By Amy Conner
July 2005 -- New on the menu at the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby was Kentucky lamb. In fact, approximately 1,100 Kentucky lambs were prepared by Executive Chef Gil Logan, who works for Levy Restaurants, Churchill Down?s Chicago-based catering service, and served throughout the derby-celebration weekend.
Logan has become a big fan of Kentucky-grown products. He served Kentucky pork during last year?s Derby, but wanted to expand his menu to include other Kentucky-raised agriculture products and livestock this year. Not only did he serve Kentucky lamb, but he also served Kentucky-raised beef and pork, and native cheeses, mushrooms, honey, jams and pastries.
In March, Logan approached the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to help him find 1,500 fresh-off-the-farm lambs to be finished by the end of April.
This request stemmed from a Kentucky legislative bill requiring any facility serving food to use Kentucky-raised products when possible. From this bill, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture developed a program called Kentucky Proud, in which foods with this label are either grown or processed in Kentucky.
Employees at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and members of the Kentucky Sheep and Wool Producers Association (KSWPA) combined their efforts and worked many long hours to fill Logan?s request.
Warren Beeler, director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture?s Division of Value-Added Animal and Aquaculture Production, says, ?We knew this task wasn?t going to be easy but we did find some producers who had December/January lambs and had fed the daylights out of them.?
Originally, Logan was calling for 1,600 special chops. Knowing that request was going to be impossible to fulfill with only Kentucky lamb, Roger Thacker, from Versailles, Ky., member of the KSWPA and a driving-force behind the program, called the American Lamb Board (ALB) for reinforcements. The ALB helped sponsor a meat-cutting demonstration for the chef performed by Bill Blake, from Fenton, Mich., one of the leading lamb-cutters in the United States.
?The demonstration planted the seed to offer other entrees on the menu, such as lamb stew, lamb stir fry, lamb tenderloin, lamb leg steaks, lamb ribs and ground lamb. By the time we finished, we had cut up the whole lamb carcass,? says Blake.
?The chef was truly amazed by Bill?s meat-cutting demonstration, which allowed the chef to cater for the number of lambs we had to offer him for the derby,? says Thacker.
As his main dish, Logan served lamb rib-chops topped with hot-pepper jelly, accompanied by sweet-potato hash and roasted corn and bacon.
?The lamb was incredible,? says Logan. ?The marbling was great and the taste was impeccable. Plus, the chop was at least twice the size as that from lamb out of New Zealand.?
Logan credits the producers and the land in which these lambs are raised for providing the great flavor in the meat.
One Kentucky producer, Brian Forsee, who provided 118 of the lambs used for the Derby, was excited that he was given the opportunity and appreciated Logan?s interest in fresh Kentucky lamb.
?It was difficult to find off-season lamb in Kentucky for this event,? says Beeler. ?For next year, we hope to see producers gearing their product more towards this event.?
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the KSWPA are excited about working with Logan for next year?s race.
?Our next step is to meet with Chef Gil and try to find out how far ahead he can plan and budget to develop the contracts for next year,? says Roger Snell, staff assistant in the office of Agriculture Marketing and Product Promotion in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. ?If we know in advance and involve more planning, we hope to meet Logan?s entire lamb-meat order by having lambs full-size three to four weeks earlier than usual.?
Thacker adds that he has already received inquires from five sheep producers seeking information about feeding out lambs for next year?s program.
Lamb producers weren?t the only ones benefiting from the Kentucky Proud promotion. Approximately $300,000 worth of Kentucky-grown agricultural products were served at the Derby.
?More than 30 family farms benefited by Logan using Kentucky-grown products,? says Snell. ?Chef Gil knows each of the families that provide products for his dishes. He even makes a visit to their family farms; he truly is excited about each product he puts on a plate.?
Lamb entr?es, served at Churchill Downs, will extend beyond the Kentucky Derby as Logan has a need for lamb year round.
?There has been some major remodeling of the facilities; Churchill Downs has become a destination for executive meetings and retreats, wedding receptions and holiday events, therefore, the foodservice will continue through the year,? says Snell.
In fact, Thacker says that both organizations will team up again in the fall to work on a meat promotion.
?The chef wants to concentrate entirely on lamb for that promotion,? says Thacker. ?I am hoping by the end of this year, the chef will have used 1,900 Kentucky lambs for his restaurant programs.?
In addition, they plan to have more meat-cutting demonstrations for restaurant owners in Louisville.
?We expect to have a much expanded lamb program by this fall through a partnership with the Kentucky Restaurant Association, along with the program at Churchill Downs,? says Thacker.
?Obviously, these programs have a great impact on Kentucky producers but it is also a tremendous opportunity for all U.S. sheep producers, as it puts American lamb in front of a captive audience of consumers,? Thacker concludes.
May is Declared Spring Lamb Month in Kentucky
By Amy Conner
Lamb received a great deal of publicity in Kentucky during the month of May. Not only was it served at this year?s Kentucky Derby, but also Governor Ernie Fletcher, in cooperation with Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer, proclaimed May as ?Spring Lamb Month.?
Members of the Kentucky Sheep and Wool Producers Association (KSWPA) had been working with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to develop a program that would increase promotion of spring lambs in Kentucky when they became aware of a request from Chef Gil Logan, of Levy Restaurants at Churchill Down?s Chicago-based catering service, to serve Kentucky lamb at the Derby.
?These two programs run hand-in-hand,? says Roger Thacker, sheep producer in Versailles, Ky., and a driving-force in the proclamation. ?We are working to expand the use of Kentucky lambs at Churchill Downs, as well as in restaurants and grocery stores. We want to create a demand for Kentucky lamb year-round.?
Thacker said that the KSWPA had been working on a way to increase the demand for lamb and wanted to find additional avenues in which to promote it within the state. The Ewe Lamb Program was successful in that it increased sheep numbers; however, now the KSWPA is working to increase promotional efforts to create more of a demand for the additional lamb that will be on the market in the near future.
?In Kentucky alone, there may be an additional 17,000 to 20,000 lambs over the next three years because of this program,? he says. ?We were anxious to develop a program that establishes a strong market for these additional lambs, while maintaining our current price structure.?
In addition to serving lamb at the Derby, the KSWPA promoted ?Spring Lamb Month? in press releases and numerous five-minute videos highlighting Kentucky sheep producers. Supermarkets cooperated with the effort by offering in-store price promotions of lamb, along with an increased lamb inventory.
Thacker says the KSWPA couldn?t have established the ?Spring Lamb Month? without the assistance of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Not only have the two organizations established this proclamation, but they are also working on a lamb promotion for the fall and winter months to help establish year-round demand for Kentucky lamb.
?These programs went over very well,? says Richard VanSickle, president of the KSWPA. ?We hope these programs not only increase our membership, but also create more markets for our Kentucky lambs.?