Northwest Columbus resident Reese Flowers, 35, won the 2020 Columbus Pesto Championship earlier this year and will take his recipe to the World Pesto Championship on March 28 in Genoa, Italy.
Flowers, executive chef for the Mount Carmel New Albany surgical hospital, said his wife, Sheena, signed him up for the pesto championship after he mentioned wishing he had competed more while in culinary school.
"I joked at the competition that she was like Mick from 'Rocky,'" he said, describing the way she was encouraging him to prepare for the competition held Jan. 26 at Columbus State Community College.
Flowers said he has been cooking professionally for about 12 years and it was interesting to really dive into the complexity of the seven ingredients used for pesto -- garlic, basil, salt, pine nuts, two kinds of cheese and olive oil.
"You get to a point where you're like 'OK, I know this ingredient; I know how it tastes; I know what it's used for,' and you just kind of move forward with it," he said.
"But with these seven ingredients just for making pesto, it was really cool to just dive in deeper to see like, 'Oh there's these different types of basil; there's sweeter ones, younger leafs and which ones I should pick.' Same thing with the salt and the cheeses," he said.
Sameen Dadfar, program manager at Greater Columbus Sister Cities International, the organization that presents the Columbus competition, said the organization came up with the idea after sending a group of young professionals to Columbus' sister city in Genoa, Italy, as a way to nurture the relationship.
Genoa and Columbus have been sister cities since 1955, she said.
"They really are one of our closest relationships because of all that we've been through," she said.
Dadfar said the group held the first Columbus Pesto Championship in 2017 and plans to hold it every other year. She said applications are opened up to the Franklin County community, and 10 finalists are selected to compete.
She said each contestant has to make a recipe by hand with a mortar and pestle and is judged on such factors as color, taste and consistency.
Dadfar said the winner of the Columbus competition travels to the world competition in Italy to compete in the international level at the World Pesto Championship. She said the organization also pays for travel for the contestant.
She said the competition has 100 contestants, 25 of them Americans involved with sister-city relationships. Dadfar said someone from Columbus has yet to win, but it's still a great opportunity.
"It's still great to get Columbus out there and to get the sister-city relationship out there," she said.
Dadfar said the winner of the World Pesto Championship gets a gold mortar and pestle and, of course, bragging rights.
Flowers said he has never traveled internationally and is excited about representing Columbus.
"I'm excited to just be there and be involved with it," he said. "Like I said, I've never done anything like this, and I'm excited to represent Columbus.
"I was chosen for what I made, but I'm also excited to represent our state and our city and I can do that," he said.
Flowers said he's also excited to see what he can bring back from a culinary perspective.
"I'm excited to eat over there. You hear a lot of stories about chefs who go overseas and how it changes their perspectives, their observations and just the way they do things from day to day. I'm hoping I have that transformation too," he said.
To learn more about the World Pesto Championship event, go to pestochampionship.it/?lang=en.