Bits 'n' Pieces: Foraging helps win Lamb Jam

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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Chef Sebastian Carosi of downtown's Muddy Waters restaurant, 609 W. 11th St, wasn't worried about making more than 600 "mini-burgers" for the Seattle Lamb Jam until his 200 pounds of local lamb shoulder arrived — unground.

"We got everything ready the night before, pulled almost an all-nighter, with the entire restaurant staff laying everything out," Carosi said.

Still there was a bit of a scramble to get the meat ready before heading up north. "I called everyone I knew on a Saturday who might help," he said.

Thanks to a tip, Carosi got his lamb shoulder and the 100 pounds of pacific golden chanterelle mushrooms ground at Butcher Boys.

Hosted by the American Lamb Board, the Seattle Lamb Jam challenged 15 Washington chefs to create their best take on lamb for a panel of judges and 600 plus attendees on Nov. 3 at the Foundry in Seattle.

Carosi and his team took home Best Lamb Shoulder dish for the "damn fine" lamb and wild chanterelle burger with local truffle catsup, slices of Beecher's flagship cheese on homemade sesame seed brioche buns with bread and butter pickles on the side. Initially, Carosi wanted to create a smoked lamb chili but sous chef Rob Natemeier and restaurant manager Majestia Giacci suggested lamb burgers instead.

Foraging for wild edibles and using ingredients native to the area is close to Carosi's heart.

"It's truffle season, I've got two pounds of truffles in my bar, and 25 pounds of leftover golden chanterelles. It's weird for a southern restaurant (to stock those ingredients), but it's rooted in the Northwest," he said.

The chanterelles were foraged in Amboy. "I'll take groups in town on urban foraging tours. I can make a salad from what I find the 200 yards between my building and your building,"he said.

"I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a good part of my adolescence," Carosi said. "I have an 81-year-old Hungarian friend; I call her my forest gypsy. I've learned more about foraging from her than actually being in the forest."

Carosi hopes to compete in other food challenges "as much as I can," he said. He won best lamb leg dish when he competed in the Portland Lamb Jam in 2012.

"I would like to get into the Cochon 555," he said. It's a traveling battle of pork, as participating chefs prepare dishes using different breeds of pigs.

Right now, the chef is looking to bring the first distillery to downtown Vancouver, creating region-specific gin and vodka. "I want to do wild stinging nettles bitters from the nettles I forage. I want to make things of the region," he said.