great grass = great lamb

News and notes from John and Sukey Jamison of Jamison Farm, Latrobe PA

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our First Delivery
We have wanted to share this story for sometime. So now with the focus on Jean-Louis Palladin in the current Food Arts Magazine, we thought it would be timely. He was one colorful character, who was very loyal and supportive in our early years of novice "farm to table" farmers. While we began our farming studies with the big Ag universities, we quickly realized that our education in the food business would be through our connections with chefs.

Sukey and I were standing outside the kitchen door at “Jean-Louis at The Watergate” in downtown Washington DC, in the dark at 10:00 pm on a Friday night in May, 1988. I had two whole lamb carcasses on my back, and Sukey had one on hers. Sukey knocked on the door with her one free hand. Within seconds, the door flew open. His hand still attached to the door, seemingly deciding whether to open or close it, the impeccably dressed Maitre D’ asked in a French accent, “May I help you?” His manner impressed me as I figured he had just filled a glass of wine for Jackie Onassis and now was suavely trying to find out what these two people with three lamb carcasses were doing outside his kitchen door.

As I stumbled sideways through the door trying to negotiate my way into the kitchen dodging waiters, cooks and dishwashers, still balancing the two carcasses on my back, the sea of white jackets opened and someone said with a deep French accent, “Let me take it from you”. Taking one lamb off my shoulder was a tall character with a friendly air about him. He looked about my age. He was dressed in a chef’s Jacket, Jordache Jeans and Reeboks. He motioned to someone and another cook ran in and took the other lamb from me. He turned around, lamb in his arms, motioning to the staff to follow him. They circled around him as he carried the lamb to a stainless steel work table.

Sukey and I stayed back, partly out of respect and partly to be out of the line of fire, should there be a problem. All I could see was this tall chef with Brillo Pad hair and Tootsie glasses opening the paper and wildly waving his arms above his circled minions. What I could hear was a lot of Gallic expressions which meant nothing to me, emanating from his deep Gascon voice. I said to Sukey, “This is either very, very good or very, very bad.” He motioned for us to join him.

I noticed his eyes were teary. He said, “I am so happy to meet you. You have to excuse me because these lambs are so beautiful. They remind me of the ones I bought when I was an apprentice. These are a souvenir of my youth.” By this time, Sukey and I were speechless. He asked what we wanted to drink and 30 seconds later our now new friend, the Maitre D’ brought in two demi-tasse of Espresso on a silver tray with burgundy linen.

The chef then went on to tell me how old the lambs were. He was right within three days. He could tell by the color of the meat and the amount of kidney fat. I was spellbound; chefs weren’t supposed to know this stuff. The breeds were different from the Sheep which are used in his part of France. But as they are Dorset Crosses raised on our native grasses and legumes, the carcasses are similar.

He sensed our interest and curiosity. He then ripped off a piece of the butcher paper covering the lambs and drew a map of France. He explained that the two best types of lamb in France were in Paulliac in the Bordeaux country and in Sisteron in Provence. He told us that lamb tastes like whatever it eats and that the grasses and herbs in these areas produce the best tasting lamb in France. Since we had been strictly grass farmers for about ten years by then, as impressed as I was with Jean-Louis, I thought I could at least put in my two cents. So I asked him, “Chef, what about the famous Pre-Sale lamb that grazes on the salt marshes of Normandy? I have heard it is wonderful.” He looked me straight in the face and with that classic twinkle in his eye he said,” Non, non, non. This is fine if you want the lamb that tastes like the fish.” Well, that was that.

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