Lambapalooza. A Lamb Roast in Silver Lake.
As I was enjoying my wonderful 5.3° angle recline in my United coach seat, a constant back-aching reminder that the people sitting in the first eight rows are more important and more hardworking than all of us, Jeni was kind of enough to remind me that we weren’t done with our weekend of eating. We were flying back from San Francisco and ate at some solid places – Una Pizza Napoletana, Hog Island Oysters, Roli Roti, 4505, Bar Agricole, NOPA and Commonwealth. All were great. And it was now time to shift the gears in our stomachs. I asked her where we were going and she responded with, “Jessica Koslow’s Lambapalooza.” My eyes lit up and I silently repeated the word.
We dropped off our luggage at home, changed and headed to the event that was to be held right in Silver Lake. This was going to be our second unique event ever since the Silver Lake crawfish boil, which had over 120 people in attendance. We decided to walk since the event was so close and we were met with our friends Jill and Jesse of Domaine LA. Within a few minutes, our conversations came to a halt as we were distracted by a very pleasant aroma of meat being charred. Slowly. We followed the smoke signals and were led to an apartment complex with a sloped backyard. Forty people holding wine, a man with bandana spinning a whole lamb over fire, an old man with a mandolin all on a beautiful Sunday evening – this would be Lambapalooza.
It is important to acknowledge that Lambapalooza didn’t just happen overnight. Nor did the planners buy a whole lamb from Sam Woo or the local Latino carnicería. Rather it was an experience that needed to be wound back a few weeks to really get a scope of how unique this event was. Lambapalooza is the brainchild of Chef Jessica Koslow. We met Jessica through our newly-married food buddy, Anjali of Delicious Coma, and if you’ve tried homemade jams from a company called Sqirl, then you may be familiar with Jessica’s jam business. Jessica also brought along two of her good chef friends, Paul Osher and Tad Weyland, to help in the production. Paul Osher is a chef that runs a deli/catering company called Bean & Thyme. Tad Weyland is one of the head chef’s behind Matthew Poley’s Heirloom LA catering/food truck. Without Jessica and her friends, it’d be frozen burgers/hot dogs and Korean BBQ ribs tied to the rod over the fire. Yay.
As a jam maker, Jessica Koslom is enrolled in the LA County Master Food Preservers programs (funded by the Annenberg Foundation). Through the network, she met Nancee Siebert of Siebert Genetics who raises lamb and sheep in the Antelope Valley. Initially, the stock is bred for county fairs and competitions, and eventually has them sold off for processing and consumption. Rarely are the lambs/rams/sheeps kept there for the full duration of their lives. But before you start cringing and calling PETA, you have to realize that these stock are not being bred in horrid conditions, sent into a morbid slaughterhouse and processed with giant chainsaws. The process of selecting your own living lamb is simply transparent these days. We only see the finished product at the market or butcher shop. Since Jessica was interested in obtaining one of Siebert’s lambs, it was important for Koslow as a conscious meat-eater to understand the entire process of obtaining her lamb. For her, this was an important experience and how it should always be. She called her friends Paul and Tad, and they were all in on the whole lamb.
On a tranquil day, Paul and Jessica drove up to Siebert’s farm in Antelope Valley. They were to meet Nancy and a man by the name of “Don the Butcher”. Like a unique character from Kill Bill, he is in fact one of the only mobile butchers in Southern California providing on-site kills. “Don the Butcher” is purely business – stern and direct – and drives a refrigerated truck. The group was then led by Nancee to where all the lambs were being kept.
She called out to the lambs, “Hey little girls! Come here!” As the lambs ran over, Nancee said, “Females have the best meat and right there, that’s a Southdown registered purebred! I’ve shown her a couple times at the county fairs, don’t ask me how she placed because I don’t remember – but that’s the finest bread here and it will taste the best.”
Without much hesitation, Paul and Jessica looked at each other, “OK, we’ll take her.”
Nancee led the lamb out along with two others that were to be “processed” that same day, away from the stock pen. Nancee, Paul and Jessica stay put as Don guided the lambs towards his truck. Behind the three, “Don the Butcher” then pulled out his gun and silenced all three lambs. Within 30 minutes, the lambs were killed, skinned, cleaned and ready. Don works fast and wastes no time in bleeding them immediately. Jessica and Paul brought their ice-filled Igloo box and placed their lamb, with muscles still twitching, into the cooler. Jessica recalled it happening all too quickly. The other two lambs were to be sent by “Don the Butcher” to a family-owned processor called Fryer’s Custom Meat in Pearblossom, about 30 minutes away. Jessica and Paul followed separately as Nancee had Don take a lamb there a couple weeks prior and it was ready for them to pick up in its near 50 pieces. There they met the owner with a hook for a hand. As you can imagine, a likely result of a bad meat-grinder accident. They said their goodbyes and made off with their lambs. *The end of the Kill Bill 3 script*
And we fast forward to the actual day of the event. So much for a whole lamb from Sam Woo. Here is the lovely lamb, roasted in almost its original form, sin cabeza. This is where we introduce the skill and expertise of Chef Tad Weyland. Tad attended the Academy of Culinary Education in Woodland Hills and has worked at Huckleberry, Wazuzu in Las Vegas, BLD, Chinois on Main and as an intern at Grace. I briefly met Tad one day when the Heirloom LA truck was parked outside of Bar Covell in Los Feliz. For a while I had been over the whole food truck craze and wasn’t interested in trying Heirloom – but I’m glad I did. These weren’t two stoners that had an epiphany at 3:47 am, and opened up a tater tot truck with your choice of stonerish toppings like chili, gravy, ranch dressing or all of the above. (Free food truck idea up for grabs.) Heirloom first existed as a full-on catering company and the addition of the food truck was just the small component of the Mother Ship. I immediately liked the food cooked by Matt and Tad – very homey and well-thought out. Most importantly, they had their shit together.
So when I saw Tad manning the MacGuyver-style roasting rig, I knew we were in good hands. The whole 60-lb lamb was fastened to a rod by wires. The rod was locked into place with two rings that allowed it to rotate and were glued to cinder blocks stacked upon each other. The rest of the parts were cobbled together from Paul Osher’s pig smoker and good ol’ Home Depot. The firewood was a combination of oak and actual Grenache vines and leaves. The recipe was inspired by an account of a lamb roast in Richard Olney’s Provencal Table. The lamb came already dressed and cleaned with the kidneys still inside. It was marinated with a paste of garlic, shallots, thyme, winter savory, rosemary, sea salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. The cavity was stuffed with fennel fronds and sliced lemons. During the cooking process, the lamb was basted with a mix of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, white wine, sea salt, black pepper, white pepper, bay leaves and sweet paprika. The herb brush was thyme, winter savory, rosemary and marjoram. If the lamb were alive, I am sure she would have high-fived Tad for sending her off in a very delicious way.
Tad let me sample some of the skin – amazing.
Left to right: Tad Weyland and Lamb quarters
Because the lamb is cooked whole, it is difficult to ensure that every part will be cooked at a proper medium rare. Once the entire lamb was cooked to medium rare, Tad removed the whole lamb from the spit and cut off the legs. He removed the roasting rod and added grates above the cinder blocks for traditional grilling. This ensured more control and access as each leg and torso was grilled separately to perfection.
Left to right: Tad checking the legs for doneness.
While Tad finished up the preparation of the lamb, Paul Osher treated us with lamb hot dogs he made with Jimenez Farm lamb and served them with his fermented hungarian chili hot sauce and homemade buns. Simply delicious. I selfishly ate four of these and continously assured Paul that he could rule the farmer’s market with his “lamb bacon-wrapped lamb hot dogs topped with lamb chili”. Even the danger dog vendors in LA might start carrying them too! You should all pray that Osher decides to pursue that venture. Amongst the lamb and lamb hot dogs were other delicious lamby dishes made by some other people. It was serious lamb heaven.
And then, the roasted lamb was served… The same lamb that Jessica and Paul had seen in a cuddly, furry state, silenced/cleaned/bled by a man named “Don the Butcher”, stuffed into an ice-filled Igloo and grilled for nearly 3 hours over an open fire. This was literally farm-to-table cooking and I can see in everyone’s eyes just how excited they all were. I couldn’t imagine everyone there was as into lamb as much as beef, pork or chicken, but everyone feasted. The best way to show respect to an animal, as Native Americans believed, was to thank the animal for giving itself up and not letting a single piece of its body go to waste. And there was nothing left…
To wash down all the tasty lamb, Koslow’s friends, Cory and Guilhaume of Selection Massale, provided the wine. We enjoyed Frantz Saumon Mineral Plus, Frantz Saumon “La Cave se Rebiffe” sparkling rosé, Aligote from White Celine & Laurent Tripoz and Chris Bock Whole Cluster Cab Franc. All were delicious.
Tad Weyland’s Green Sauce for Roasted Lamb
2 bunches parsley mostly leaves
1 tbsp. savory Leaves
3 tbsp. thyme leaves
1tsp. rosemary leaves
1 preserved lemon zest only
zest of one fresh lemon
juice of 1 fresh lemon
2 salt-packed anchovy filets
maldon salt and pepper
about 1 cup of extra virgion
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients except Aleppo until emulsified. Stir in Aleppo and adjust S&P!