CMAB to Adapt the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest

During these uncertain times, the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) stands with the foodservice industry. The Real California Pizza Contest serves as a vehicle to put the foodservice industry front and center and reward top chefs with cash prizes, which are more useful than ever given the pandemic. Because of this opportunity, CMAB has marched ahead and adapted the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest to take place in a safe, socially distant manner.

Due to safety precautions, the 2020 iteration of the contest will have a unique look. It will take place virtually on November 7th, with our talented finalists competing from the safety of their home. 


  • The finalists will review the baking and preparation process of their recipes with four instructor chefs from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)
  • Each finalist will virtually perform their inspiration speech to our panel of judges

Saturday, November 7th:

  • The four instructor chefs prepare each pizza as instructed by the finalists at the CIA Copia facility in Napa, California
  • The pizzas move straight from the kitchen to a spaced-out judges table, where our judges will be live on-site to analyze, debate, and grade the merits of each pizza
  • The judges will deliberate together and determine the Category Winners and Grand Prize Winner

Tuesday, November 17th:

  • CMAB will deliver an hour-long special that provides a summary of the contest and concludes with an awards ceremony that features our finalists via Zoom
  • The live awards ceremony, with real-time reactions from all the finalists, promises to add intrigue, drama, and excitement to the finale of the contest

These adaptions were necessary steps to prioritize the health of our finalists and staff while still awarding THE top pizza chefs with lucrative grand prizes!

Stay tuned for more information and updates about the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest!

Finalists Compete for $30,000 in International Pizza Contest Top Pizza Chefs Showcase Innovative Recipes Using Real California Cheese

Tracy, Calif. – August 13, 2020 – 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, Calif., 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, Calif., 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, Calif, 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, Wash. 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, Calif., 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, Calif., 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, Calif., 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 cauliflower. Lars was also selected as a finalist in the Cal-Mex category.

About Real California Milk/the California Milk Advisory Board
The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), an instrumentality of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is funded by the state’s dairy families and is one of the largest agricultural marketing boards in the United States. With a mission to increase demand for products made with Real California Milk, the CMAB is celebrating 50 years in 2019 of promoting California’s sustainable dairy products in the state, across the U.S. and around the world through advertising, public relations, research, and retail and foodservice promotional programs. 

The Foodservice Division of the CMAB supports foodservice operators and distributors that use Real California dairy products. The CMAB offers marketing and promotional support for foodservice operators that purchase dairy products with the Real California Milk seal, which means they are made with 100 percent milk from California’s more than 1,200 family dairy farms.

For more information on sourcing cheese from California, please contact the foodservice team at 209.883.6455 (MILK), or

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2020 Real California Pizza Contest Closes with Record Number of Contestants Across 24 States

The entry period for the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest closed on July 17th with a flurry of contestants entering signature pizza recipes. Here are several takeaways from the entry period:

  • A record number of entries were submitted for this year’s contest
  • Professional chefs and culinary students from a record 24 states entered a recipe, displaying the broad appreciation and application of California dairy among top pizza chefs throughout the nation
  • The REAL California category led the way with the most recipes submitted, showcasing the strong popularity and interest in California cuisine
  • All three of our innovative categories – Cal-Mex, the REAL California, and Plant-Forward – were well-represented with delicious recipes from award-winning pizza chefs

Our team is currently in the process of processing the entries. Throughout the next week, our judges will be reviewing the recipes, inspirations, and creative use of Real California Cheese in innovative ways. We expect to announce the 12 talented finalists during the first week of August.

Please visit in the coming weeks for more information about our finalists and further contest updates!

2 Days Left to Enter the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest!

Only two days remain to join the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest! The deadline to enter is THIS Friday, July 17th. Contestants from over a dozen states have already entered signature recipes that showcase the rich flavors of REAL California Cheese.

The 2020 Real California Pizza Contest features three innovative categories – Cal-Mex, the REAL California, and Plant-Forward. You are not limited to just one category – submit a recipe in all three to increase your odds of becoming a finalist!

12 selected finalists will earn $500 and the opportunity to compete in the live bake-off finale in Napa, CA on September 23rd and 24th at the beautiful Culinary Institute of American (CIA) at Copia. Category winners will take home $5,000 each, and the best overall pizza, judged by our panel of expert pizza chefs, will win the $10,000 Grand Prize.

With fame and fortune on the line, what are YOU waiting for? Enter the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest TODAY!

COVID-19 Safety Measures at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia

The 2020 Real California Pizza Contest is thrilled to return to the breath-taking Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa, CA. This beautiful facility served as a perfect setting for the inaugural contest last May, as contestants were able to experience and utilize state-of-the-art kitchens to produce their winning pizzas.

The CIA at Copia is committed to providing a safe, enjoyable experience for all guests throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are several important precautions currently implemented to prioritize the health of all employees and guests:

Employee Requirements

  • Undergo safety training on disinfection, hygiene, and respiratory etiquette
  • Complete daily temperature checks and wear face coverings at all times while working
  • Wash and sanitize hands regularly, including upon entering the restaurant or kitchens and between interactions with customers

Common Spaces, Restaurants, and Kitchens

  • Operate at reduced capacity and implement social distancing
  • Maintain at least six feet of distance between parties, including those seated
  • Seat no more than six people at a table
  • Sanitize common areas repeatedly throughout the day and place hand sanitizing stations throughout with clear directional signage

For more details on how the CIA at Copia will continue to provide guests with the experience of a lifetime through the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here to visit their website and view the guidelines.

California Cheese Enhances Global Flavors and Plant-Forward Innovations

Consumers are increasingly looking for vegetarian and plant-forward options when they dine out. But they’re not looking for standard options, such as a garden salad or veggie burger. In fact, 38% of consumers say they are interested in trying vegetarian dishes made with new or innovative flavors, according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. For restaurants, the opportunity to get creative with plant-based foods is high, especially when incorporating global flavors.

According to Technomic, globally inspired flavors are some of the most preferred for vegetarian dishes, with 33% of consumers saying they’d order vegetarian dishes with ethnic flavors if they were available. What’s more, about a third (32%) would be willing to pay extra for authentic ethnic fare, according to Technomic’s 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, so operators can benefit big-time from incorporating authentic ingredients into their plant-based options and calling out those ingredients on the menu. 

For instance, using authentic California cheeses not only adds integrity to globally inspired dishes but also boosts their flavor appeal, particularly in Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. 

Mediterranean plant-based dishes

Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report notes that 25% of consumers would order Mediterranean cuisine at least occasionally if it were offered as a vegetarian dish. For these consumers, the addition of California-sourced Mediterranean-style dairy, including feta cheese, ackawi (a semifirm, unripened cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor and smooth texture), halloumi and labneh (a “yogurt cheese” made by draining thick, full-fat yogurt overnight in cloth) not only boosts the indulgence and flavor of vegetarian and plant-based dishes but also offers a protein boost. Try adding cow’s milk feta to “mezze” plates featuring hummus, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, almonds and a drizzle of olive oil—perfect for the starters menu—or inspire excitement with saganaki, a Greek appetizer of halloumi cheese fried in a pan and flambeed tableside.

These cheeses can also be used in main dishes; labneh is perfect as a substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches or dips and can also add interest to wraps such as falafel. 

Mexican and Cal-Mex options

Another ethnic cuisine, Mexican, is even more popular, with 43% of consumers telling Technomic that they would order it at least occasionally if vegetarian dishes were offered. California is the top producer of Hispanic-style cheeses in the nation, producing many varieties and styles. California Hispanic-style cheeses are a low-cost way for operators to add authentic flavor to Latin-inspired dishes. Some cheeses to consider adding to plant-forward Mexican or Cal-Mex dishes include:

  • Queso fresco
  • Cotija
  • Oaxaca 
  • Panela 
  • Requeson

Try crumbling queso fresco, a soft, fresh cheese, onto dishes such as pasta primavera or au gratin potatoes, or dice it up and add it to a watermelon, arugula and heirloom tomato salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, basil and mint. Oaxaca cheese can be used as a substitute for cheddar or Monterey Jack in black bean nacho dishes. California Hispanic-style cheeses can also be used in Mexican Street Corn: Top roasted corn on the cob with cilantro, chili powder, queso fresco or queso cotija and lime.

Add authentic flavor to globally inspired, plant-based dishes

Authentic cheeses made from Real California Milk are perfect for upgrading vegetarian or plant-forward ethnic dishes, whether vegetarian or not. To learn more about the variety of ethnic cheeses available and to get inspiration for how to use them, visit

Mexican Pizza Champion – Already a 2020 Rcpc Finalist

The 2020 Real California Pizza Contest will represent the best recipes from the United States and Mexico!

In late 2019, the California Milk Advisory Board sponsored the “Campeonato Mexicano de la Pizza” (Mexican Pizza Championship) – a nationwide contest with three semi-finals – one each in Querétaro, Guadalajara and Mexico City. The contest was open to all pizzaiolos (18 years old or older) living in the Mexican Republic regardless of nationality. Out of 60 semi-finalists, the top 10 competed in the final bake-off.

As the 2019 Campeonato Mexicano de la Pizza winner, Efren O. Rios has already qualified as a finalist in the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest. Rios, a pizza champion since 2015, boasts a variety of international titles and has represented Mexico in a number of international pizza contests, including several in Italy. Rios is a pizza consultant and gastronomic director for a number of organizations.

How Restaurants Can Succeed During COVID-19

Foodservice is being significantly impacted by COVID-19, as restaurants are working through rigorous safety guidelines. Even with these challenges, operators can take the following steps to remain safe and be successful.

Sanitation discipline is essential. Demand strong personal hygiene, encouraging constant handwashing especially from employees who handle food. Gloves should be worn in the kitchen to limit personal contact with food. Use effective cleaning agents on packaging and common surfaces. Keep your employees and customers safe – and your operation running.

Adopt an effective online ordering system. Easy, effective, mobile ordering must be a focus. Offer ordering across various platforms –phone, website, text or mobile app. Expect customers to pay online to reduce one-on-one interaction and increase take-out.

Without dine-in options, operators should prioritize to-go orders. Revise menus to create travel-stable and packaging-ready offerings. Limit availability to make it easier on your reduced kitchen staff. Change it up to keep customers coming back.

Use safe and secure packaging. Containers need to be safe and convenient. Use tamper-proof seals and adhesive bands to protect your food from spills and reduce the risk of contamination. Consumers will appreciate the safety of your operation, which will increase the likelihood that they return in the future.

Provide customers with curb-side pickup so they can enjoy your food without having to expose themselves to crowds, helping adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Add a delivery service. Weigh the costs against the outreach to customers uncomfortable leaving home. Delivery staff needs hand-sanitizer and safe delivery protocols.

Finally, communicate to customers about all the steps you are taking – through email blasts, social media posts, website updates, and signs at your operation.

These important steps will help restaurants successfully adapt and prosper during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board — from the nation’s #1 dairy state!

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