Earlier this month, I had one of those moments where I looked around and wondered – is it possible that what I’m doing right now can actually be considered “work?!” Yes, I was working hard and thinking fast and on my feet for hours on end, but it was at the U.S. qualifying event for the PASTA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS for crying out loud. And there’s just no getting around the fact that for a pasta lover like myself, that is one sweet gig.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Earlier this year, our friends at Barilla reached out to see if I’d be interested in being part of their Pasta Advisory Council for 2019. Uh, yes please – and when I did a deeper dive and discovered that the brand is built on the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, something I believe strongly in, I realized it was even more of a match made in heaven. We kicked off the partnership by celebrating Carbonara Day, and then they invited me to co-emcee the Pasta World Championship event at the opening night party of Pebble Beach Food and Wine.

The night of the event, I headed to the venue where they’d set up full individual cooking stations on either side of the judges seats. Billy Harris, my co-emcee, and I were mic’d up right in the middle of the action so we could capture it all for camera and for the live audience. I loved meeting each of the chefs, and you could tell that the pressure was on — they wanted to win, and the competition was fierce.

The U.S. qualifying event brought together 8 of the countries most skilled young chefs (with pasta experience) to go head-to-head to earn the a spot at the global event happening in Paris in October. Each of them created dishes using Barilla Collezione line of artisanal pasta products and were judged on taste and presentation.

Each of the participating chefs reflected Barilla’s passion for celebrating true masters of pasta, and I knew from the start that we were in for a delicious evening. These were the competitors:

Ali LaRaia

Frequent travels throughout Italy led Chef Ali LaRaia to cultivate a deep love of all things Italian and inspired her to bring the tradition of strong espresso, fresh pasta and chilled wine to the U.S. via her restaurant, The Sosta, in New York City. These days, LaRaia is focused on sustainable farming and winemaking and teaching pasta-making classes in the San Francisco Bay area.

Sean Turner

Chef Turner learned to appreciate the importance of a meal that transports you to a place of nostalgia and enjoyment, thanks to working with a slew of talented chefs and restaurant owners in a number of different cities. As the executive chef of Louie on DeMun in St. Louis, Mo., Turner regularly brings this value to life in pasta dishes such as Roman gnocchi with pork ragu, béchamel and Pecorino and his seasonal sweet potato ravioli with brown butter, almonds, smoked ricotta Salata and chives.

Brandon Rosen

Chef Brandon Rosen’s passion for different cultures and cuisines comes to life in his dishes, in which he experiments with a wide range of flavors and ingredients. He is an ardent advocate of eating and cooking clean plant-forward foods and often uses pasta as the base for his creativity. Prior to his current role as a private chef in Silicon Valley, Rosen worked at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, Eleven Madison Park, The French Laundry, benu and REDD. He was also a contestant in season 16 of Bravo’s Top Chef.

Brandon (pictured above, right) won fan favorite with his pasta dish.

All other competing chefs from L to R:

Angelina Bastidas

Chef Angelina Bastidas has spent her entire life creating in the kitchen and experimenting with various cuisines and flavors. She began cooking when she was eight and learned from her grandmother how to develop complex flavors. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu at age 18 and upon graduation, began working in the kitchen at Wish Restaurant in Miami. Her expertise also includes experience at several other high-profile restaurants in Miami — Area 31, The Bazaar, Palme D’or and Tongue & Cheek. In 2014, Angelina was nominated as one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 in Miami. She describes her cuisine as focusing on local and seasonal ingredients with a new modern American twist.

I loved Angelina’s Crab Bucatini With Calabrese, Parmesan, Grains Of Paradise, & Citrus Breadcrumb Gremolata using Barilla’s Collezione Bucatini.

Ryan Peters

One visit to Chef Ryan Peters’ Instagram page and his love for and appreciation of pasta is immediately apparent. As the sous chef at Fish nor Fowl in Pittsburgh, Peters takes pride in handcrafting pasta daily for decadent dishes such as linguine and clams with confit bacon, banana peppers and pan frito and agnolotti with white bean, green tomato and Parmesan brood pesto and espelette.

Kelvin Fernandez

While Chef Kelvin Fernandez is primarily focused on Latin cuisine, he has an appreciation for all cultures and a special place in his heart for delicious pasta dishes. Every year, he encourages his more than 56,000 Instagram followers to celebrate National Pasta Day with him. Fernandez has made a name for himself as the youngest executive chef ever on New York City’s fine dining scene and he was also a runner-up on Food Network’s Chopped and a winner on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay. In addition, Fernandez was named one of Forbes magazine’s Top Chefs Under 30 Years Old for Food and Wine.

Kayla Greer

As a private chef to celebrities and professional athletes, Chef Kayla Greer understands the importance of healthy, nutritious meals. Some of her favorite dishes to cook include shrimp tacos, curry chicken and various pasta recipes — all of which she regularly shares with her more than 23,000 Instagram followers.

Silvia Barban

Born and raised in northern Italy, Chef Silvia Barban learned to combine the regional cuisine she grew up eating with the fresh tastes of her mother’s southern Calabrian heritage. Her passion for Italian culture and pasta comes to life in her menu at LaRina Pastificio & Vino in Brooklyn. Barban was also a contestant in season 14 of Bravo’s Top Chef.

And, drumroll please…

Chef Turner was officially named “U.S. Master of Pasta!” His winning dish, Bucatini Pistachio Pesto, featured Barilla’s Collezione Bucatini topped with pistachio pesto and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Next up: we’re headed to Paris! 2019 marks the 8th year of Barilla Pasta World Championships, a global competition that will bring together 12 chefs from around the world to represent their country and compete for the title of Master of Pasta, and Chef Turner will represent the U.S. Good luck Sean! And y’all can read more about the competition right here (including all of the competing chefs recipes!).

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