Lamb Jam: Highlight for Chefs and Shepherds Alike
By AMY TRINIDAD
Sheep Industry News Editor
(July 1, 2013) Leo Tammi, Virginia sheep producer, best summed up a Lamb Jam experience through the eyes of a producer by saying, “I have a hard time maintaining my humility at events like these because I feel like a rock star.”
The most recent American Lamb Board (ALB) Lamb Jam was held in May at Washington, D.C.’s famous Eastern Market. The Lamb Jam tour is designed to bring together a community of chefs, consumers, sheep producers and media in key lamb markets to increase awareness and use of American lamb. The lamb extravaganza introduces more than 500 consumers to delicious lamb dishes featuring different cuts prepared by top chefs in the area. The events are complemented by butchery demonstrations, local breweries, wineries and more. The Lamb Jam Tour is part of ALB’s Shepherd to Chef Campaign.
Although it is the chefs competing for the opportunity to battle other lamb-loving chefs at a Master Lamb Jam held later this year in New York City with their prized lamb dishes, the sheep producers are just as popular with the public attending the event. Questions such as “Where can I find local lamb?” “Can I buy it directly from a producer?” and “How do I cook it?” are heard continuously by those manning the booths at “Producers Row.” At the D.C. event, sheep producers from Maryland and Virginia made up Producers Row and were on hand to represent local lamb and tell their story of why consumers should choose American.
Talking about the interest attendees are taking in Producers Row, Joan Hobbs, Maryland sheep producer, says, “This event tells me how interested people are in lamb and cooking it at home. The checkoff dollars are a much needed necessity for lamb promotion and this event.”
“Being at the farm day in and day out you wonder if you have any impact at all. But when you come to an event like this and people have aspirations to connect with you and, particularly, they like to connect with the food they are eating,” explains Tammi. “It is at events like these that you see people honor the work you do.”
Megan Wortman, ALB executive director, explains the Lamb Jam event as a way for producers and chefs to directly connect with the consumers. “The consumers love this event because they get direct access to the chefs and get to speak with producers. It’s not a stuffy food event.”
As for the 20 chefs that competed, they use the event as a way to connect with other chefs and build relationships with their local shepherds and customers. These chefs go beyond just serving American lamb, they want to see how the lambs are raised and be able to translate that to their customers.
“We love teaming up with our local farmers to bring awareness to our customers. We want to be able to talk about our product at the table to our customers” says Rodney Scruggs, Occidental Grill and Seafood. “We find out as much as we can about the products on our menu, we are hands on. We like to see how the animals are raised.”
John Critchely of Bourbon Steak Washington, D.C., echoed the comments of Scruggs saying that building relationships with local farmers is key at events like Lamb Jam. “The more I see what farmers are doing, the better I can cook for my guests. It is really important to get to know these farmers and see their operations.”
On the flip side, the chefs see Lamb Jam as a fun environment to introduce lamb to those attending who may have never experienced it. “For those who have never had lamb, they get to experience it 20 different ways here. They see how versatile it is,” says Critchley.
Two of the event’s “rock stars” who had their lamb featured at the D.C. Lamb Jam were John Jamison of Jamison Farms in Pennsylvania and Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm in Virginia. Both use the Lamb Jam to connect with chefs and tell their story to the consumers.
“It is very important for us to communicate with the chefs because everything we sell is direct,” says Jamison who sells half his lamb as frozen product direct to consumers and the other half fresh to chefs. “Many of the chefs we sell to are all over the country. To have our name on the menu is a very big deal to us. If the chef is going to the trouble to put your name on the menu, you better do right by him.”
Rogers also spoke to the importance of a connection between the chef and shepherd. He has had many of the chefs that work with his lamb visit the farm before they even put the product on their menu.
“It is important to us that we raise the animals right. When we do harvest them, we want to see the fruits of our labor and the lamb’s life itself being honored. The best way we know how to do that is to find the greatest chefs that use their talents, their skills to create masterpieces with our lamb,” says Rogers.
A group of Virginia producers attending their first Lamb Jam found the experience as a great opportunity to get out and expose the public to their farming operations.
“The Lamb Jam is an awesome opportunity to meet a lot of chefs in the area and also do a lot of networking as far as what’s being produced, in what quantities and how it’s being produced,” relays Gary Hornbaker about the cuts the chefs need for their menus. “Our big marketing effort in northern Virginia is turning to more direct sales, farmers markets and CSAs. This is great to see so many people eating and enjoying lamb.”
And enjoying lamb, they did. Consumers were lined up at the booths, some many deep, to try the chefs’ creations. Some would try a bite as soon as it was served to give their feedback to the chef, while others would return to a table to savor the dish and provide their input to friends and vote for their fan favorite. Whether it was their first or last booth of the evening, each time an attendee picked up a new dish their face became full of excitement and anticipation of taking that next bite of lamb.
And as for the sheep producers’ involvement at the Lamb Jam, Tammi explained it best saying, “We all hunger for a good story and I think our participation in the event completes the narrative that the chef begins. The chefs prepare the food and work the presentation describing flavors and how he coaxes them out. Just as the vintner can describe the vine, the pedigree of the grape and where and how it was grown, we can do that too. We sheep producers give credence to the quality, wholesomeness and care given to the lamb. And we sheep people can spin a good yarn.”
For assistance in hosting a local Lamb Jam, contact ALB for a toolkit ( email@example.com , 866-327-5262).
At each Lamb Jam event, ALB picks a non-profit organization in which to team up with. For this event, a portion of the ticket proceeds helped support DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen engaged in food recycling and meal distribution programs. Through job training, meal distribution and local farm partnerships, they build long-term solutions to the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger and homelessness. Several of the DC Central Kitchen Student Chefs helped set up and were food runners for judging.