting down the yogurt and giving it a try, and several came back to tell me that the blueberry was their surprise favorite. I pushed the sweet and sour sauce, because I made a gallon by mistake, and encouraged the mint yogurt as a good balance to the heat of the slaw.
I was fortunate enough to bring along two amazing and lovely assistants, Lizz and Sara who were a blast to hang out with and saved me from unforeseen disaster time and time again, and who rooted for me relentlessly when I wasn’t willing to do enough self-promotion. The highest praise I got was at the end of the day when a woman I believe to be the mother of the overall winner asked for a to-go cup of slaw to put on her son’s pulled pork sandwich later. She told me not to tell him, because he makes his own slaw, but she would rather use mine. A couple of professional chef competitors were complimentary as well, including one guy who said I must have cooked to meatballs sous vide to make them so moist, and I had to burst his bubble and tell him that I simply baked them.
As things were wrapping up, several people stopped by on their way out to tell me that I got their vote, or that I was robbed, which totally made my day. I was utterly exhausted, but overwhelmingly delighted by the whole day and am looking forward to the next competitive culinary challenge.