• The California Milk Advisory Board has lined up finalists in three categories for the Real California Pizza Contest.
  • Pizza recipe categories include Cal-Mex, the REAL Californian and Plant-Forward.

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The competition’s heating up in the California Milk Advisory Board’s 2021 Real California Pizza Contest, with the finalists lined up and award prizes totaling $30,000 at stake.

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) revealed the names of the finalists today in its search for the best foodservice pizza recipes that make innovative use of real California cheese. The panel of judges for this year’s contest are California-based restaurateur/chef Tony Gemignani; Glenn Cybulski, a certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef; and Ricky Webster, founder of Rind & Wheat and the 2020 RCPC grand prize winner. The panel blind-judged entries from across the U.S. and selected finalists in the Cal-Mex, The REAL Californian and Plant-Forward categories.

“Pizza has global appeal and offers a blank canvas for expression,” said Mike Gallagher, business and market development consultant for the CMAB. “We are inspired by the creativity and innovation that went into these recipes, which represent a spectrum of ingredients and flavor combinations, all united by California cheeses.”

“We are thrilled to have such a diverse breadth of culinary backgrounds and pizzaiolo experience in the finalist group and are looking forward to seeing them in action,” he added.

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To determine the grand-prize winner, a live bake-off will take place October 20 at The Culinary Institute of America Copia facility in Napa, California. Pizzas will be prepared and baked onsite for a blind evaluation by judges. Category winners will receive $5,000, and the grand prize winner, selected from all category winners, will receive an additional $10,000. The remaining finalists will receive $500 each. The 2021 finalists are:


  • Steven Barrantes, a professional chef from San Jose, Calif., is the owner of Slice of Homage. His entry, Huarache Y Beeria, is inspired by two popular Mexican bites— Quesabirria and Huarache—that complement three Hispanic-style cheeses from California.
  • Cliff Buchanan, a professional chef from Bodega, California, is the owner of Pizza Bodega. His entry, The aMAIZEing Chicken, is inspired by pairing the Mexican street corn experience with marinated roast chicken and Hispanic-style cheeses from California.
  • Spencer Glenn, a professional chef from Pacific Grove, California, works at Pizza My Heart in Monterey. His entry, Elote con Chorizo, provides a tasteful homage to traditional Mexican street corn by pairing California Oaxaca, crema and cotija with fresh chorizo and tangy Tajin.
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, California, and member of the U.S. Pizza Team, is the owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, Calabacitas con Puerco, utilizes California Requeson, Mexican crema and Oaxaca to tastefully honor the traditional Mexican stew that was a key influence in “bridging the cultural gap” with his in-laws.

The REAL Californian

  • Cliff Buchanan, a professional chef from Bodega, is the owner of Pizza Bodega. His entry, The Tide, pairs two California cheeses with smoked salmon to honor his childhood roots growing up on the Monterey Bay.
  • Lauren Katz, a professional chef from Ashburn, Virginia, is the executive pastry chef and recipe developer at The Difference Baker. Her entry, Chinatown Orange-Scented Duck Pizza, incorporates spicy California Pepper Jack and creamy mozzarella to bring together the delicious flavors of San Francisco’s Chinatown and California citrus.
  • Dean Nole, a professional chef from New Hartford, New York, is the co-owner, with his brother Jason, of Café CaNole. His entry, Cali-talian Pizza, utilizes California burrata and California blue cheese to bring together onions, sweet fig jam and prosciutto di Parma on a healthy dough crust.
  • Leah Scurto, a professional chef from Windsor, California, is the owner of PizzaLeah. Her entry, Nico Pie, uses multiple cheese from California to complement two quintessential produce items from the Golden State: artichokes and garlic.


  • Michael Bacon, a professional chef from Aberdeen, South Dakota, is the general manager at Danger von Dempsey’s Pizzeria & Brewhaus. His entry, West Coast State of Mind, draws inspiration from the Mexican state of Michoacán, pairing California queso fresco with the refreshing taste of a produce-infused crema.
  • Patrick Costa, a professional chef from Los Angeles, is owner of De La Nonna. His entry, BEETZA, is inspired by the challenge of creating something unique with fresh, simple produce—asparagus, red beets and radishes—that delightfully pair with California mozzarella and blue cheese.
  • Lauren Katz of The Difference Baker is also a finalist in this category. Her entry, Paneer Garden Pizza, uses California paneer to balance a host of produce-centric toppings—Fresno peppers, shallots and spinach.
  • Spencer Glenn, a professional chef from Pacific Grove, Calif., works at Pizza My Heart in Monterey. His entry, Life is Gourd, is inspired by a recipe shared with his late grandfather that features a California Asiago/Romano blend, fried baby sage leaves, pomegranate arils and pistachios.

The bake-off finals on October 20 will be streamed on Facebook Live at 3:30 p.m. (PT) at facebook.com/realcamilkfoodservice. Additional details on the bake-off, the pizza chef finalists and the CMAB are available at Real California Pizza Contest.


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