It’s a blazing hot, afternoon when the golf cart hauling former Admiral chef turned butcher and Asheville expat Jeremy Hardcastle to our camp sight. Coming to a sudden stop, Hardcastle falls from the cart, his bags tumbling with him to the ground. “I couldn’t find a whole tent,” he says, slinging a garbage bag full of tent parts to the ground the way farmers toss bails of hay, “But I got parts of two tents, so there’s bound to be a way to put those together, right?”
Hardcastle is among a small ragtag team of chefs assembled by Blind Pig Supper Club founder Mike Moore who have made the trek last weekend to the remote Border Springs Farm lamb operation in Patrick Springs, Va., to cook at the fourth annual Lambstock festival. Lambstock is a volunteer-based, invitation-only party which bills itself as the Woodstock for Chefs. It serves as a thank you from the successful Border Springs farmers to the people from all over the country who either use the farm’s free-range lambs or just support like-minded, thoughtful, and ethical producers of quality meats.
With hundreds in attendance and everyone contributing something, cooks, restaurant owners, butchers, brewers, winemakers and distillers from all over the country brought the best their homes have to offer. Many collaborated with other chefs from their hometowns to prepare a decadent meal for the masses. For Asheville’s Blind Pig team, Moore recruited such staple workhorses as chef Steven Goff, formerly of King James Public House, and his wife, Sam, a pair that has consistently cranked out quality product for big crowds at every function from BaconFest to the Asheville Wing War. Also on the team were Tyler De Francisco of Sugar Creek Meats, Cardiff Creasey of Wicked Weed, Hardcastle, Jeff “Rhino” Bannister of South Carolina’s Bovinoche food festival, Ben Hester from Table, David Kane of Rhubarb, Clarke Merell of Morehead City’s Circa 81, Geoph Adams from Beaufort, N.C., and Matt Olofson, a hobby barbecuer who has helped cook several Blind Pig dinners.
The festival features a series of meals, each prepared by a different team. Each meal — starting with breakfast, moving on to brunch and so on — typically consists of at least a dozen dishes. With all the free beer, wine and liquor from indie booze makers, the cities of each team’s origin start to become hazy, and easier to remember the people than the cities from whence they hail.
Dinner almost always involves a whole animal, and on this particular night, it’s a pig from the world-famous Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, N.C. Sam Jones, the famous pitmaster, meticulously mans his fire all night, only to chop the whole hog (chopped is the Eastern North Carolina tradition) in front of an enthralled and hungry crowd.
Throughout the festival yard giant pots or, “cowboy caldrons” as they are called, sometimes as large as 41 inches in diameter, hang on massive tripods over open wood-coal fires. A woodfired oven burns as well, providing a variety of dishes and promising pizzas for 1 a.m. munchies. Bands from all over the country take the stage to entertain the gluttonous crowd.
The following morning, bleary-eyed and hungover, the fearless ambassadors of Asheville stumble out of their tent villages to start prepping for our turn. While a team from North Carolina serves breakfast and brunch, the Blind Pig team begins prep work. But the crowds have begun to thin out as there is rain in the forecast, and shelter at the farm is limited. What had been stocked and prepared as a meal to feed 200 now looks more like it will be a meal for half that number.
Nevertheless, Asheville’s finest crank out a disturbingly decadent spread: ribeye salad with roasted fingerlings, herbs and mushrooms; an insanely good peach salad with Benton’s ham, basil and cheese curds; a ludicrous seafood paella from Bannister prepared on a paella pan so large that it takes five people to carry it to service; and collard greens cooked in King Cobra malt liquor as well as about a dozen other dishes. Served at about the same time is a whole hog, spit-roasted all day long by Whistle Pig out of Raleigh.
As everyone was reaching their fill, the rains crowd everyone into the small shelter that houses both the kitchen and a small seated dining area. A zydeco band circles up to provide music. The harder it rains, the louder the crowd becomes, passing handles of bourbon, growlers of beer and jars of local moonshine. The food, all still spread buffet-style across the long tables, serves as a grazing station for tipsy party-goers. Chefs from around the country mingle and meet, held captive by the deafening rain, with memories fading into a haze.
“This has been the best Lambstock yet,” says Craig Rogers, owner of the farm and organizer of the festival. “I’m not talking about the turnout,” he clarifies. “I’m talking about the quality.”
Lambstock plans to join forces with Boucherie this November for a similar event in New Orleans, and Rogers makes a point to extend that invitation to the Asheville chefs: “Come down and cook with us in New Orleans!” The New Orleans event, however, will require that all meat be brought in live and humanely slaughtered onsite as a demonstration of the culture and history of truly great American food.