After using a revised bake-off format in line with the current COVID-19 protocols, the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), Tracy, Calif., said it awarded two contestants with $25,000 in the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest. The contest is an international search for the best pizza recipes using Real California Cheese.

Grand prize winner Ricky Webster, former executive chef for SYSCO Spokane and current owner of Rind and Wheat Bakery in Spokane, Wash., took home the grand prize for his pizza, "The Wharf." Competing in the Real California category, Webster’s clam chowder-inspired pizza paired a sourdough crust and fresh clams with three California cheese and dairy products — crème fraîche, mozzarella and heavy cream — to pay homage to the iconic San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf landmark. Webster received $5,000 for winning the category and an additional $10,000 for the grand prize distinction, the CMAB said.

"I am beyond excited to have won the Grand Prize in the 2020 Real California Pizza Competition! My Pizza, ‘The Wharf,’ was truly inspired by growing up in the Bay Area,” said Webster. "Thank you to the CMAB for hosting this amazing competition and for still going through with it. It was such a positive event to be part of.”

Joining Webster in the winners’ circle was Lars Smith, a professional chef and owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria in Los Altos, Calif. The CMAB said Smith won $10,000 for entries in both of the remaining two categories. Smith’s “Elotero,” a delicious interpretation of Mexican street corn that featured California Oaxaca, Cotija and Requeson cheeses alongside guajillo-braised pork shoulder, won in the Cal-Mex category by tastefully fusing California and Mexican cuisine. His “Fire on the Mountain,” which showcased California Oaxaca and crèma Mexicana to balance an assortment of produce-centric toppings such as Fresno peppers and roasted cauliflower, won in the Plant Forward category.

“Winning one of my categories would have been amazing, but winning both categories wasn’t even something I considered a possibility,” Smith said. “I also can’t stress enough how much winning in this specific competition means to me. Using California cheeses and products in general is so integral to who I am as a chef. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to show everyone that California makes some of the best, if not the best, cheeses in the world.”

Nine other finalists received $500 each for reaching the bake-off, the CMAB said.

“This year’s contest highlighted several top trends in foodservice,” said Mike Gallagher, business and market development consultant for the CMAB. “The finalists impressed the judges with unique recipes, bold interpretations within our innovative categories, and an overarching commitment to the creative use of California dairy throughout each pizza.”

The contest, which awarded prizes totaling $30,000 for the most innovative use of cow’s milk cheeses from California and made with Real California Milk, was open to professional chefs and culinary students across the United States. The socially distanced bake-off event was held at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia in Napa, Calif., the CMAB said.

After an entry period that resulted in entries from 24 different states, 11 professional chefs were selected as finalists, hailing from California and as far away as Florida, Texas, Washington, and Mexico. Efren Ríos, a professional chef from Mexico City, earned his spot as a finalist by winning the “Campeonato Mexicano de la Pizza” competition in late 2019. The international expansion of the contest in 2020 represents the broad appeal and application of California dairy products within foodservice outside of the United States, the CMAB said.

The COVID-19 pandemic demanded significant adaption to safely conduct the 2020 iteration of the contest. To prioritize the health of all participants, the finalists’ winning recipes were prepared and baked by chef instructors from the CIA, the CMAB said. These adjustments were vital to responsibly hold the contest, which served as an opportunity for the CMAB to stand with the foodservice industry following months of hardship from the pandemic.

“Foodservice is a big part of total California dairy, and just as dairy farmers haven’t stopped producing nutritious milk during this uncertain time, the foodservice community has continued to step up and keep our communities fed,” said Bob Carroll, vice president of business development for the CMAB. “Technomic estimates that total foodservice sales are going to be down 25% this year, so continuing this contest and honoring the creativity and commitment of chefs and foodservice operators is one way we can help.”

A renowned panel of judges — Tony Gemignani, 13-time World Pizza Champion; Glenn Cybulski, certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef; and Thomas Garnick, founder of Brava! Pizzeria and 2019 RCPC Grand Prize Winner — presided over the contest. The judges based their scores on a variety of factors, the CMAB said, 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. “So much of our business goes into the pizza industry that it’s really important for California dairy farmers when we can help advance and innovate in the pizza category.”

The full list of finalists for the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest can be found at