California Milk Advisory Board

Meet the Winners of the 2022 Real California Pizza Contest

David Jacobson won the grand prize with his Gold Rush pizza, while Leah Scurto won the Plant Forward category and Marcus Medina took top Cal-Mex honors.

  • The Real California Pizza Contest brought together top chefs from around the country in a pizza-making competition focused on California dairy products.
  • David Jacobson of Forge Fire Pizza Truck and Fourth Bore Taproom & Grill won the Real Californian category and the grand prize, while Leah Scurto of PizzaLeah and Marcus Medina of Hella Pie won the Plant Forward and Cal-Mex categories respectively.

Related: Recipe of the Month: Pasta Carbonara by Smithfield Brands

David Jacobson, the lead pizzaiolo at Forge Pizza Fire Truck and Fourth Bore Taproom & Grill in the San Francisco Bay Area, is $15,000 richer after taking home the grand prize at the recent Real California Pizza Contest (RCPC), a national recipe competition sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB). The months-long contest culminated in a public bake-off in Napa, California, on June 22, with a dozen finalists vying for a total of $30,000 in cash prizes.

The contest challenges pizza makers from around the country to build innovative pies highlighting California cheeses. Jacobson earned $5,000 as the winner of the Real Californian category with his pizza, called The Gold Rush. That recipe also captured the overall grand prize, which came with an additional $10,000.

Meanwhile, U.S. Pizza Team member Leah Scurto, owner of PizzaLeah in Windsor, California, won the competition’s Plant-Forward category, and Marcus Medina, the owner of Hella Pie Pizza Company in Tracy, California, took top honors in the Cal-Mex category. Scurto and Medina took home $5,000 apiece for their top-performing recipes.

The nine other finalists received $500 each for reaching the bake-off finals.

(From left) Leah Scurto, David Jacobson and Marcus Medina

The Gold Rush, which pays homage to California’s gold rush history, incorporated six California dairy products: mozzarella, Monterey Jack, provolone, heavy cream and multiple California specialty cheeses, including a washed-rind triple crème and a nutty aged hard cheese. Topped with fingerling potatoes, pancetta and smoked sea salt, this pizza offers rich, complex flavors that are synonymous with California cheeses.

Jacobson received $5,000 for winning the category and an additional $10,000 for the grand prize distinction, for a total of $15,000.

Scurto won the Plant-Forward category with her recipe, Spear-it of Spring, inspired by the veggies and colors of spring. She paired California Scamorza and aged Dry Jack cheeses with roasted asparagus spears, mint leaves and baby arugula to deliver a fresh flavor profile in every bite. Scurto is now a two-time winner in the contest, as she claimed The REAL Californian category in 2021.

Medina finished first in the Cal-Mex category with his Cali Craft Chicken Enchilazza pie. Inspired by his family’s homemade enchilada recipe, Medina tastefully blended Mexican crema, Oaxaca and cotija with braised chicken, spicy enchilada sauce and red cabbage to highlight the depth of flavor in Hispanic-style cheeses from California.

“This year’s contest highlighted several top trends in foodservice. One example is the plant-forward category, where the winning pizza incorporated fresh California produce like asparagus and arugula with herbs and California cheeses,” said Mike Gallagher, business and market development consultant for the CMAB. “The chefs also impressed the judges with the unique fusion of ingredients, such as a pizza topped with ginger and honey to complement a wonderful California soft cheese. Overall, there was an overarching commitment to the creative use of California dairy throughout each recipe.”

The 4th Real California Pizza Contest, which was held at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia in Napa, California, was open to professional chefs and culinary students from throughout the U.S.

A renowned panel of judges presided over the contest: Tony Gemignani, 13-time World Pizza Champion and owner of 22 culinary concepts including restaurants, cafes and retail shops; Glenn Cybulski, a certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef; and Spencer Glenn, the 2021 RCPC Grand Prize Winner and general manager of the Pizza My Heart chain. Judges based their scores on a variety of factors, including taste, texture and the inventive use of cheeses made with Real California Milk.

“When the pizza industry is healthy, the California dairy industry is healthy,” stated John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB, during the competition. “As the No. 1 producer of milk and mozzarella, so much of our business goes into pizza, it’s important for California to advance and innovate in the category.”

The full list of finalists for the 2022 Real California Pizza Contest is as follows:

Plant-Forward
• Category winner: Leah Scurto
• Max Cufre, sous chef at The Goat & Vine, San Diego
• Yoshiharu Sogi, co-owner and operator of Yati Japanese Food Catering, Sonoma, California
• Melina Felix, owner and operator of The Pizza Bandit, Littleton, Colorado

The REAL Californian
• Grand prize and category winner: David Jacobson
• Ray Cullison, owner operator of Charlie’s Pizzeria, LLC., Kingman, Arizona
• Chris Decker, professional chef and managing partner at Metro Pizza, Las Vegas
• Jason Garland, chef and bartender at Medina Golf & Country Club, Waverly, Minnesota

Cal-Mex
• Category winner: Marcus Medina
• Ryan Ososky, owner and operator of Dtown Pizzeria, Los Angeles
• Christopher Lascik, professional chef and kitchen manager of Well80 Brewhouse, Yelm, Washington
• Austin Buckland, professional chef and manager at Berwick Pizza, Marion, Ohio