CHEF FINALISTS' BIOGRAPHIES
Danger von Dempsey’s Pizza and Brewhouse
Aberdeen, South Dakota
Michael Bacon, has been cooking in the culinary scene for the last six years. Mostly under the Dempsey’s company. He has attended a total of six pizza competitions in person and three virtual competitions. Biggest accomplishments being first place in the northwest division of the traditional category at the International Pizza Expo in 2019, and recently placing tenth in the pan division at the International Pizza Expo 2021. He has spent his last two years as general manager of Danger Von Dempsey’s Pizza and Brewhouse Dempsey’s second store in Aberdeen, SD, established in 2019.
Founder of Slice of Homage
San Jose, CA
Steve Barrantes has been in the foodservice industry since 2002. His first job was at a local pizzeria where he started off as a busy boy. He worked his way up the ranks holding multiple positions including the General Manager position. In 2012 Steve enrolled into culinary school and attended the French Culinary Institute, which is now known as ICC. After culinary school he worked in many kitchens honing his craft – from Michelin-starred restaurants to start-up venues. His passion was and still remains pizza, as he has dedicated his life’s work to the pizza industry.
In 2020 he founded Slice of Homage and started off selling pizzas at pop up events until it became time to take the next step and expand operations. Steve is currently running Slice of Homage out of a ghost kitchen where they service customers primarily in a delivery/to-go business model. Recently, Slice of Homage was named by the San Jose Mercury News as one of the six best new pizzerias in the Bay Area.
Slice of Homage employs a team of eight and is growing. For Steve, professionally and personally owning/operating a pizza restaurant is his biggest accomplishment to date.
Founder of Pizza Bodega LLC
Cliff Buchanan is the founder and owner of Pizza Bodega LLC. As Pizza Bodega’s sole operator, Cliff Buchanan is responsible for all dough making, fire starting, and day-to-day operations.
Cliff began his pizza culinary career by eating a lot of pizza in Capitola, Calif., where in the summer of 1980, a tiny pizzeria opened selling pizza by the slice. He discovered an impressive business model. In those days, Cliff’s profession was photography, which took him to Italy shooting fashion in city of Milano. There, he also ate a lot of pizza.
To get started, the first step was acquiring a small home pizza oven. Followed by a job as the manager at a pizzeria in a taproom. He learned the ways of the oven, the pizza business, and he liked it. Then the time came to invest in a wood burning pizza oven trailer and a giant mixer. The hobby was turned into a profession and Pizza Bodega was born.
Starting a food business during a pandemic can be quite challenging. For Cliff Buchanan, a one man show, he is able to cater to those who love pizza. One man, one oven and a whole lot of heart.
Executive Chef / Owner
De La Nonna
Los Angeles, CA
Chef Patrick Costa was born in Southern California, but spent his first six years in Rome, Italy before returning to the states. As one can imagine, these formative years were spent in the kitchen with close Italian relatives. He drew inspiration from his grandmother, who’d only cook using fresh, home-grown herbs and local market produce.
Being the son of a Naval officer, he traveled with his family often, and it was during these trips that Patrick was exposed to different foods across the globe, solidifying his love for cooking and the culinary arts.
Patrick spent a number of years at L20, an upscale Michelin-starred seafood restaurant located in Chicago. He worked under Laurent Gras, who would go on to play a large influential role in the trajectory of Costa’s career. From 2011 to 2014, Chef Costa went on to develop and manage the opening of Stella Barra, a new pizzeria concept located in Santa Monica and Hollywood. After that, he served as Executive Chef at The Hart and the Hunter before joining Reiss Co. as the Culinary Director.
Most recently Patrick has been consulting with pizza, menu creation and kitchen design. Leading to Co-founding De La Nonna with long-time friend Jose Cordon in downtown Los Angeles. Collaborating a passion for familial hospitality, craveable food and memorable cocktails, the restaurant is scheduled to open Fall of 2021.
Food/Beverage Manager and Executive Chef for Pizza My Heart
Pacific Grove, CA
Spencer started working for Pizza My Heart in October of 2003 to present day. Pizza My Hear had been his favorite pizza place growing up and where he originally started with a weekend job in order to eat free pizza on shift. He worked for five other pizza places, as well, starting off as a delivery driver and then working his way up the management chain. Currently, Spencer is the Food/Beverage Manager and Executive Chef for Pizza My Heart.
He holds the record at the International Pizza Expo for largest stretch; in addition he has won the fastest box folder, and placed multiple times in freestyle dough tossing competitions and pizza cooking competitions. Spencer is a member of the World Pizza Champions and claims to be an all-around pizza geek.
Executive Pastry Chef and Recipe Developer
The Difference Baker
Lauren Katz is the Executive Chef at The Difference Baker in Ashburn, and the winner of ABC’s first season of “The Great American Baking Show.” Lauren has competed in over 50 cooking competitions across the country, such as The Pillsbury Bake Off, Sutter Home’s Build a Better Burger, The Gilroy Garlic Festival, and the World Food Championships.
She has appeared on The Kitchen, Good Morning America, Great Day Washington, ABC’s Great Holiday Baking Show, and Pickler and Ben. Her recipes have been featured in Food Network Magazine, Woman’s Day, Cooking Light, Louisiana Cooking, and Taste of Home magazines. Lauren received her BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University, and loves to use her artistic skills and creativity in her cooking and baking.
Co-Owner and Executive Pastry Chef
Café Canole Restaurant and Bakery
New Hartford, NY
The seeds of a creative dish were planted in Dean’s mind from an early age. Food became his prime interest from watching cooks dole out savory sausage and pepper sandwiches and sweet pizza fritte at church festivals; from his mother and aunts roll fresh macaroni on our kitchen table; and from his uncles and grandfather gather to make homemade sausage that dried from rafters in the attic.
It was in Italy, when Dean was awarded the first scholarship from Grupo Restaurante Italiano and gained an apprenticeship with La Martorana in Palermo, Sicily, that he was able to study the art and craft of the pizzaiolo. After learning all things Neapolitan, among some of the best pizza makers in the world, he returned to his hometown in New York and use his knowledge of cuisine to act as a bridge between Italy and America. With the opening of his restaurant, Cafe CaNole, he was able to reach thousands of people, sharing his love and passion for food and the touches that go with it.
As a passionate advocate of the Neapolitan pizza industry, Dean has worked with Delorio’s frozen dough, creating unique pizza recipes, and with General Mills to create and launch their European-style flour, Di Prim´Ordine Farina.
Co-Owner & Executive Pizza Maker
Leah Scurto is an award-winning pizzaiola and a seven-year member of the United States Pizza Team. Leah has been making pizza for 25 years and most recently won 1st place in the pan pizza division at the United States Pizza Cup and competed at the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy, where she placed 1st amongst the American competitors in the Pizza A Due competition.
Leah spent 22 years with a Bay Area company, Pizza My Heart, where she worked her way through the company as it grew from 2 units to 24 units. She worked in every position through the restaurant and ended her career as the Executive Chef, Operations Manager, and Food and Beverage Director. Most recently she has been cooking pizzas at local wineries, teaching pizza making classes and working as a restaurant consultant.
Born and raised in Northern California, Leah is focused on cooking with the fresh, local and organic ingredients at her latest creation – PizzaLeah in Windsor, Calif. She also loves sharing her passion for pizza through teaching pizza classes and restaurant consulting.
Chef and Co-Owner
State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria Restaurants
Los Gatos, CA
Lars Smith is the chef and co-owner of the State of Mind restaurants in the Bay Area. He has been in the industry since 2002, but his love for food started as a child. He grew up cooking with his grandmothers, eager to learn as much as he could from them. At State of Mind, Lars focuses on food made from scratch featuring local and seasonal Californian ingredients. Lars has been involved in competitive pizza making since 2013. In 2017, he won the international pizza challenge Non-Traditional division in Las Vegas.
Since then he has continued to compete all over the country and in Italy. Lars was a finalist in both the 2019 and 2020 Real California Pizza Contests, winning both the Cal Mex and the Plant Forward categories in 2020. What he loves most about competitive cooking is getting to share his passion for all the incredible products California has to offer, especially Real California Cheese! For Lars, California is more than a place on the map; it is a state of mind.