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A throng of food fans converged on Union Market’s Dock 5 on Sunday, celebrating the annual Lamb Jam national tour. D.C. was once again chosen as one of five cities hosting a stop on the 2018 national tour, and this year’s experience displayed an event that has only grown, and gotten better, with age.

See BYT’s coverage of Lamb Jams from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017

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The American Lamb Jam is billed as a “chef competition and culinary experience” at each of the five tour stops: Austin, Boston, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. The stated goal of the nationwide tour is to celebrate the over 80,000 family-owned and operated farms and ranches raising sheep in the U.S.

Let’s just get this out of the way early: last year’s D.C. event was kind of a bummer. Fewer chefs, a venue that definitely wasn’t suited to a celebration of this type, and a more subdued feel all led to a lackluster showing, as well as depressed turnout. Thankfully, it appears that the American Lamb Board listened to the criticism, as this year’s event was back at Dock 5, and was an absolute blast, hearkening back to the first few Lamb Jam events and in direct contrast to last year’s debacle.

Fourteen of D.C.’s best chefs were assigned a culinary category and asked to design a signature dish highlighting lamb. Participating chefs competed for local bragging rights, as well as the opportunity to go head to head against winners from across the nation at the Lamb Jam Finale.

While my favorites plates again came from the “Asian” and “Latin” competitors (give me alllll Chef Beauchamp’s lamb mapo tofu, please), some of the best bites of the day included a skewer of grilled lamb and lamb sweetbreads (mmmm…thymus) from Chef Ian Boden of The Shack in Staunton, VA; a braised lamb shoulder and Turkish egg noodles with grated walnut from Chef Michael Costa of Zaytinya; and a confit lamb “Smorrebrod” with za’atar, goat cheese, and fava bean hummus from Chef Hamilton Johnson of Honeysuckle. Chef Kwame Onwuachi also deserves a shout-out for partnering with sponsor Peroni and putting out an incredible plate of roasted lamb ribs with a Peroni-braised chow-chow.

All that chow was helped along by drinks from participating sponsors Lagunitas, 3 Stars Brewing (and their excellent new sour), District Distilling (whose gin is one of the most delicious boozed I’ve tasted in recent memory), and some excellent Virginia wines.

Also returning this year was an awesome demonstration of how to break down an entire lamb; watching John and Sukey Jamison from Jamison Farms work together to butcher a lamb and describe the best uses for each cut was an absolute joy, likely helped by the fact that the couple has been married for 40 years.

The coveted People’s Choice winner was a corn and cheese griddlecake topped with smoked lamb shoulder, black beans, queso, and salsa verde from Chef Rob Sonderman of Federalist Pig.

Read our review of Federalist Pig

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And the overall champion, destined to face off against the other cities’ champs, was again Chef Dimitri Moshovitis of Cava, who presented a braised lamb shoulder with a goat cheese tortellini, pressed and roasted lamb belly, a grilled ramp puree, lamb fat spring peas, and truffles.

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