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Game Creek's 'Bisteeya' takes top honors in Lamb Cook-Off

CREATED: 2006-04-09 08:46 PM


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Game Creek's 'Bisteeya' takes top honors in Lamb Cook-Off

VAIL, Colo. - For Thomas Newsted, the much-ballyhooed "second coming of lamb" was his chance to maintain his title as "lamb guru."

Organizers the 16th annual Taste of Vail fine wine and food extravaganza announced Saturday, April 8, that Newsted had won the second annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off, held Wednesday, April 5, in Vail Village.

"I wanted a unique style and flavor profile that preserved the integrity of the lamb," said Newsted, executive chef at Game Creek Restaurant, on Vail Mountain. "It's so diverse. It took a lot of thought."

Vying for the coveted title, more than a dozen chefs from throughout the Vail Valley - home to more Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants than any other resort community in the United States -served up $2 samples of the tastiest lamb they could muster. And Newsted - a product of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America who'd garnered a Mobil Four Star earlier in his career as chef de cuisine at the Lodge at Vail - was defending champion, having won the inaugural event last year.

Newsted's winning recipe this time around? "Lamb Bisteeya," a savory lamb leg confit baked in phyllo with cardamom-spiced green papaya and tomato-ginger vinaigrette.

"I studied the cut of meat and concluded I wanted something heavy enough to reflect the ambiance of winter but also embrace the coming spring season," Newsted said. "I figured a Moroccan influence would bridge the flavors of both seasons."

"The balance in the lamb of salty, spice and sweetness, it was perfect," added Martial Noguier, a world-renowned French chef serving on a panel of six judges for the competition, taking careful note of taste, originality and presentation. "The texture, the lamb was nice and soft; the phyllo was crispy, very nice. And the presentation was nice, very different."

Newsted and other local chefs who committed to this year's showdown had been bantering for weeks, trading barbs and egging each other on as they prepare to make a go for the top prize, $1,200 cash.

Second place ultimately went to Chris MacGillivray of Grouse Mountain Grill, in Beaver Creek, with his salt-crusted leg of lamb with mint garlic relish. He received an $800 Ducane gas grill, donated by The Home Depot.

Third was Chef Bernard Clancy of Two Elk Restaurant, on Vail Mountain, with his leg of lamb stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, rosemary and garlic on a bed of roasted vegetable cous cous with a red wine demi. He took home a gift set from Kitchen Collage, in Edwards, including an All-Clad roti pan, a Henckel carving knife set, a JK Adams cutting board, a cookbook, an apron, a potholder and some Rick's Rubs, valued at $500.

Rounding out the top six were Chef Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken, with her pan-seared Colorado leg of lamb, warm-herbed garbanzo and fava bean salad; Jamie Loucks of Chaps Grill and Chophouse, with his lamb and chickpea cannoli with tsatsiki sauce and a pomogranate syrup; and Paul Ferzacca, chef and owner of La Tour Restaurant and Bar, who prepared "popcorn lamb" with tomato mint chutney.

The People's Choice Award, meanwhile, went to Chef Maria Braganza of Terra Bistro, who, like Newsted, went Moroccan with a spiced lamb bao, or steamed dumpling.

"The Lamb Cook-Off is so indicative of Colorado," says Megan Wortman, spokeswoman for the Denver-based American Lamb Board, which donated 500 pounds of locally grown leg of lamb to the event. "There's no better way to promote the fact Colorado produces some of the finest lamb in the world."

The Taste of Vail was created in 1990 by a group of Vail Valley restaurateurs as a marketing event to showcase the resort's world-class restaurants. This year, an estimated 5,000 attendees and volunteers participated in the 16th annual Taste of Vail, April 5-8, with chefs from more than three dozen local restaurants and winemakers and/or owners of six dozen wineries from around the world participating.

Taste of Vail is a charitable, nonprofit organization. Over the past 15 years, the festival has contributed more than $300,000 to Vail Valley charities. This year's proceeds will be evenly distributed among: the newly created Taste of Vail Educational Scholarship, a joint effort with ProStart and Eagle County; the Vail Valley Youth Foundation's soccer program; and other local charitable programs that otherwise would not be able to continue without additional funding.

"Congratulations to everybody who participated in the Colorado Lamb Cook-Off this year. To showcase an event on the streets of Vail Village where anybody, even kids, can sample world-class cuisine for $2 - all for charity - is a great thing," said Chef Ferzacca, a member of Taste of Vail's board of directors. "We almost doubled the money we raised for charity last year at the inaugural Colorado Lamb Cook-Off."

For more information on Colorado lamb, including, award-winning recipes from renowned chefs, tips for preparing various cuts, a nutritional guide, suggestions for wine pairing and much more, visit For more information about Taste of Vail, visit or call 970-926-5665.

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Facts about lamb:

• Domestically raised lamb, which is freshly available year-round and primarily grain-fed, provides a clean, mild flavor, along with a high meat-to-bone ratio.
• American Lamb is 10,000 miles fresher than imported lamb.
• More than 90 percent of American Lamb will grade USDA "choice" or better.
• According to a recent survey, consumers prefer American Lamb to imported lamb. They ranked it superior in terms of quality, taste and healthfulness. (Synovate Study, 2004)
• Wine expert, Karen MacNeil, author of "The Wine Bible," says American lamb is the quintessential accompaniment for a wide variety of wines from around the world - reds, whites and roses.
• Restaurants choose American Lamb over foreign lamb by a three-to-one margin.
• Lamb can be prepared using a variety of cooking methods including braised, broiled, grilled, roasted and pan-fried.
• American Lamb's unique mild flavor offers the versatility to pair well with simple seasonal ingredients.
• Fresh American Lamb can be purchased at local butcher shops and meat retailers in a variety of cuts.
• There are more than 75,000 American Lamb producers throughout the United States.
• Lamb's adaptability to a wide range of climates and management systems makes it possible to raise them all over the United States year-round.
• 100 percent of American Lamb sold commercially is federally inspected.
• Approximately 3.75 million lambs in the United States are made available for consumption annually.

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(Note: High-resolution photos, detailed recipes, bios of the chefs and a list of the judge are available upon request -SLW.)

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