The Lowdown on the Takedown: The San Fran Lamb Takedown

by Laura on August 10, 2010

in Blog

Have you ever hit send on an email and wonder whether you should have sent that message? That’s how I felt a few weeks back when I committed to participating (read: competing) in the San Fran Lamb Takedown.

I knew nothing about the Takedown, but I thought, “Why not? It’s sure to be a fun experience. After all, I know how to cook.”

Turns out, so can the 18 other contestants.

This was hardcore. The majority of competitors were professionals. There were caterers, restaurateurs, under-ground restaurateurs, and foodies. All were there, pulling out all the tricks of the trade to ensure they brought home the prize. In fact, David Barzelay brought in two deep fryers to make the first-place winning Lazy Bear Lamb Nuggets on site. Me, I prayed that the empanadas I baked at 7:30 a.m. remained warm enough to serve 5+ hours later.

Before I go on, I have a confession to make:

I’m not a big fan of lamb and I’ve never prepared lamb at home.

So, why would I enter a competition to make lamb to serve to more than 200 people?

My answer is “Why not?”

Lamb is Healthful. It is a great source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals, and contains the correct ratio of all 8 of the essential amino acids.

Therefore, the Everage family could benefit from adding lamb to their mealtime. (Oh yeah, I could also use this as an opportunity to promote Family Eats 😉

Originally, I chose to create a slow cooked lamb recipe, but late in the game (after my 15 lbs of lamb leg was ordered), I stumbled upon a Lamb Empanada recipe. “Wow,” I thought, “this recipe would be different,” further postulating about what others might prepare. Lamb chili, lamb shanks, lamb stew, lamb meatballs. Braised leg of lamb were surely going to make their appearance at the takedown. But, Lamb Empanadas (or as we called them Lambpanadas), would definitely be different.

In addition to making something different for the Takedown, I wanted to create something the kids would be interested in eating. Kind of a segue into the world of lamb.

Logistics and time were not on my side. I was to cook in my own kitchen, house the 15 pounds of lamb in my fridge, store the 250 empanadas in the fridge before cooking them in several batches in my own oven.

As for time, we received the lamb on Friday evening, and we promptly drove it to Bryan’s Fine Foods in Corte Madera, Calif. for grinding (thanks Bryan), to be picked up on Saturday (by Greg) while I was in Sonoma volunteer gardening at the 18 Reasons farms. After gardening the entire day, I arrived home on Saturday around 4 p.m., made dinner for the family and FINALLY got down to business. Thankfully, I made the curry oil and dough two days earlier and Greg had prepped some of the ingredients through out the day.

Tonight’s task was to make the lamb mixture then assemble the empanadas.

Once dinner was cleaned up, we switched into empanada-making mode. The kids pulled up their chairs to the kitchen counter and screamed, “I want to help.” Greg and I had to temper our response from “Get out of the kitchen, I’m a cooking madman,” to something more like, “Sure, I’m happy you want to help, here’s what you can do for us.”

Having never tasted lamb, they found excitement in the idea that Mom and Dad were entering a contest. They were our cheerleaders and our support staff, and were very disappointed that they couldn’t join us on the day of the Takedown. (Nicole did make us a sign to display on our competition table).

When we arrived at the event, after a late night of assembling and an early morning baking the Lambpanadas, I began to worry. My first look at competitors made me second-guess my participation in the Takedown. Everyone was scurrying around, assembling their dishes, while I simply had to transfer the empanadas to a chaffing dish, sit back and relax until the doors opened. They had condiments, side dishes, and chef’s tools properly placing shredded veggies in exact position to ensure ideal presentation. I peeked under the foil into the chaffing dish, and there sat my rustic looking, handmade empanadas, awaiting 250 critics.

I took a deep breath, Greg handed me a beer, and I thought to myself, “Good job, Laura. You got out of your comfort zone. Cooked something you have never made before, and are willing to throw it out there all in an attempt to learn something more abut cooking.”

What I learned through this experience:

1. I’m no match for the professionals. But, that isn’t a bad thing. As long as I satisfy my family with the food I put on the table, then I’m a winner.

2. Sauce and condiments are the integral to winning competitions. If there is a next time, I’ll be sure to prepare a delicious condiment that will serve as a delicious complement to my food.

3. I expanded my horizons. Because I don’t prepare lamb at home, this competition made me get out of my comfort zone, try something new, and expand my understand about lamb.

4. I learned many new delicious ways to make lamb.Not only did I learn about lamb by cooking the Lambpanadas, but I experienced a host of delicious new ways lamb can be prepared.

Now, I’m not advocating you all go out and cook a new dish for 200 people at a food competition. What I am suggesting is that you get out of your cooking rut. Try a new recipe. Perhaps you may fail in your first attempt, but don’t give up. Take the experience and learn from it.

How did it turn out, you ask? Well, I didn’t win. (You can visitMatt Timm’s blog for a full list of winners.) Now, I may not have been the choice for the food critics, or the people’s choice, but I did score well with the family. And, in the end, that’s all that counts.

So I am happy to say that it was a Lambtastic day!

Family Eats – Reconnecting with the food we eat and the family we love.

P.S. I have to give a nod out to our neighbors in the competition – Matt Kirk (et al) for their deliciously addictive Braised Lamb Buns. You guys may not have placed in the competition, but your creation has found a delicious place in our bellies!

P.S.S. I also would like to thank Matt Timms for organizing the event, Thirsty Bear for hosting the event, and theAmerican Lamb Board for donating the lamb. In particular, we were provided with lamb from Superior Farms.


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