Truly Pizza has been open in Dana Point, California, for less than a year, but the highly pedigreed pizza shop already captured top honors at this year’s International Pizza Challenge held in Las Vegas.

Chef Sergio Balderas won the Best Traditional Pizza award with a pie boasting a dough fermented for three days and topped with simple yet exquisitely matched ingredients: chopped semi-dried Dorati tomatoes from Italy, whole-milk mozzarella, fresh mozz, Truly’s trademark sauce made with blended and crushed California tomatoes, EVOO and sea salt.

Truly Pizza opened in June 2023 with two of the pizza industry’s most revered figures—John Arena and Chris Decker of Las Vegas-headquartered Metro Pizza—at the helm, along with co-owners Michael Vakneen, an award-winning pizzaiolo of growing fame, and Donna Baldwin and Steve Muller of The Muller Company.

Sergio Balderas crafted a pie with simple yet exquisitely matched ingredients.

Vakneen secured the title of Southwest Regional Champion for Best Non-Traditional Pizza at this year’s competition, further showcasing Truly Pizza’s flair for creativity. Whereas Balderas’ winning pizza was the soul of handcrafted simplicity, Vakneen plated a more complex and textured pie for his win. It featured Truly Pizza’s three-day fermented dough with an onion and creamy garlic white sauce, smoked mozzarella, Truly’s umami mushrooms, sesame seeds, shaved and dried seaweed jerky, yuzu marmalade, salted and cured yuzu peels, a drizzle of umami mushroom marinade, micro cilantro, leeks and orchids, and fried tempura-battered seaweed strips.

This photo shows Michael Vakneen holding up his award-winning pizza.
Michael Vakneen was the Southwest Regional champ in the Non-Traditional category with this colorful and textured pizza.

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Vakneen won second place in the Non-Traditional Pizza category at last year’s International Pizza Challenge with his pork belly and date jam pizza. He also earned top honors in the International Italian Sandwich competition.

“We are immensely proud of the team, which now features four different pizzaiolos recognized for being at the top of their game and leading the industry,” Baldwin said. “The pizza industry recognizes our team because we infuse every pizza with skill, flavor and love. Nothing is more important than sharing a delicious pizza with our friends and neighbors.”

Arena, described as the “guiding star” behind Truly Pizza, also delivered a keynote address at the 2024 Pizza Expo, which hosts the International Pizza Challenge.

For Truly Pizza, Arena and his team have developed a crust with tiny air bubbles that blister in the oven to add a mix of crunch and flavor—a process called micro-blistering that results in “unbelievably light and airy” pizzas, the company said.

Featured, Food & Ingredients