A chef for Upper West Side ‘Tuscan tapas’ eatery Salumeria Rosi has won best pesto sauce in New York. Chef de Cuisine Aaron Oster gets to present his recipe at the World Championship of Pesto in Genoa in March.
We were suspicious. The competition was held Thursday at Soho’s French Culinary Institute, where the dean of the Italian academy is Salumeria owner Cesare Casella. But we tasted 11 of the pestos, and Oster’s was the creamiest, tastiest, with a stronger note of cheese. Oster, a former JP Morgan Chase accountant, said he learned how to make pesto in Italy and used the same ingredients as the other entrants did - basil, cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, etc. The secret, he said, was when and how they were combined. (That didn’t give us much, but one of the judges said to use a mortar and pestle, not a Cuisinart, which demolishes the cheese, and not to forget the pecorino.)
The event was held as part of a foodie shindig, the International Day of Italian Cuisines, but mostly it seemed an excuse to eat too much bread dipped in olive oil, to throw a Chef’s Night Out after-party that lasted until 2 a.m., and to fly over saucy superstar Massimiliano Alajmo of Le Calendre, who’s one of only a handful of 3-star Michelin chefs in Italy. (He cooked fois gras risotto for the crowd and flirted Bobby- Flay-style, with guests.)
Those wanting to taste the winning pesto dish, however are out of luck. Since Oster will only use fresh basil, he’s waiting until it’s in season. That’s this summer, by which time he hopes to have won the World title. As for his chances, there are about 300 entrants from all over the world and America (by way of a San Francisco chef) last won in 2008.