This article was sponsored by Shepherd Song Farm and written by John Seymour-Anderson.
During our tour of Zelo, the interview, and photo-shooting, executive chef Jason Gibbons proved to be equally gracious, loquacious, and photo-friendly. As a result, we found ourselves running late to the kitchen to take photographs of the dishes being prepared — both times the chef was readying them for us.
The meatballs were sublime — the Moroccan seasoning very gentle and nuanced, a good match for the subtlety of the lamb’s flavor. They were presented atop a ring of chickpea puree and topped with a nest-like salad of fresh-cut cucumber threads and mint, surrounded by bright red droplets of harissa chili sauce. The salad added a fresh garden cool that accentuated the warm savory flavors of the meat.
The second plate was a generous serving of fettuccine, homemade fresh with toasted flour. Tender, juicy shredded lamb shoulder, braised in local brewery Surly ale, was accompanied by kale, pine nuts, and bits of apricots cooked in port. All were tossed in the fettuccine and topped with shavings of fresh pecorino. It came on like a hushed conversation among a handful of fascinated and fascinating friends.
Our entire interview appears on the Shepherd Song Farm website. Click the link (bottom of this page) for many colorful glimpses — including Gibbons’s childhood memory of lamb stew in a bread bowl, his recent “food-is-so-connected-here” experience in a small Italian hamlet, and his delight in now collaborating with two talented younger chefs. Gibbons has been executive chef with Zelo since it opened in 1999 and at Bacio since it opened in 2002. A large, bustling restaurant, Zelo quietly surprises the first-comer with locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, ingenious and passionate preparation, and a commitment to attend to customers like a 16-seat cafe.
JOHN SEYMOUR-ANDERSON: So, at a young age, you were around men who cooked well?
JASON GIBBONS: Some, yeah. My father can also cook, not as well as his two brothers. One was a very good cook, and one is a pretty good cook, a little bit more on the rustic side. But, the one would call himself a gourmet cook, and he would try a lot of different things all the time. He became very interested in what I did in my career…
JSA: Is there anything different about how you cook [Shepherd Song Farm] lamb versus other lamb?
JG: I don’t really think so. I mean, the processes are relatively the same. I think it could be done extremely simply, and it would be great, you know, because I think the flavor of it stands alone. Just olive oil and salt, and I’d be happy…
JSA: No mint jelly? [laughter]
JG: No mint jelly. In fact, whenever we’ve done lamb, I told the staff, “…we do not have mint jelly.” We just tell people we don’t have mint jelly. That’s meant to cover mutton.
But, some fresh mint — I like to mix a little yogurt and mint together — makes a sauce for lamb that is also very good. I’ve done a tartare that way, too.
For more of our wide-ranging and colorful conversation, read the whole interview.