A couple of pizzas featuring exotic ingredients – think figs and 24-karat gold flakes – swept the top two awards in the Groupon U.S. Pizza Team's Midwest Culinary and Acrobatic Trials last week. Mike LaMarca of Master Pizza, headquartered in Cleveland, and Haider Ali of 786 Degrees in Sunland, California, earned first- and second-place culinary honors for their "Fig-It-About-It" and "Maharaja" pies in the event, which was held at Panino's Pizza in Evanston, Illinois, June 13. The pizza making and handling showcase drew pizzaioli and pizza athletes from around the country to compete for the title of Best in the Midwest, a spot on the Groupon U.S. Pizza Team and a grand prize trip to Italy to compete in the 2017 World Pizza Championships.

Taking first place for the fourth time in his career, LaMarca's creation featured honey-cured smoked bacon, a touch of blue cheese blended with a fig preserve, honey goat chèvre, Prosciutto di Parma and Black Modena Pearls. He served it with a port wine. Second place winner Ali plated up his Maharaja on a gold platter, topped with Turkish Haideri sauce, 72-hour marinated lamb kabobs, fresh cucumber and real gold seasoning. Leonardo Giordano from Mona Lisa Pizza in Staten Island, New York, copped third place with his Tequila Sunset Pizza, a sun-shaped pie sporting lobster meat, shallots and tequila, and served with – you guessed it – a Tequila Sunset cocktail. 

The pace was just as intense in pizza-focused athletic contests. Giovanni Labatte of Bricks Wood-Fired Pizza Cafe in Wheaton, Illinois, was the fastest dough-stretcher, followed by Rick Wheeler of Mad Mushroom in Lafayette, Indiana, and Michael Reyes-Casanova of YNot Pizza in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Largest dough-stretch honors went to Reyes-Casanova, chased by Wheeler and Jason Samosky of Samosky's Homestyle Pizzeria in Valley City, Ohio.

Other competitors were: Dave Sommers (Mad Mushroom, Lafayette, Indiana); Mike Russo (Romeo’s Pizza in northern Ohio); Tony Scalia and Kevin Reid (Two Bro's Pizza, Rootstown, Ohio); Demarco Jenkins (D'Marco's Pizza, Sugarland, Texas); Peter Anderson (Gelsosomo's, Lemont, Illinois); Shawn Scoyni and John Zozzaro (The Downtown Cafe, Glen Cove, New York); and Cody Mitchell (Pizza Tree, Columbia, Missouri).

The competition was organized by Groupon U.S. Pizza Team members Gino and Lenny Rago and Bruno Brunetti, all from Panino's Pizza in Chicago. Sponsors were Via Pizzeria 1-2-3's BBQ Sauce, Galbani Cheese, Pivetti Flour, Greco and Sons, Margherita, Pizza-Savor, Marra Forni, Sogni Toscano and Valli Produce.




The World Pizza Championships attracts hundreds of pizza chefs from more than 30 countries every year. The team regularly competes in events across the U.S. and internationally. The squad won second place in Individual Free Style in 2014 and 2015, and first place in the 2011 Team Acrobatics event and in the 2016 Individual Freestyle category at the World Pizza Championships in Italy. 

In addition to the competition, U.S. Pizza Team members boarded a special picture-window van for a pizza-tossing tour of Chicago pizzerias. The June 12-June 15 pizza-skills cavalcade was sponsored by Galbani Cheese. 

PMQ Pizza Magazine, the business trade publication for the pizza restaurant industry, created the Groupon U.S. Pizza Team in 2000. The team is sponsored by Grain Craft, California Milk Advisory Board, Gordon Food Service, Westrock, Sofo Foods, LaNova, Paradise Tomato Kitchens, Bag Solutions, Fontanini Meats, Lillsun, Marsal and Sons, Univex, PizzaInsurance.com and Presto Foods.

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