September 19, 2011

Mutton Cook Off -Nick Engen vs Chef Patrick Atanalian

What happens when one local filmmaker challenges Sanctuary’s head chef to a cooking challenge? You have the Mutton Cook Off, of course. 
Filmmaker Nick Engen & Chef Patrick Atanalian

Rumor has it this challenge began after a debate over who followed the better soccer team. At the beginning of summer filmmaker Nick Engen challenged Chef Patrick Atanalian to see who could make the best lamb dish.  Sanctuary owner, Naomi Williamson, said Nick was persistent about the challenge and would playfully encourage his opponent when he stopped in for a cocktail at Sanctuary.  Finally Patrick relented and the challenge was on. (Anything to get Nick to stop bugging him) Patrick said, "I'll still be drunk at Brits at 3:00 p.m., show up and still kick your ass at 6:00."

Next was a location, where to hold such a monumental event? Because he laid down the gantlet, Nick hosted the challenge at the community room at the Bridgewater Lofts. Friends, neighbors, and staff from Sanctuary were invited; those who showed up would get to vote for their favorite.  Of course, you need one unbiased judge and someone to tell the story, I volunteered.

Mutton, Is that Lamb?  Lamb, Is that Mutton? 
Is there a difference? Yes, but it is slight.  According to (yes that is an actual website) the meat from a young sheep (less than 12 months of age) is called lamb. It is naturally tender and mild in flavor. This is more common in American kitchens. The meat from an older sheep (over one year of age) is called mutton. It has a more intense flavor than lamb, but is preferred to lamb in other cultures.

The Battle Commences
Chef Patrick walked into the Bridgewater Lofts Community Room coolly as he carried a large pot and a few supplies.  Guests saw Nick confidently proclaiming his mutton would be ready shortly; shortly turned into about another hour and a half.  Nick did treat guests to homemade pizza and treated Patrick to a bit more smack talk.

The Dishes
~Nick Engen~
Oven Roasted Mutton Coated with Honey and a mix of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, and Olive Oil

~Chef Patrick Atanalian~
Mutton Coconut Red Curry with Mint Cilantro Chutney and Naan

The Results

Chef Patrick took home the win on this battle with his Mutton Coconut Red Curry. Though the mutton did not dominate the dish, the pieces were tender.  The Mint Cilantro Chutney was the perfect cool complimented the spicy curry.  Nick’s piece of mutton (he thinks may have actually goat) was carved in front of guests.  The first two pieces he gave me I could not chew. We did eventually find pieces that were edible.  A few guest commented on the meat being too rare.  The coating of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, and Olive Oil was the best part of the dish.  The honey added gave it a little sweetness that worked well with the herbs.  One guest said, “I think Nick invented lamb gum” because her piece too was chewy.

Though Nick’s meat did not turn out as planned he said it was more about getting people together. He did claim that he has made better meals with wild game he has shot and that he is really good with duck.  I told him I would love to come back and try his food any time. Nick graciously extended an invitation.

Thank you to Naomi from Sanctuary for inviting me to judge. If you are looking for a wonderful restaurant to dine at next time you are downtown Minneapolis, I recommend Sanctuary. Chef Patrick's menu changes every other month.  He also creates a featured dish on Friday and Saturday evenings. If you want to try a sample of his food there is also a different five course tasting menu each week night.  If you are not sure what to try ask their knowledgeable staff including owner and general manager Micheal Kutscheid, who will most likely greet you at the door.

The evening was incredibly fun.  I met a lot of new people and even ran into my friend, Anthony Morley, unexpectedly who lived in the building.

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