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Game Creek takes top honors at Taste of Vail's lamb cook-off

CREATED: 2007-04-15 10:03 AM


Game Creek takes top honors at Taste of Vail's lamb cook-off

Classic 'braised leg of lamb' beats' 'lamb sliders' at America's premier wine and culinary festival

VAIL, Colo. (April 11, 2007) - Amid sunny but blustery conditions on the cobbled streets of Vail Village, Game Creek Restaurant's Chef Darrell Jensen took top honors Wednesday at the third annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off, kicking off the 17th annual Taste of Vail, America's premier wine and culinary festival.

Vying for the coveted title of "lamb guru," Jensen joined chefs from 16 other restaurants throughout the Vail Valley, serving up samples of the tastiest lamb they could muster.

New at Game Creek Restaurant this year, Jensen brought the festival's panel of expert judges close to tears with his simply named "braised leg of lamb" to take first place in a highly contested competition judged on presentation, creativity and taste.

Second place ultimately went to Chef Richard Beicher of Chaps Grill & Chophouse with his lamb "slider" on brioche roll with micro mint and ginger tomato chutney.

Third place, interestingly, went to Thomas Newsted, executive chef of Zacca Za, with his Colorado lamb bistecca piccolo. Newsted was executive chef at Game Creek Restaurant when he won the event the past two years, before moving to Zacca Za.

"I'm very excited, and proud of my crew," a gracious Jensen said upon learning he'd finally taken Newsted's coveted trophy. "A chef's really only as good as the people who work for him."

Rounding out the top six were:
• Sweet Basil's Chef Paul Anders, with his black-tea-and-spice-rubbed lamb leg, fava bean panna cotta, saffron mint aioli, cornichon and preserved lemon relish.
• Chef Tim McCaw of Zach's Cabin with his braised lamb b'steeya pickled onion, harrisa-spiced raita and fennel.
• Chef Randy Belanger of The Wildflower with his lamb souvlaki with naan bread and tziki sauce.

Curtis Lincoln, executive chef at the Brown Palace, in Denver, and one of the judges, said Jensen's braised leg of lamb was very creative.

"The gnocchi was very light; the butternut cone was clean and crisp; the herb salad had a very refreshing finish," Lincoln said.

The other judges were Jorge de la Torre of Johnson and Wales University; Chef Nick Agro, owner of Whirled Peas; Peter Orwick, president of the American Sheep Industry Association; Megan Wortman, marketing director of the American Lamb Board; Scott Dodd, executive chef at Mid-Vail; and Randy Wyrick, editor of the Vail Trail.

For $2 each, samples of the chefs' lamb offerings, along with lamb-friendly tasting pours of fine wines, were on sale to lamb-crazed ticket buyers, who cast votes for their favorite dish. Organizers will present the resulting People's Choice at Taste of Vail's grand finale, the Grand Tasting, on Saturday.

"Fantastic chefs with unique, outstanding presentations," said Wortman, spokeswoman for the Denver-based American Lamb Board, which donated 800 pounds of locally grown leg of lamb to the event this year. "There's no better way to promote the versatility and great flavor of American lamb."

Also participating in Taste of Vail's third annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off were chefs from the following restaurants, in alphabetical order:
• Beano's Cabin
• Bighorn Bistro
• Dish
• Grouse Mountain Grill
• La Tour
• Kelly Liken Restaurant
• Terra Bistro
• Toscanini
• Two Elk
• Vail Valley Gourmet

"Congratulations to everybody who participated in the Colorado Lamb Cook-Off this year," said Chef Paul Ferzacca of La Tour, a member of Taste of Vail's board of directors. "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."

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

Celebrating the Vail Valley's rich lifestyle, the fine dining, prestigious art galleries, fashionable shops and phenomenal skiing that have made Vail a world-class, year-round resort, Taste of Vail was created in 1990 by a group of local restaurateurs as a marketing event to showcase the resort's world-class restaurants. Now the internationally famous destination boasts more than 21 Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants, the most of any resort community in the United States. Many of them are among the nearly three dozen Vail Valley restaurants that participate in Taste of Vail every year.

Such high standards over the years have led to the Taste of Vail's being ranked as one of the top three arts-and-entertainment events in the United States, in terms of quality, by the 2006 Luxury Brand Status Index events, conducted by the New York-based Luxury Institute (

Despite its stature among wine and culinary festivals and a reputation for haute cuisine, the Taste of Vail is a nonprofit organization. Last year, the second annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off alone raised roughly $20,000 for Vail Valley charities, nearly doubling proceeds from its debut in 2005, says Morgan. In the past 16 years, the festival has contributed more than $330,000 to Vail Valley charities; and in 2005, in conjunction with Ritz-Carlton, the Taste of Vail donated $23,000 to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund.

For more information, or to buy tickets to Taste of Vail's other events, visit, e-mail or call 970-926-5665.

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