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The Home Plate - Life and Lamb

Meet the Chef: Miles Vaden

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Miles VadenIn this month’s edition of the Home Plate, we talk to Executive Chef Miles Vaden of DC Coast. Miles recently took home first prize in a menu contest during DC restaurant week for his Braised Lamb Schwarma with Black Tahini, Pomegranate Tzatziki, Mint Chermoula, and Pickled Beets on Grilled Lavash. Chef Miles will now go to the Aspen Food & Wine Festival as Aussie Lamb’s honoured chef!

We asked the Chef about the inspiration for the dish, and he told us he was looking to create something with lamb for the lunch menu, and knew he wanted to use the shank. “Especially when the weather’s cold, a slow-cooked, braised meat is hard to beat.” said Miles. As he is often found on his days off in one of the many excellent authentic Eastern Mediterranean restaurants the DC-area is blessed with, schwarma was a natural choice. Chef Miles’ dish takes all of the traditional elements of a classic schwarma and gives them his own creative and often colourful touch. Thus tahini became a housemade black sesame tahini, tzatziki got a lift of color and flavour pop from pomegranate seeds, fresh herb notes come from a mint chermoula, and pickled beets add acidity and vibrant color. “I love colors on the plate, and as a chef I try to match the color with a flavorful purpose,” explains Chef Miles. “The pomegranate seeds and pickled beets both do that, and they keep the dish from getting one-dimensional. Every bite will be a little different than the last.” All of those elements work to complement the main attraction, which is of course the braised Aussie lamb shanks, which bring plenty of flavour of their own to the plate.

When we asked Chef what he liked best about working with Australian Lamb, he said “The flavor first of all is so mild, sweet and clean; it’s not at all the gamey, heavy flavor that a lot of Americans might remember from their childhood. When I learned that Aussie lamb is so well raised and taken care of – grass-fed, hormone-free and humanely treated – it was an even better match for what I want to serve my guests.”

If you live in or visit the DC area, the Braised Aussie Lamb Shank Schwarma is now a regular menu item at DC Coast, along with a more substantial Aussie lamb shank dish on the dinner menu. Tell them the Aussies sent you!

Meet the Chef: Josh Elliott

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Josh Elliott HeadshotIn this month’s edition of the Home Plate, we talk to Hilton Cabana Miami chef Josh Elliott . Josh has worked his way up through some top restaurants in Miami, including db Bistro and almost the complete set of concepts in the Pubbelly empire, of which the Hilton Cabana’s L’Echon Brasserie is the newest member.

Josh recently took part in a day-long immersion in Aussie beef and lamb, connecting with a group of fellow chefs from Miami restaurants and hotels to “bone up” on meat from down under. “Lamb is my favorite protein to eat and to cook – I love every part of it.” said Josh. “And I never pass up an opportunity to learn the how and why about food and ingredients.” Like many of the chefs at the immersion, Josh raved about the chance to break out of the daily routine, connect with colleagues and just spend a day cooking for its own sake.

During the hands-on cooking part of the immersion, the chefs were put into teams and given a “mystery box” of ingredients to work with, cooking-show-style. Josh was paired up with Timon Balloo from Sugarcane and another hotel chef from the Four Seasons, and given a mix of Spanish & Portuguese ingredients to work with.

Josh’s team made Spanish meatballs, albondigas, using ground lamb from the hind shank. The meat was mixed with cream, manchego and piquillo peppers to make the meatballs. Then they served it up on a chickpea puree with a yogurt-quince vinaigrette.

Coming out of the immersion, Josh was inspired to take part in a special dinner featuring Aussie lamb alongside some of the other chefs in attendance. Hosted by chef Conor Hanlon at The Dutch, the five chefs served up an array of lamb dishes and accompaniments to a ticketed crowd.

Josh’s dish was a “Curry braised Aussie lamb shank with pumpkin spiced fregola, cranberry, green olive, candied pumpkin seed.” First Australian lamb hind shanks were cured in red curry, sugar and salt, then braised in yellow curry. In the classic French “presse” style, the meat was then cooked off the bone, pressed flat and cut into cubes. For service, it’s plated with fregola (Israeli couscous) with dried cranberries, green olives, diced pumpkin & pumpkin puree. “After the event, we took that same dish and ran it as a special at the restaurant, it did really well.” says Josh.

We asked Josh what the secret is to getting Americans to order lamb, and he told us “It’s true Americans are very beef-centric and can have what you might call comfortable palates.” He said. “The key is to educate your team and the guest, getting your service team excited about it and arming them with a story to tell. If they taste it and like it, they’ll sell it!”

He went on to add that having a high-quality and consistent product helps too. “I am really impressed by the care, consideration, and craft that goes into the Australian lamb.” he told us. “You can see the results in the quality, and the clean, natural flavor with less overall richness in Aussie Lamb.”

Meet the Chefs: Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth

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Jeff McInnis and Janine BoothExecutive Chef Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, Chef de Cuisine, Root & Bone, NYC

Having made their names in fried chicken at Yardbird in Miami and on Top Chef, it’s no surprise that the duo of Executive Chef Jeff McInnis and Chef de Cuisine Janine Booth have already been rated the best fried chicken in New York City. But there’s a lot more going on at Root & Bone than just fried free-range birds – as the name suggests, Root & Bone has a strong theme of on-the-bone meats and root vegetables, and the kind of “rural American” cuisine that corresponds to it.

One of those on-the-bone meats is an Australian rack of lamb, which the chefs cook with a very modern “sous vide” technique but in a simple preparation with butter and aromatic herbs. It gets finished quickly on the grill for service. “We keep the flavoring simple, letting that pure, natural, pastured lamb flavor shine through.” Says Booth. “We’ve had a number of guests tell us that they usually don’t like lamb, but they love ours. I think it has a lot to do with the mild, sweet flavor of Aussie lamb. We love changing peoples’ perceptions of what lamb can taste like.”

At home, native Aussie Janine loves the “hands-off” simplicity of slow-cooked curries for lamb. “In Australia, we have all these Asian influences from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and India, so curries are something we learn from an early age.” She says. “The beauty of it is you get all that flavor from just one pot – get it going with your aromatics, spices and a bit of good lamb, then let it cook while you get on to something else.”

For a simple curry to try at home, check out this recipe and video.

Meet the Chef - Conor Hanlon

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Chef Conor HanlonAussie Lamb lovers, meet Conor Hanlon, Chef de Cuisine of The Dutch at W South Beach. Conor’s dish, Australian Lamb Saddle with Goat Cheese Polenta and Romesco, has won the Miami Spring Fling menu competition. As the grand prize winner, Chef Hanlon will now be flown to Australia to visit the continent’s beef and lamb production regions, and visit Sydney to sample some of Australia’s multi-cultural dining scene. For a look at last year’s trip, click here

“I'm incredibly humbled to be included in this excursion to Australia; seeing where my ingredients come from is a huge priority for me.” says Conor. “I look forward to seeing how the climate and terroir effect the quality and flavor.”

The winning dish was developed as an item for The Dutch Miami’s summer menu, and a way to use a red meat alternative to increasingly pricey beef. “We wanted something that would look vibrant on the plate, and taste bright and flavorful on the palate as well.” explains Conor. The combination of the rich and rustic polenta sticks with the bold, smoky romesco, and the sweetness of the roasted summer veggies and confit’d tomatoes, brings out the best in the lamb saddle.

“I love Aussie lamb because it has a remarkably clean flavor and is nice and lean. Our guests here in South Florida are pretty conscious about what they’re eating, and want leaner proteins, so the saddle is the perfect cut.”

Tasting the dish, the judges loved the flavor balance and perfectly cooked, moist and tender meat. So what’s the Chef’s secret to using a lean cut like saddle? “People often overcook or slice their leaner meats too quickly,“ says Conor. “With a proper rest and short cooking time, you get a much better result.”

And then there’s the “fat corner” in the walk-in. Not wanting to waste anything, Conor and his team store carefully rendered fat from bacon, duck and lamb, often infusing them with flavors from garlic and rosemary, as he does with the lamb. A little of the infused lamb fat is basted on the saddle in the romesco dish, and it’s the cooking fat that starts his lamb Bolognese, another staple on The Dutch’s menu. “A little goes a long way,” says Conor. “You get that delicious, unctuous flavor and mouthfeel, but you can still use a leaner piece of meat.”

As a chef, Conor feels a responsibility to help his guests discover new flavors and less familiar ingredients, like lamb. “We’re in a position to use our training and skills to make new foods look appealing to the eye, seem approachable, and show how good they can taste.” He explains. “It’s rewarding to see someone’s perceptions change after just one bite.”

Meet the Chef: Aaron Brooks

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Chef Aaron BrooksChef Aaron Brooks is the Executive Chef at
Four Seasons Miami and its EDGE Steak & Bar, and recently served as our “Lambassador” for Australian Lamb in Miami. Even as an expat and fellow Aussie, he learned a thing or two about lamb in working alongside other Miami chefs during Aussie Lamb Spring Fling this April. “I’ve traveled all over and used Aussie lamb for years, but never really knew what goes into it, the respect for the animals and how they’re raised and pastured.” Chef Aaron says. “We see it in the consistency and quality in what we get here, but it was inspiring to see and hear the story behind it.”

When asked what he likes most about Aussie lamb, Chef Aaron mentions the fact that it’s pasture-raised, with clean, natural flavor. “The flavor takes me back to home, and the quality of the lamb that’s exported to the US is amazing - they only send us the best.”  He notes that his guests have responded really well to the lamb he puts on the menu. “We see the reactions from folks every time we feature lamb.” says Aaron. “They love it, and wonder why they haven’t ordered it more often.”  The current menu at EDGE features “Fire Roasted Aussie Lamb Chops, Crisp [Lamb] Belly Glazed with Black Pepper Tupelo Honey, Five Grain Salad, Greek Yogurt” – to which we say, “Yes please!”

For home cooks, Chef Aaron recommends the grill to simply and quickly bring out the best flavor in lamb. He suggests using marinades and seasonings with earthy, strong flavors, which will pair well with the lamb and the smoky notes of the grill. His Korean BBQ lamb chops are a great example. “You can also keep it simple, like we often do in Australia.” notes Aaron. “Marinate Aussie lamb in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and some rosemary or other herbs, and you’re good to go on the grill.”

Another of Chef Aaron’s favorite lamb dishes is his “Australian Lamb with Chipotle and Spices.” With the sophisticated equipment in the restaurant kitchen, he’ll cook it sous vide for 12 hours for super-soft, succulent texture and deeply intense flavor. You can achieve a similar effect at home with a simple braise on the stovetop or slow-cooker. “Even when you’re not grilling, smoky flavors like the chipotle and those aromatics like cumin, cloves, and allspice just bloom when they come together with lamb.” he says. “It’s irresistible.” 

Meet the Chef: Dirk Flanigan

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Stroll down Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue near Millennium Park, and it’s impossible to miss the area’s culinary anchor—300-seat gastropub The Gage, and its next-door neighbor and upscale-French sister restaurant, Henri.

The culinary success of both establishments can be attributed to Chef Dirk Flanigan, the 2011 StarChefs “Rising Star” award winner whose long list of critical acclaim includes “excellent” three-star ratings and “Best New Restaurant” from the Chicago Tribune.

So far, Chef Dirk’s had a busy year. With the success of Henri and The Gage firmly under his belt, he departed the restaurants in January. In February, he headed Down Under for an Australian Red Meat paddock to plate tour with Meat & Livestock Australia, Plate Magazine and the International Corporate Chefs Association. These days, Chef Dirk’s getting ready to kick off the next chapter in his exciting career—his own restaurant, a French-Italian concept called Il Coniglio. He’ll continue to showcase his “refined rusticity” style, and put his classical training and constant desire for innovation to good use.

We recently caught up with Chef Dirk to talk about Australian Lamb, his cooking philosophy and approach to sustainability, and any tips he’d offer for bringing sustainability and Australian Lamb into your home kitchen.

The Aussie Difference 

“I was blown away by how green it is,” said Chef Dirk, of his trip to Australia, where he spent lots of time in SUVs visiting many of the country’s farms, including Ray Vella’s family-owned, 18,000-acre ranch at Bald Hills, in Marlborough, Queensland. “You hear the term ‘grass-fed,’ and here, it’s like really, really grass-fed.” Another thing that impressed him was the time-tested nature of sustainable Australian farming practices, aimed at making smart use of farming byproducts and minimizing waste.   

Consider the Source 

Beyond meeting farmers on his travels, Chef Dirk has made relationships with his product suppliers a priority throughout his career. “My relationships with some of my purveyors stretch back more than 20 years… to the point that some of them are now retiring and introducing me to their replacements.” Chef cites these close relationships and the ability to rely on high-quality products as being among the reasons for his success—and suggests that knowing where one’s food comes from is an important component of sustainability for the home cook. 

Beyond the Chop

“I cook with a sustainable approach because that’s how I think,” says Chef Dirk. For chefs and home cooks alike, another way to maximize sustainable eating is to look beyond common lamb cuts like rack of lamb. “Using more economical or less common cuts of meat is an important component of sustainability,” says Chef. One dish recommendation: a savory Australian Lamb Navarin, a lamb shoulder stew. 

Tip to Try 

Many less common lamb cuts, like lamb shoulder, reward with marinating time. If the weather or your schedule aren’t ideal for a BBQ, Chef suggests that you can still create a grill-like flavor with one of his favorite Australian Lamb seasonings: charred herbs. Bruise or lightly crush a few sprigs of rosemary (to release their oils), then lightly char them over a gas burner. Add the charred herbs to a foodsaver bag with garlic and olive oil and marinate. The cooked Australian Lamb will offer a bewitching, smoky essence, and taste great as leftovers. 

Read more about Chef Dirk Flanigan here.