Are you a fan of lamb?
Adam Mali, head chef of the new Brasserie S&P at the Mandarin Oriental, sure is. After all, he's the reigning national champion of the Lamb Jam cooking competition, which kicks off again in San Francisco on July 15th at the Golden Gate Club.
"I love lamb," Mali declares with no hesitation. When asked why, he replies, "It's very rich, but I like it better than beef. It picks up and contrasts different things a little more interestingly than beef. You can do a lot with it. It's pretty underrated."
Last year, Mali's recipe "Braised Lamb Shank, Lemon-stewed Cannelini Beans, Lavender-Mint Gremolata" beat out recipes by some formidable local chefs and went on to win in New York City at the national finals. "I tried to cook the lamb perfectly and have it tender and fall-off-the-bone," Mali says. "And that was it." Mali used local grass-fed lamb from Fallon Hills Ranch--"to die for," as he describes it--which he also uses at Brasserie S&P for his lamb sliders.
For the competition, each chef is assigned a cut of lamb around which they design a recipe. They then present the dish to the event's 800-or-so patrons. Awards are given for the best recipe for each individual cut as well as to one overall winner.
Last year, Mali got to work with shank, his favorite cut, which he says "would have been the one I wanted anyway." This year, he's working with loin, and plans to do a lighter dish involving fennel confit and meyer lemon relish. "Loin is very different," says Mali, comparing it to shank. "People react to it better. Lamb loin is more of a luxury cut, not as intimidating as one of the more rustic cuts. But it's a beautiful cut, and I'm looking forward to working with it."
In addition to the competition, the Lamb Jam features butchery demonstrations and plenty of wine and beer from local sponsors to keep guests satiated.
If you're looking to jam with lamb yourself this summer, master Mali has some tips. An easy introduction into lamb cookery is the ground lamb slider: "Grill it. It's simple and flavorful and you get the essence of the lamb." For a more complex dish, marinate a boneless leg overnight in red wine, garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, let it temper for an hour, then grill it to medium rare. "You want to keep it as medium rare as possible, in my opinion," says Mali. "If it's too overdone the unpleasant gamey flavor comes out and the nice lamb flavor gets lost."
As for what to drink with your lamb, the options are nearly endless. Nicole Kosta, wine director at Brasserie S&P, recommends an Aussie Shiraz, but says "there is a large spectrum of fantastic wines that can be enjoyed" with lamb, depending on the preparation. At the Jam, you'll have the opportunity to try it with all kinds of wine and beer, as well as Jefferson's Bourbon.
Tickets are $50, and a portion of the proceeds benefit Share Our Strength.