Miami's Slow Lamb
I managed to get the world's worst photos of the lovely Navajo Churro lamb dinner hosted by Slow Food Miami on Wednesday night at the Standard Hotel, so I'll have to rely on whatever powers of description I have left. The dinner was one of those events that takes umpteen people a lot of time, coordination and energy to put on -- and yet, they somehow managed to make it look as if finding a practically extinct sheep and serving it gracefully under pressure to 60 people with wine, sides, and dessert was no biggie.
The great irony, it turned out, was that until almost the last minute there was no lamb. Slow Food Miami Convivium leader Donna Reno had to search high and low to find the rare Churro sheep she'd heard so much about at the recent San Fransisco Slow Food blowout: She finally got a lead on a farmer in Colorado who could send one, less than a week before the big night.
Then it was Lido Chef Mark Zeitouni's turn to be nonplussed: the box arrived -- 30 pounds of assorted cuts and ground meat in no particular order.
Zeitouni turned that lamb's ear into a silk purse three ways: spicy kibbe balls with thick herbed yogurt; Turkish sheep curry; and fennel pollen dusted sheep loin -- along with an array of sides that still makes my mouth water to think about them.
Zeitouni's heritage is Mediterranean, and the focus at the Lido has been light, healthy fare from the get-go, so he pulled together a menu of fresh salads from locally grown ingredients (watermelon and feta, eggplant baba ganoush, hummus); a main course that included quinoa with dried apricots and cherries; brown rice with roasted peppers and almonds; and highly perfumed stewed chick peas; and for dessert an intriguing sweet spinach cake topped with cream cheese icing, orange biscuits, and mushroom-shaped shortbread cookies. Wine was donated by Korbrand and Selected Brands.
Chef Zeitoni serves a light, Mediterranean menu at The Standard to reflect the hotel's spa-centric culture. They use no butter except at breakfast -- just lots of veggies, fresh fish, and healthy sweets, so the Churro menu was in keeping with Lido sensibilities.
I ought to say a word about Slow Food here: The Miami chapter has 400 members; a new chapter, Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast got rolling last year to cover Palm Beach County and Lauderdale (our old friend, ACLU activist T.A. Wyner is involved, along with local chefs and farmers). Slow Food does more than just put on fabulous dinners -- they serve as educators, advocates, and promoters for food that's good for both people and the planet. The Ark of Taste program identifies foods in danger of extinction, as the Navajo Churro sheep was until recently, and works to restore populations and food traditions that are at risk. It's a great organization and I urge you to join your local chapter.