The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) today announced finalists in the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest (RCPC)—a search for the best recipes using Real California Cheese. The contest, in its second year, will award prize money totaling $30,000 for the most innovative use of cow’s milk cheeses from California in three categories.  

Professional chefs and culinary students from 24 states submitted recipes between May 22 and July 17, 2020. Entries were blind-evaluated by a panel of three pizza professionals—Glenn Cybulski, certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef; Thomas Garnick, founder of Brava! Pizzeria and 2019 RCPC Grand Prize Winner; and Mark Todd, culinary expert and foodservice/retail cheese educator.   

This year’s contest features the best pizza recipes from the United States and Mexico with the winner of the “Campeonato Mexicano de la Pizza”, sponsored by the CMAB in late 2019, earning a guaranteed spot as a finalist in the bakeoff. The international expansion of the contest displays the broad appeal and application of California dairy at foodservice outside of the United States. 

After careful evaluation of pizza names, inspiration, recipe and use of ingredients, eleven individuals have been selected as finalists in three respective categories: Cal-Mex, The REAL California, and Plant-Forward. 

“Pizza has global appeal and offers a blank canvas for expression. We are inspired by the creativity and innovation that went into these recipes, which represent a spectrum of ingredients and flavor combinations all brought together with California cheese” said Mike Gallagher, Business and Market Development Consultant for the CMAB.  “We are also thrilled that we have such a diverse breadth of geographic representation in the finalist group and are looking forward to seeing them in action.” 

The virtual bakeoff takes place on October 10, 2020, at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, California, where 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. All remaining finalists will receive $500 each. 

Following are the finalists in the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest: 


  • Linda Ortega, a professional chef from Watsonville, Calif., is the owner of Fired Up Fresh. Her entry, Al Pastor, is a tribute to her husband’s Mexican heritage and features fresh Cotija alongside marinated pork adobo and California Chili Sauce. 
  • Jordan Lawson, is a professional chef from Bellingham, Wash., where he works at La Fiamma Wood-Fire Pizza. His entry, Chile Relleno Pizza, utilizes rich Queso Quesadilla and Crema Mexicana to tastefully balance green tomatillo salsa and roasted poblanos
  • Buffy Wimmer, a professional chef from McKinney, Texas, is the owner of Jersey Pies. Her entry, Pizza Taco de Callejero, is a street taco-inspired pizza highlighted by the delicious combination of four Hispanic-style California cheeses paired with carne asada and zesty mango salsa. Buffy competed in the 2019 RCPC finals. 
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, Calif., is the owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, Elotero, combines Queso Oaxaca and Cotija with tender guajillo braised pork shoulder and corn Requeson to honor those who make and sell Mexican street corn. Lars was also selected as a finalist in the Plant-Forward category. He was a 2019 RCPC finalist as well.   

The REAL California 

  • Efren Ríos, a professional chef from Mexico City, works at Bottega Napule. His entry, Bronte, provides an original interpretation of California cuisine through fresh yellow tomatoes, eggplant, pistachios, and basil on top of rich California Provolone. 
  • Justin Wadstein, a professional chef from Santa Cruz, California, is the owner of Sleight of Hand Pizza. His entry, Cali Crab, blends two California favorites—Dungeness crab and pesto—with fresh Mozzarella and Triple Crème. 
  • Phillip Ma, a professional chef from San Francisco, California is the owner of Dough. His entry, Szechuan Pizza, incorporates his Chinese heritage into a delicious interpretation of a California fusion pizza highlighted by fresh Mozzarella and Szechuan Chili. 
  • Ricky Webster, is a professional chef from Spokane, Washington who works at SYSCO Spokane. His entry, The Wharf, combines a sourdough crust and fresh clams with rich crème fraîche and Mozzarella for a delicious ode to San Francisco’s landmark Fisherman’s Wharf. Ricky was another 2019 RCPC finalist.  


  • Domenica Catelli, a professional chef from Geyserville, California, is the owner of Catelli’s. Her entry, The New “Old School”, pairs cauliflower crust and plant-based sausage with fresh Burrata and Smoked Mozzarella for an inventive twist on a classic recipe. 
  • Anisha Blodgett, a professional chef from San Diego, California, is the owner of Powerhaus Wholesome Pizza & Eats. Her entry, Roasted Mushrooms Pizza on High-Protein Whole-Grain Crust, features fresh mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and arugula on top of delicious Mozzarella and creamy Ricotta. 
  • Joe Mialki, a professional chef from Port Orange, Florida, is the co-owner of Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza. His entry, The Shelly, tastefully incorporates spinach, mushrooms, and mini tomatoes alongside a pistachio pesto sauce and fresh Mozzarella.  
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, California, is the owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, Fire on the Mountain, relies on Queso Oaxaca and rich Mexican Crema to form a rich foundation for plant-based chorizo, Fresno peppers, and roasted cauliflowerLars was also selected as a finalist in the Cal-Mex category.