Just a few months after arriving in DC as executive chef at Urbana, John Critchley took the title at DC's first Lamb Jam competition hosted by the American Lamb Board. He won with a slow-cooked leg of lamb made with preserved lemons that he hopes to make his lucky charm this weekend when he faces off against the winners from three other cities at the Lamb Jam Masters on Sunday at 2 p.m. Before he heads up to New York for the showdown, Critchley shared his strategy and his thoughts on competitive cheffing.
So could you recap how you came up with your winning recipe for the original Lamb Jam here in DC?
We just released our menu in March, I had just come up from a Kimpton property in Miami. So the first menu I had at Urbana showcased that lamb, but it was two ways. One was a saddle and a leg. And so when Lamb Jam had contacted me they gave me a choice of what I wanted to use, so I chose a leg. I made our dish like we do in our restaurant. I just used the leg. I didn't pair it with the saddle as well.
And when do you start prepping for that?
Well, I talked to Craig, the shepherd from Border Springs. He's going to drop off the lamb Wednesday morning. I'll be able to marinate it and then start roasting on Thursday. It'll be all finished Friday and ready for the drive on Saturday.
And did you already do a run-through?
No we actually make it in the restaurant. It's still on our menu now. So we're pretty confident in our ability to get it done in time. It's only 300 guests. Last time I believe it was 500. And we serve a couple hundred people every night at the restaurant, so it should be pretty normal.
And which of your competitors do you most fear?
Honestly, I haven't looked to see who I'm really up against. We've had a busy summer. I was able to take some time — because we had a newborn in January — so I was able to take a little time. So I've been out of it, but I was lucky to hear that Blue Jay from Boston, Jason Santos, who I grew up in Boston and we knew each other while we were in Boston, he's going to be headed there. So that should be pretty fun. I remember glancing at it, but I never really got in to see. I'm just going to have fun and cook my dish.
Why do you get into these competitions?
Well, I chose to do the first one primarily because I was new to DC. I really wanted to meet and be around some of the chefs in DC so I could get to know them. It's a small town. You kind of see each other at all these events, so I try to do as many of them as I can to get out there and see what everyone else is doing. It's not often that we can all go to each other's restaurants, so it's fun to see what everyone is coming up with at events like that.
And how are you settling into DC?
Pretty well. I feel like the first menu came off and people received it very well. We're still evolving the kitchen and the restaurant. We just launched our new menu yesterday. I'm looking forward to hanging out in DC a lot longer. Hopefully I can get out and see other people's restaurants and get to taste everything because it just seems like a real fun city, a real foodie city.
Thanks and good luck at the Lamb Jam.
Thank you. It should be fun. Whatever the outcome is at least I'll be able to see some other fun ideas of cooking. That's really what it's all about anyway.