Green for green

By Allan I. Ross

Pesto competition helps raise funds for Old Town

This year, Memorial Day came the earliest it possibly could, and Labor Day came the latest it possibly could, making for a longer-than-usual unofficial summer season. So why does it still feel like we got stiffed? (Doggone mild Michigan summers ... .) However, before the leaves start changing and daylight starts slipping away, the Old Town Commercial Association has one more herb up its sleeve, with its brand new Pesto Contesto fundraiser.

“Pesto is a traditional summer dish, and we thought this would be a great way to say goodbye to the season as it draws to an end,” said event co-organizer Lynne Brown. She’s also one of the owners of Perspective 2, the Old Town studio space that’s hosting the Pesto Contesto. “Besides, pesto is just a great thing to eat!”

How can you argue with that?

Italians are credited with the invention of pesto, a green creamy paste made up of basil, crushed garlic, parsley, grated hard cheese and olive oil. Pine nuts, mint and tomatoes sometimes make their way into the mix as well. It’s traditionally prepared in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle (which is the origin of the word “pesto”). Smear it on a baguette, dip a chip into it or toss it with some pasta; there are about a million and one ways to eat pesto — and the dozen or so local restaurants and catering companies who are participating in Pesto Contesto each think they’ve got the best.

Two years ago, the Capital Foundation for Arts and Culture, a Lansing-based non-profit agency, held a similar contest. Brown was so intrigued with the concept that she asked for the group’s blessing to borrow the idea after it disbanded last year. Among this year’s contestants are Beggar’s Banquet, The Chrome Cat, Dusty’s Cellar & Tap Room, Gumbo & Jazz, Jazzy & Mrs. B’s Catering, Mama Bear’s Café and Sir Pizza Grand Café. Each establishment will set up a booth inside Perspective 2 and try to woo tasters with creative displays, not at all dissimilar to the way flowers attract honeybees and hummingbirds with creative colors and smells.

“We’re calling it ‘friendly bribery,’” Brown said. “The participants represent a good slice of Lansing and East Lansing, and they’re going all out to create outstanding visual food art to get you to try their pesto.”

For $15, Contesto attendees will receive tickets worth three pesto samples and one drink. In addition to non-alcoholic beverages, specialty beers and wines will be available. Signing up online will save you $1 at the door, or you can get two admittances for $25. Additional tickets are available for purchase as well. Now here’s the deal: Every time you sample someone’s pesto, that counts as one vote for that establishment. At the end of the day, whichever booth has given out the most samples wins.

“It’s probably the best fundraiser for food fans we have,” said Brittney Hoszkiw, executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association. “You’re eating for a cause at this event. This is an opportunity to contribute to an economic development project or a playground, and have a fun time doing it.”

The OTCA is a diverse group of businesses, property owners and individu als who promote the historic preservation, development and adaptive reuse of Lansing’s Old Town. Hoszkiw said that this is just one of the more than 100 festivals and fundraisers that OTCA holds each year to help them to pursue its cause.

Three cash prize awards will be presented to the top three contenders, but otherwise all proceeds (and additional wine and beer sales) go directly to OTCA. Completing the easygoing mood, local musician Mike Bass ( will provide some live, light jazz for “judges,” as they flit from booth to booth, soaking in the sights and tastes. But this isn’t a basil-only event.

“The restaurants and caterers are bringing additional food items and signature dishes to the contest, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” Brown said. “Guess you’ll just have to come see for yourself.”

Pesto Contesto

– 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13 Perspective 2, 319 E. Grand River Ave.,
Lansing 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. $15 at the door, $14 online, or two for $25.
(517) 853-5880