Every year, the Colorado Lamb Council sponsors a Lamb Cook-of for local chefs at the Taste of Vail food festival. Winning is the culinary feat. For the 2011 victor, Tyler Hansen of Restaurant Kelly Liken, it was all about the leg.
Supplied with 60 pounds of boned, rolled, and tied leg of lamb three days prior to the competition, Hasen and 18 other participants were challenged to come up with an original recipe and cook 350 to 400 portions for public consumption. They also had to present their dish to a panel of judges for a final taste test. For the past two years, Restaurant Kelly Liken has taken home the coveted Judge’s Prize.
“For me, it all began with brainstorming the ingredients,” says Hansen, as he describes the creative process behind his big win. “I had to ask, ‘What season is it and what ingredients are available?” He decided to slow cook the lamb and serve it with Parmesan-infused jus over risotto cakes.
For his sides, Hansen selected nettles and ramps. “When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, those two ingregients signified the transition from heavy winter foods to summer foods,” Hansen muses.
Since the Tase of Vail occurs every spring, it was the perfect choice.
The tipping point for the judges might have been Hansen’s “sous-vide,” or slow-cooking method. “We rolled the meat up, seasoned it, and put it into vacuum sealed bags in individual portions,”explains Hansen. “Then we cooked it for 20 hours in an immersion circulator, a machine that keeps water at a consistent temperature.
“What that allows you to do is cook at a medium temperature so all those connective tissues break down. Normally, cooking lamb that long would make it tough.”
Hansen showed the judges something they hadn’t seen before.
It was in Boulder, Colorado, that Hansen’s love of food began. “The major influence for me was Sunday morning breakfast at my dad’s house,” recalls Hansen. “I woke up to the smells of homemade biscuits, gravy, onions and potatoes cooking.”
During those family meals, Hansen felt a sense of community. “Who you eat with is really as important as what you eat. That is what got me passionate about food,” he says.
Hansen takes taht passion to the table at restaurant Kelly LIken. He says he likes working with celebrity LIken because her fame brings in clientele such as First Lady Michelle Obama.
When asked what other chefs he admires, Hansen named his mentor Stephen Moise, a resort chef from South Lake Tahoe. “He groomed me as a young chef and pushed me in the right directions.”
One of those directions took Hansen to Bellingham, Washington, where he continued to hone his skills. Another brought him back to Colorado. When Hansen walked into Kelly Liken’s to hand her his resume, she hired him on the spot. He found out later she was about to advertise for a sous chef that same day.
She knew a winner when she saw on.