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Finalists Compete for $25,000 in National Pizza Contest Bake-Off

11 chef and culinary student contestants to showcase innovative recipes using real California cheese

Real California Milk | Facebook.com

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) today announced eleven finalists in the 2019 Real California Pizza Contest – a search for the best recipes using Real California Cheese. The contest, awarding prize money totaling $25,000 for the most innovative use of cow’s milk cheeses from California in three categories, was open to professional chefs and culinary students throughout the U.S.

Recipes submitted between February 1 and March 25, 2019, were blind-evaluated by a panel of three pizza professionals: Glenn Cybulski, certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef; Scott Weiner, founder of Scott’s pizza tours in NYC; and Mark Todd, an expert foodservice/retail cheese educator. 

After careful evaluation of pizza names, inspiration, recipe, and use of ingredients, eleven individuals have been selected as finalists in three respective categories: All Cheese, Mexican-Style, and The REAL California. 

“We are very excited by the creativity and innovation that went into these recipes,” said Mike Gallagher, Business and Market Development Consultant for the CMAB.  “We are thrilled that we have such a diverse breadth of geographic representation in the finalist group and are looking forward to seeing them in action.”

Finalists will travel to the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa, California for the live bake-off finale on May 9. Their pizzas will be prepared and baked onsite for a blind judging session with judges Cybulski, Wiener and Barbara Alexander, a professional executive chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. Category winners will receive $5,000 and the Grand Prize Winner, selected from all category winners, will receive an additional $10,000.

Following are the finalists in the 2019 Real California Pizza Contest:

All Cheese

  • Giovanni Labbate, a professional chef from Schaumburg, Illinois, who works at Bricks Wood Fired Pizza Café. His entry, Harvest, is a New York-style pizza featuring kale, butternut squash, and caramelized red onions.
  • Daniel Bothman, a professional chef from Bellingham, Washington, where he works at La Fiamma Wood-Fire Pizza. His entry, Sei Cheese White Pie, is a white sauce pizza that features an herbed ricotta base with provolone and white cheddar.
  • Buffy Wimmer, a professional chef from McKinney, Texas, who works at Jersey Pies. Her entry, St. Patty’s Irish Pub Pizza, is an Irish-inspired pizza that features seasoned hash browns, smoked bacon and a splash of Guinness.
  • No qualified culinary student entries were identified for this category.


  • Thomas Garnick, a professional chef from Denver, Colorado, where he works at Brava! Pizza. His entry, Bandera de Fusión, is inspired by the Mexican flag and features pork carnitas, salsa verde, and mole.
  • Spencer Glenn, a professional chef from Pacific Grove, California, who works at Pizza My Heart. His entry, Holy Mole, is a Mexican-style pizza that features chicken mole, avocado and purple radishes.
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, California, who works at State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, Super Chorizo con Papa, is a Mexican-style pizza that features chorizo, cotija cheese, and pickled red onion. Lars was also selected as finalist in The REAL California category.
  • Justin Pearson, a culinary student from Dublin, Ohio, where he attends the Columbus Culinary Institute at Bradford School. His entry, Carnitas Street Taco Pizza, is a Mexican-styled pizza that features green chile pesto, spicy pickled vegetables, and carnitas.

The REAL California

  • John Alers, a professional chef from Henderson, Nevada, who works at Flour and Barley. His entry, Cowincidence, is a California-inspired pizza that features Applewood smoked bacon, roasted chicken breast and pulled pork.
  • Ricky Webster, a professional chef from Spokane, Washington, who works at SYSCO Spokane. His entry, The Chard to Resist, is a California-inspired pizza that features ricotta cheese, hot honey, and shallots.
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, California, who works at State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, The Napa Grandma, is a California-inspired pizza featuring red wine salami, pickled grapes, and arugula. Lars was also selected as a finalist in the Mexican-Style category.
  • Erin MacLennan, a culinary student from Allendale, N.J., studying at the Culinary Institute of America. Her entry, The Kale-ifornia, is a California-inspired pizza featuring kale, bacon and julienned onions.
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