Chefs from Umami and Cantina win cook-off at lamb fest

The inaugural Western Pennsylvania Lamb Fest + Cook-off on Sunday was not your average food competition. 

Rather than trying to come up with a single, perfect dish to wow their guests, the 26 local and five out-of-town chefs participating in the cook-off at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh were tasked with turning an entire lamb carcass into hundreds of delicious bites for a discerning crowd of 600.  

When all the wooden nickle votes were tallied at the end of the festival, the team composed of Roger Li of Umami, Derek Burnell of Round Corner Cantina, both in Lawrenceville, and Dan Kern of 1201 Restaurant in Erie walked away with the People’s Choice award.

Co-sponsored by Table Magazine and the East Liberty hotel, the cook-off aimed to raise awareness for prized Pennsylvania lamb and the Latrobe lamb farmers  — John and Sukey Jamison of Jamison Farm. Guests also got a chance to see some of Pittsburgh’s best culinary talent in action in front of massive charcoal grills.

This being the first year for the event, organizers set a modest goal of drawing 300 lamb lovers to the cook-off. They ended up selling twice that number of tickets.

“We were so excited to see so many friends and lamb fans come out,” said Table editor-in-chief Victoria Bradley. “I was beyond impressed with our 31 outstanding chefs, making up nine teams. They were collaborate and inventive — every bite they put out was better than the last.”

Mr. Li and his fellow team members created four dishes during the afternoon. They were: 

• Barbacoa lamb in a fresh tortilla de maiz topped with anasazi charros, avocado-mint salsa verde, guajillo-lemon yogurt and micro cilantro.

• Smoked confit lamb with simmered shiitake mushrooms, kombu cured-shaved raw scallop and breakfast radish.

• Grilled lamb with burrata, California olive oil, white truffle, pea tendrils and wasabi on sourdough pain au levain.

• Lamb robatayaki (skewers) with leek, aonori (seaweed)  and a dipping sauce made of nigori and mint. 

The fest was so successful that Ms. Bradley is already looking forward to next year’s event. “I’ve already confirmed that the winning team will be back to defend its title.”

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.


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