Bay Area Lamb Baaa-tle Crowns Chef Vernon Morales

Categories: Taste Test

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Camila McHugh

Last weekend, San Francisco's most devoted lamb lovers came together for the American Lamb Association's third annual Lamb Jam. Dozens of local chefs presented a variety of lamb preparations in order to win a chance to represent San Francisco and compete to become the national Lamb Jam champion.

The judges crowned Chef Vernon Morales of Town Hall / Salt House as Best in Show for his epic fig leaf-wrapped grilled lamb loin with tomato fig marmalade, sheep's milk yogurt, and chickpea polenta. Morales' loin was a clear standout in all categories, as his creativity and delicate presentation came at no sacrifice of lamb flavor. The meat was just rare enough, and judges noted that it had none of the gaminess that makes many Americans averse to it. Though the dot of sheep's milk yogurt seemed more of an aesthetic accent, the slightly sweet tomato fig marmalade and an eggplant purée were successful twists on a traditional lamb and jelly pairing.

Lamb is not currently available on Morales' menu at Town Hall, though the success of this dish may warrant its consideration. Other dishes won points for creativity and presentation but fell short in taste, and some judges criticized the simpler shank and polenta pairings I enjoyed as something they'd love to be served by their grandmother. Overall, it was an experience with lots of lamb lovin', some memorable bourbon slushees, and more lamb puns than ewe knew was baasible.

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