2020 Real California Pizza Contest Logo

Once again, we’re looking for the best pizza recipes using Real California Cheese. Delicious toppings, tasty crusts, Real California Cheese. Are you the secret ingredient? This is your chance to raise the bar on pizza creativity. All you need is a winning recipe!

The Final Round of the Real California Pizza Contest is Coming Soon!

Now that we have a better understanding of managing within new guidelines for events and other gatherings, the California Milk Advisory Board is re-launching the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest. All entries received prior to the hiatus have been automatically included in and are eligible for the now re-launched contest. The contest approach, process and details all remain consistent. The revised schedule is as follows:

  • July 17

    Entry period closed; entries being evaluated.

  • July 31
    Finalists named
  • Nov. 7

    Final bake-off at the CIA Copia facility in Napa, California

Note: We will continue to steadfastly monitor health regulations and guidance throughout the contest period and will adhere to health and public safety recommendations. Please refer to this website for up-to-date contest status.

Always refer to www.realcaliforniamilk.com/foodservice for up-to-date contest status. In the meantime, and while you hone your winning recipes, please be safe and healthy! 

The California Milk Advisory Board is seeking America’s best professional chefs and most promising culinary students to create innovative new pizzas in three categories:

"$30,000 in prizes" on a ribbon


The REAL California


Judged by a panel of professional chefs and international culinary experts, finalists will prepare their creations on Saturday, November 7th, 2020 at the CIA Copia kitchens in Napa, California. All finalists win a cash prize. Finalists who are not category winners will receive $500 each. Category winners will each receive $5,000. The Grand Prize winner – judged as the best overall pizza – will receive an additional $10,000.

Chefs can choose from a selection of more than 250 varieties and styles of award-winning Real California Cheese to create the most innovative, interesting and inspiring recipes! Refer to https://www.realcaliforniamilk.com/cheese-makers/ for approved Real California Cheese brands and varieties.


The contest is open for recipe submissions from May 22, 2020 through July 17, 2020. Eligible entrants are from:

  • Professional restaurant and pizzeria pizza chefs from across the United States
  • Culinary students from accredited U.S.-based culinary schools

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.


"CAL-MEX" contest category

A pizza recipe blending your interpretation of the culinary and flavor fusion of California and Mexican cuisines featuring Hispanic-style cheeses from California.

This fusion pizza recipe will celebrate the great flavors of both Mexico and California along with these delicious Real California Cheeses: Asadero, Cotija, Cotija (Queso Anejo), Enchilado, Enchilado Anejo, Manchego, Menonita, Oaxaca, Panela, Queso Blanco Fresco (Queso Para Frier), Queso Fresco, and/or Requeson.

Real California Pizza contest category

A pizza recipe representing your interpretation of the REAL California pizza. This signature California pizza recipe will feature ingredients that showcase the best of the Golden State with a special focus on Real California Cheeses.





"Plant Forward" contest category

A pizza recipe emphasizing the delicious flavor combinations of plants (e.g., fruits, vegetables, nuts, and/or beans and other legumes) and Real California Cheeses.

This on-trend flexitarian pizza recipe will deliver flavorful produce-centric toppings layered to complement cheeses made from California milk, where meats or other non-cheese proteins are considered an optional garnish or condiment.


For a list of the more than 250 varieties and style of Real California Cheese and the approved brands that produce them, as well as clarification on which Hispanic-style cheeses from California qualify for the Hispanic pizza category, please refer to the California Cheesemaker list.

Entry Requirements

The contest is open for recipe submissions from May 22, 2020 through July 17, 2020:

  • Completed Entry Form
  • Recipe – specific ingredients including brands and varieties of Real California Cheese; preparation and baking instructions for your recipe
  • Pizza Name and Photo – the name of your pizza and a photo of it prepared and baked – based on your recipe
  • Background/Inspiration – a 300-word (maximum) essay OR 2-minute (maximum) video describing your personal/professional background and what inspired your pizza recipe

Review Real California Pizza Contest Official Rules for complete details.

Entry Period Closed

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Contest Structure

There will be three rounds to the Real California Pizza Contest:

Preliminary Round

All complete qualifying entries will be judged separately. Judging criteria:

  Name/Photo – 5%
  Background/Inspiration Essay or Video – 25%
  Recipe – 70% (expert expectations for flavor, texture and inventive use of Real California cheese)

The top 25 scoring professional chef/culinary student entries in each category will become semi-finalists.

Semi-Final Round

The preliminary round winners will be judged separately. Judging criteria:

  Name/Photo – 5%
  Background/Inspiration Essay or Video – 25%
  Recipe – 70% (expert expectations for flavor, texture and inventive use of Real California cheese)

The top four (4) scoring professional chef/culinary student entries in each category will become finalists. In the category that the Campeonato Mexicano de la Pizza champion Efren O. Rios will be competing, only the top three (3) professional chef/culinary student entries will advance.

Final Round

Twelve (12) finalists – 11 U.S.-based finalists and the Mexican champion pizzaiolo/four (4) in each category – will compete in the live bake-off final event at the CIA at Copia facility in Napa, California on Saturday, November 7, 2020. The American and Mexican professional chefs and culinary students in each category will compete on an equal basis. Judging criteria:

  Name/Photo – 5%
  Background/Inspiration Live Presentation– 25% (based on a combination of personal background, inspiration, speaking and presentation skills and charisma)
  Recipe – 70% (25% flavor/15% texture/15% inventive use of Real California Cheese/15% presentation or the look of the final baked pizza).

A single chef (professional or student) in each category will be selected as the Category Winner and the top scoring entry of the three category winners will be selected as the Grand Prize winner.

One Grand Prize winner – $10,000
Three Category Winners – $5,000 each
Nine Remaining Finalists – $500 each
Fan Favorite Award to Come – Additional $500

Garnick Headshot

Thomas Garnick

Garnick is the Grand Prize winner of the 2019 Real California Pizza Contest with his Bandera de Fusion pizza. This pizza, inspired by the Mexican flag, featured four California-produced Hispanic-style cheese and dairy products – Oaxaca, asadero, cotija and crèma Mexicana.

Thomas Garnick is the owner of Brava! Pizza, a highly acclaimed pizzeria in Denver, CO; Della Strata, an award-winning wood-fired focused full-service catering company; and the forthcoming Noble Char, a wood-fired eatery focusing on fire and fermentation. 

Thomas is on a mission to share the beautiful story of the bond of food, people and community. “I continue to learn, experiment and push boundaries on a daily basis. Ultimately, I want to be able to share my experience, knowledge, and passion to help transform individuals the same way the kiss of the fire transformed me.”

Though never formally trained as a chef, food has made a measurable impact on Thomas’s life. Garnick grew up experiencing a wide variety of cuisines – from northern Mexican to western Indian and traditional American. As a pizzaioli and a chef Thomas has trained and worked alongside an incredible array of culinary professionals continuing to hone his understanding of flavor and technique.

Tony Gemignani Headshot


Gemignani has had a passion for the pizza industry since 1991. His humble beginnings began at his brother’s acclaimed Pyzano’s Pizzeria in Castro Valley. Fresh out of high school, Tony took on the task of a pizza thrower and soon began entertaining the restaurant crowds with his wily tricks. A few years later, he entered into his first pizza throwing competition in Las Vegas and quickly became the top pizza thrower in the world.

Since his days at his brother’s pizzeria, Gemignani has received a number of accolades for his impressive pizza making and throwing skills. He is president of the World Pizza Champions; the first and only Triple Crown winner for baking at the International Pizza Championships in Lecce, Italy; and, his most prestigious title to date, the 2007 World Champion Pizza Maker at the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, where he was the first American and non-Neapolitan victor. He has appeared on popular shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, and is a regular on Food Network. Gemignani also received his Master credentials from the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli and is the proprietor of the International School of Pizza where he certifies chefs from around the world. His most impressive accolade to date is being named the official U.S. Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza by the city of Naples, a prestigious title only given to three people in the entire world. In 2011 and 2012 Tony won two world titles in cooking, making him a 13-time world champion.

Glenn Cybulski

Glenn Cybulski is an award-winning executive chef & certified pizzaiolo with over 100 national and international culinary awards in rustic Italian cuisine and American comfort food. He is widely regarded as one of the Top 10 pizzaiolos in the U.S. and has extensive public speaking, culinary writing, & restaurant consulting experience. Glenn is the co-founder of Chefs Feeding Kids, a non-profit organization focused on reducing childhood hunger across the U.S.

In addition to a seminar speaker and columnist for Pizza Today, Cybulski is also an instructor at the magazine’s School of Pizzeria Management. He is a frequent guest lecturer and a panelist at the International Pizza Expo.

Cybulski’s restaurant experience includes working with Terry Collins of Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza in 2006, where he designed the crust for the “Thin Crust DeLight” pizza. He has consulted on the Travel Channel’s show “Food Wars.” He was also the co-owner of Sonoma Naturals and executive chef at Fregenes Italian Pizzeria and has owned and operated several restaurant concepts over the years.

Mark Todd

Cheese Specialist, California Milk Advisory Board

Chef Mark Todd has worked in both the foodservice and retail sides of cheese promotion and education for more than two decades, conducting distributor, retail, foodservice and restaurant group seminars, developing cheese education materials and presenting at numerous trade show and special events in the U.S. and abroad. He has represented the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) at Pizza Expo for more than eight years.

He has traveled extensively promoting U.S. specialty and commodity cheeses for such groups as the CMAB, U.S. Dairy Export Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Approved cheese varieties and brands (listed by brand and variety) within categories for Hispanic-Style and All Cheese/California)

Read More

For a list of the more than 250 varieties and styles of Real California Cheeses and the approved brands that produce them, as well as clarification on which Hispanic-style cheeses from California qualify for the Hispanic pizza category, please refer to the CA Cheesemaker list.

We recognize some of these cheeses may not be available in your location.  You are encouraged to enter the contest anyway, substituting the cheese you use in your development process for the cheese from this approved list in your official recipe entry. The California MilkAdvisory Board will supply the specified approved cheeses from finalists’ recipes at the bake-off.

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

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