The afternoon sun beams down through a grove of trees; blue smoke filters, dancing through each stream of light. It wafts out from pits of fire, wood and glowing gray ash. A pig’s head roasts on a grill. Its teeth and jawbone jut from its mouth, like in Lord Of The Flies. One hand douses it with a thick red sauce and the lid closes down. A row of ducks hanging by wires jiggle, twirl and drip on a spit until they burst open above glowing coals and an earthen vessel filled to the brim with leafy greens. Someone pays homage to a whole dressed lamb by kissing its hindquarters before breaking it down with a boning knife and a hacksaw. The soundtrack to this scene is a funk/soul band whose electric guitars and rhythmic grooves echo throughout the valley and rise up to the top of the hill where guests in tents rest and await their next move.

This is Lambstock. Woodstock for chefs. And it’s invite-only.

At Lambstock, there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. The annual festival devoted to food, friends and fun has become a favorite summer getaway for chefs from all over the Southeast and from points north to rolling hills on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, right on the North Carolina/Virginia state line, but everyone who is supposed to know, knows where it is.

Lambstock is kind of in the middle of nowhere; and it’s invite only. (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

As an attendee, you have two options: cook or clean. It’s a working vacation.

Shepherd Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, Va. has been hosting this event for almost a decade as a way to connect chefs to his pasture-raised product, lamb. In its early years, Lambstock started small — word is that the first one began when Top Chef alum Bryan Voltaggio asked if he could bring some of his chefs down to visit the farm and camp in the pasture for the night. Other chefs heard and converged on the farm, and thus Lambstock was born. Rogers used to be a regular at both Cobblestone and Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Farmers Markets to sell his wares. This is much better, and more.

As chefs start to arrive, each will claim a spot among the day’s meals: lunch, supper, dinner, and late night. Of course, someone will throw together breakfast and surprise snacks make regular appearances throughout the day. As food finds it way to the serving table, it’s fair game. “Get it while it’s hot” is relative here. If you miss it, that’s okay; more of something else will be up soon.

The event brings together foodservice professionals from chefs to meat distributors to wineries and craft breweries in the sheep pasture just off Rogers’ back deck. He provides lamb from his flock, while beef, pork and seafood are brought in by like-minded companies and the chefs themselves. A nearly unlimited supply of beer, wine and spirits graces an open bar and hundreds of guests will spend three days camping, cooking and communing in similar fashion to the event’s namesake in Woodstock.

A nearly unlimited supply of beer, wine and spirits graces an open bar. (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

“I don’t even know what I’m standing in line for,” comments one woman waiting in a line that ends with a prize of tables full of food. Long rows of tables covered from head to toe with local produce, meats, cheeses, fruits, fish; the legs of the tables and each participant groan from the weight of each dish. Reed Gordon, chef de cuisine at Greensboro Country Club, came through with jars of sweet and hot pickled watermelon rind. A 5-gallon bucket filled to the brim with watermelon gazpacho followed behind. Jars of ’shine, pickles, jams and liqueurs are exchanged at a high rate of speed amongst friends here. Every 25 minutes a new pot, pan, dish or bottle of a mixed drink appears in order to be consumed.

A cast-iron cauldron swings over a pit of flowing coals while oil bubbles violently, washing over double-battered fried chicken. A smoker the size of a small foreign car sits on a plateau above the pavilion.

A cast-iron cauldron swings over a pit of flowing coals while oil bubbles violently. (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

It’s all about relationships at Lambstock. There are no brochures. There are no business cards. It’s just a good ol’ fashioned time to be eating and drinking with friends.

Lambstock is sharing Southern foodways and traditions and wild new culinary innovations, too.

Lambstock is fresh, hot cornbread stuffed oysters appearing at just the right time. Lambstock is singing and guitars echoing in the valleys until the wee morning hours and 4 a.m. philosophical discussions. Lambstock is emerging from a damp tent in the morning to find Greensboro personal chef Lynn Wells, putting together buttermilk biscuits with bacon pepper jam, liver pudding and pimento cheese, with slices of Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Lambstock is life.

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