Lamb Jam Highlighted Colorado Chefs’ Wide-Ranging Approaches

On Sunday, August 25 The American Lamb Board’s six-city tour Lamb Jam made its final stop in Denver. The event — hosted at Mile High Station — saw 15 of the city’s finest chefs competing to see who could produce the best dish from the tasty meat. Winners from each of the participating cities — Austin, DC, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco and here — will go on to compete at Lamb Jam Masters in New York. Dishes were divided regionally with a winner being selected from Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Latin categories. A best-in-show was also selected by a panel of experts and a people’s choice.

Highly creative and extraordinarily well-composed plates were doled out ad infinitum and washed down with an endless supply of cocktails and wine from the likes of Palenque, Don Julio, Mount Gay and Infinite Monkey Theorem.

The event went from 3 – 6 p.m. with a VIP hour starting at 2. The sold-out crowd feasted, many patrons devouring to the point of exhaustion. The competition was steep, as all 15 dishes were beyond magnificent. Talent including Alex Seidel, Justin Brunson, Karl Fallenius, Alon Shaya and Marta Biasotti made selecting a favorite difficult but ultimately there were a few standouts.

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The big winner, both for best-in-show and Latin categories — selected unanimously by the panel of judges — was Colorado Springs’ Brother Luck who wowed the group with a lamb mole taco made with a taro shell. Selected both for its unique approach and sheer quality, the dish highlighted the chef’s elastic virtuosity. The restaurateur and two-time Top Chef veteran owns three restaurants — Street Eats, Four and Lucky Dumpling — all covering a range of styles. The dish was a good example of his versatility.

Chef Ty Leon from Bistro Georgette brought a braised lamb curry with sticky rice, crispy shallots and roti, winning the people’s choice and best Asian. The decision to serve it with a cold glass of home-brewed Thai tea made it especially popular on the 100-degree day. Vesta won the best in Mediterranean with a plate of lamb dolmades with saffron biryani, Medjool dates, toasted almonds, black garlic aioli, Fruition Farms SheepSkyr and lavash. The best Middle Eastern was won by Avelina for their coriander-braised lamb shoulder with spiced yogurt, couscous, tomato jam, bordelaise sauce and rye crumb. Josh Oakley’s blend of rich flavors was nicely cemented by the crunch of the rye.

The whole event was luxurious. Peroni’s decision to give out doughnut holes drenched in caviar provided a truly opulent departure from the ubiquitous lamb. Cocktails from Don Julio — including a hibiscus Paloma — provided a delicious accompaniment to the many bites. Palenque bartender Tony White was pouring new expressions from Wahaka Mezcal including an easy-to-drink tequila-proof espadin and a delightful aged reposado. The range of exquisite drinks fit beautifully across the span of cuisines.

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The Lamb Jam saw all the participants at the top of their game. The sheer volume of expertise revealed just how formidable a dining destination Colorado is continuing to develop into. The festival was one of the best organized and tastiest of the summer. By every indication, Luck will be a great representation of the state. Win or lose, the future of the local scene is looking as vibrant as ever.

All photography courtesy of Vince Ellwood.

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