Lamb Cook-Off baaack for round four in Vail |

Lamb Cook-Off baaack for round four in Vail

Caramie Schnell
Vail CO, Colorado
NWS Lamb Cook Off DT 4-11-07

Carol Moore is a self-proclaimed “lamb girl.” Moore, the owner of Carol Moore Interior Design, is a big supporter of the Taste of Vail and one of her favorite events is the annual Lamb Cook-Off, the kick-off event for the four-day culinary event. Each year Moore buys two full event passes to the Taste of Vail, which she shares with her employees and clients. Even better, the Lamb Cook-Off doesn’t even require an event pass; for $2 a sample, lamb and wine lovers can try offerings from 20 restaurants and 17 wineries this afternoon in Vail.

“It’s amazing seeing the different ways lamb is prepared ” lamb burgers, different sauces. Then you have the different wine pairings too, and they have recipes all over the place. I just think its inspirational to go (to the Cook-Off) and think of lamb in a different format than you have before ” like maybe in a patty, which is more accessible for a single person who might not be inclined to buy rack of lamb or leg of lamb,” Moore said.

In fact, that’s just the goal of the Denver-based American Lamb Board ” expose people to a meat they might otherwise pass over at the grocery store.

“The Taste of Vail lamb cookoff has grown into an amazing event with 20 talented chefs developing incredibly innovative lamb recipes that really showcase one of the most lean, flavorful and versatile cuts of American Lamb ” the leg of lamb,” said Megan Wortman, spokeswoman for the lamb board, which donated 1,600 pounds of boneless leg of lamb to the event this year.

Attendees and contributors aren’t the only fans of the event, nicknamed the “Lamb-Off.” Some of the chefs involved started developing their recipes months ago.

Darrell Jensen and his team from Game Creek Restaurant took top honors at last year’s event for their braised lamb in a butternut squash cone. Under the leadership of Thomas Newsted, formerly of Zacca Za!, Game Creek also won first place the first two years of the competition. Though Jensen is convinced this year’s creation will even trump last year’s dish, he’s hesitant to reveal just how his team plans to prepare their allotted 10 legs of Colorado lamb.

“Well, we’re going to take our lamb leg and make it into something familiar with tons of flavor; something very, very original,” Jensen said.

Lamb is a very easy ingredient to work with, depending on the cut, Jensen said. “The leg can be a little strong in flavor but when you braise it, it mellows it out. But you also want to make sure you can still taste and know you’re eating lamb,” he said.

The Lamb Cook-Off was the brainchild of Paul Ferzacca, owner of La Tour and Zacca Za! Ferzacca, along with Jana Morgan and David Sanchez, created the cook-off to infuse new energy in the Taste of Vail and offer an affordable event on the streets of Vail, Morgan said. The first year they had to practically beg the 13 restaurants involved to take part and many of them didn’t turn in their recipes until the last minute, if at all, Morgan said. This year she started asking the 20 restaurants (there’s five more on the waiting list with recipes in hand in case anyone backs out) for their recipes on March 4 and, as a bonus, she offered the first restaurant to turn in their recipe their choice of judging time.

“There’s a whole strategy behind choosing your judging time,” which made the offer pretty attractive, Morgan said. Some chefs really want the judges to sample their food first, she continued.

Chefs from Vail Valley Gourmet called her the day she sent out the e-mail.

“They said ‘we have our recipe ” we’ve had it for a month.’ I didn’t have to hound one chef, everyone is taking it super seriously,” she said.

To reward them for their efforts, there’s a bevy of prizes ” a 42-inch plasma television for first place, an HP laptop computer for second place, an Apple iPod touch for third place and a digital camera for the People’s Choice winner. A panel of experts will judge the samples based on presentation and taste in a blind tasting.

May the best lamb win.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or

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