2022 CHEF FINALISTS' BIOGRAPHIES
Austin Buckland entered the pizza industry at the young age of 8 years old when his parents purchased a central Ohio pizza restaurant in 2007. As Austin grew up working in the family business, he developed an appreciation for the industry, the ingredients, and the endless possibilities of flavor combinations that fit into and onto a pizza.
Austin and the rest of the team at Berwick Pizza are always on the quest to shock customers with wild new pizza ideas that are featured monthly through their Pizza of the Month program. If you thought your favorite food was great as it is, Austin will search for a way to make it even more impressive on top of a pizza!
Honey, I’m Home!
San Diego, CA
Max Cufre grew up in Southern California. His parents are from Argentina and instilled a love of food in him at an early age. His passion for pizza began when he worked at The Goat and Vine in Temecula, California. In addition to his experience there Max was also part of the opening team at a new full-service Italian restaurant in San Diego called Seneca.
His hobby of making pizzas launched a popular Instagram account, Hell Yeah Pizza which has gotten the attention of some of Max’s favorite pizza people including Anthony Falco and Dan Richer.
Max is currently a Sous Chef at The Goat and Vine Chefs and is excited to be back working with its amazing chefs and owners.
Charles “Ray” Cullison is the owner operator of Charlie’s Pizzeria LLC in Kingman, Arizona which specializes in Neo-Neapolitan pizzas with crazy and fun topping combinations. Ray started making pizza in 2018 as a hobby, which eventually led to opening a business. His pizzas gained tremendous popularity in the community in a short period of time and their social media following has grown rapidly as well. “I love all things dough” says Ray. “Our dough is the foundation of our pizza and business.”
Ray has competed twice in the International Pizza Challenge at Pizza Expo and has been featured on two different podcasts, “Smart Pizza Marketing” and “What’s Good Dough”.
For the Love of California
Las Vegas, NV
Chris Decker was born & raised in upstate New York and moved to Las Vegas in 1996 to attend the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He started working alongside renowned pizzamaker John Arena in the summer of 1997 is currently a managing partner at Metro Pizza. Along with his love for pizza, Chris loves to help his community by donating time & food whenever and wherever possible.
In addition to his daily duties of running restaurants, Chris is on the culinary council for Three Square which is the largest food bank in Las Vegas. Chris has been married to his wife Lannea for fifteen years and they currently reside in the Centennial Hills neighborhood of Las Vegas. Later this year, Chris along with John Arena, Donna Baldwin, & Steve Muller will be opening a new pizza concept in Dana Point California named Truly Pizza.
Green N’ Zesty
Melina Felix is a pizzaiola that comes from the world of art and design. As a natural creative, her pizzas are artfully crafted, often utilizing unique flavors and uncommon toppings. She grew up in an immigrant family in Miami, Florida and was exposed to culinary flavors from around the globe, an experience that shaped her pizzaiola style.
She has always been passionate about making pizza, and even used to wake up at 4:30am to prepare pizza dough before starting her work day as a creative director. After a decade of this, she decided to follow her pizza making passion, and opened up “The Pizza Bandit”, in Littleton, CO with her chef husband and two children. “The Pizza Bandit” prides itself in being a family owned and operated business.
She is currently working on “The Pizza Bandit” cookbook, to be released in 2023.
When she’s not making pizza, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, traveling, making art, and Crossfit.
The Venice Beach
Jason Garland is a pizza enthusiast and chef with a passion for simply expressing the best foods and flavors of each season. His culinary style reflects influences from time spent farming and cooking in Hawaii as well as travels to Italy, Mexico and the American Southwest. He prides himself on knowing how to break the rules in order to create elegant and contemporary comfort food.
Working for a pizza chain restaurant began Jason’s culinary career which has led him to fine dining establishments and country clubs around Minneapolis. His dream is to operate a farm kitchen and to educate people about regenerative agriculture practices that provide the finest quality produce for healthy and flavorful cooking.
The Gold Rush
David Jacobson grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where he got his first restaurant job as a delivery driver at Pizza My Heart under the supervision of world champion and fellow competitor Leah Scurto. The competitive atmosphere and the drive to be the best helped him fall in love with pizza and what it could be.
He spent the better part of the last 20 years learning from some of the Bay Area’s top chefs, including Thomas McNaughton (Flour + Water Pizzeria), Craig Stoll (Pizzeria Delfina), and Peter Swanson (Benchmark Pizzeria.) He went on to develop dough recipes for several Bay Area pizza programs, notably the Berkeley Unified School District and Passione Emporio in West Berkeley.
Currently David is the maestro pizzaiolo for Le Bon Temps Restaurants and manages the pizza program for Forge Handcrafted Pizza, The Fourth Bore Restaurant, and The Forge Pizza Fire Truck. He also consults for pizzeria operators and teaches pizza classes for home chefs.
El Puerco Verde
Chris Lascik has been cooking in restaurants for nearly 20 years. He has learned and mastered many cuisines and methods including seafood, sushi, traditional Italian, traditional Mexican, and woodfire pizza.
He fell in love with the creativity and process of cooking woodfire pizza while working as Chef de Cuisine at Oven & Shaker in Portland, Oregon. While there, Chris incorporated ingredients from many local farmers onto the menu which helped inspire a passion for building his own farm.
In 2018, Chris traveled to Guatemala City as a pizza-restaurant consultant to assist with the development and opening of Quino’s Pizzaria. Chris currently resides in Olympia, Washington, where he is the kitchen manager of Well80 Brewhouse, a brewery and restaurant that uses an onsite artesian well to produce their craft beers.
Chris is the father of twin girls and is a passionate gardener and farmer. He and his wife are in the process of developing their 2.5 acre property into Glacier Roots Farm, a homestead-farm that would sell organic produce to farmers markets, local restaurants, and grocery stores. Chris’s dream is to own a small restaurant where he can integrate the food he grows on his farm for the ultimate farm-to-table dining experience.
Cali Craft Chicken Enchilazza
Marcus Medina found a passion for pizza in his backyard. As the owner of Hella Pie Pizza Co. in Tracy, CA and he continues to work hard at the craft.
His company core values of quality, relationships, passion, and enjoyment are what makes his pizza and business stand out to locals. His goal is to help create a pizza culture within his community and continue to focus on building relationships. Hella Pie Pizza Co. was voted Best Food Vendor for two years in a row when they were a mobile pizza operator at local farmers markets and then Best Pizza for the last two years at their brick-and-mortar location in Downtown Tracy, California.
Marcus is a local, cooking for locals, and wants to make his community a place that they can call their own. His love for growing up in the 90’s is shown throughout his style and branding and he has made Hella Pie Pizza Co. a place where people to feel a fun nostalgic energy when they step foot inside.
Oaxacan in the Motorcity
Los Angeles, CA
Growing up in Michigan, a native of the Detroit suburbs, Ryan spent a lot of time cooking with his grandparents learning baking, grilling, and pierogi making skills. Ryan obtained a culinary arts degree went to Maui to further his career. Ryan honed his skills in the nation’s top kitchens working under acclaimed chefs such as Michael Mina, Charlie Palmer, Wolfgang Puck, and Bradley Ogden. Ryan has been in Los Angeles now for over a decade, serving as Executive Chef of premier restaurants like XIV and the Churchkey.
Growing up eating square pan pizza like Jet’s every weekend, Ryan has now created his chef-driven premium version of the Detroit style pizza that has become Dtown Pizzeria. Ryan and Dtown Pizzeria were recognized in the 2021 International Pizza Competition in Las Vegas winning 1st place and World Champion in the pan division.
Ryan spends his free time playing football with his pitbull, Sweetie, and trains for triathlons across the globe, having most recently competed in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Spear-it of Spring
Leah Scurto is an award-winning pizzaiola and an 8 year member of the United States Pizza Team. Leah has been making pizza for 26 years and currently owns and operates PizzaLeah in Windsor, Ca. In 2018 she placed 1st place in the pan pizza division at the United States Pizza Cup. In 2019, at the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy, she placed 1st amongst the American competitors in the Pizza A Due competition. Leah is also a returning competitor to the Real California Cheese Contest having won the Real Californian division in 2021.
Born and raised in Northern California, Leah is focused on cooking with the fresh, local, and organic ingredients that California has to offer. She also loves a sharing her passion for pizza through teaching pizza classes and restaurant consulting.
Yoshiharu operates a catering business in Sonoma California wine country. After graduating from culinary school he trained as a chef in in Japan and Lyon, France. along with his certified wine skill in both the United states and Japan.
Yoshiharu’s catering focuses on Japanese street food and French-American fusion food paired with local wines. “I love creating, developing food menus with outstanding local products and it is my joy of life.”