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Scurto Earns Trip to Italy to Compete in 2024 Caputo Cup Pizza Competition; Two Chef Teams Win in Three-Cheese Pizza Bake-Off Tie

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) Tuesday crowned the Grand Prize winner of the Real California Pizza Contest Tournament of Champions foodservice competition in an event challenging 10 past Real California Pizza Contest champions to create the quintessential California pizza using cow’s milk cheeses from California.

Chef Leah Scurto, owner of PizzaLeah in Windsor, Calif., won the contest’s Grand Prize for her interpretation of the REAL Californian pizza, The Nut-torius F.I.G. Scurto will receive an all-expense paid trip to Italy to compete as a CMAB-sponsored chef in the 2024 Caputo Cup Pizza Competition, Italy’s most renowned pizza contest.

The Nut-torius F.I.G. is a sweet ode to the signature California fruit. It features Real California Mozzarella, Fontina, and Feta cheeses to balance fresh black mission figs, crispy Italian sausage, minced garlic, and olive oil. It is topped with raw chopped almonds and aromatic julienned sage leaves.

Scurto is a two-time Real California Pizza Contest Champion, winning the REAL Californian category in 2021 and the Plant-Forward category in 2022.

The nine other returning champions each received $1,000 for their participation in the invitational bake-off.

Following the main competition, the 10 chefs competed in a separate Three-Cheese pizza bake-off, where they were randomly paired and charged with crafting a signature three-cheese pizza using pre-selected cheeses made with Real California Milk.

Two chef teams tied for the highest score. Scurto and Bill Crawford, from Rexburg, Idaho, highlighted California Mozzarella, Dry Jack, and Provolone in their winning pie. The other winning team was Spencer Glenn, from Monterey, Calif., and David Jacobson, from Oakland, Calif., who featured California Mozzarella, Ricotta, and truffle infused Toma.

All four chefs took home $1,500 for their Three-Cheese bake-off win.

“We are always impressed with the vision and creativity of our chef community, and this was no exception. While we crowned one Real California Pizza Grand Champion, each returning champion brought a unique lens to their interpretation of a pizza representative of the Golden State,” said Mike Gallagher, Business and Market Development Consultant for the CMAB. “Ultimately, California cheese and dairy products are the real winner in this showcase of how they taste and perform with some of the state’s most iconic ingredients.”


The competition, which was held at The Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa, Calif., was judged by a distinguished panel of pizza experts including 13-time World Pizza Champion and owner of 22 culinary concepts, Tony Gemignani; certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef Glenn Cybulski; and award-winning Pizzaiola and 2019 Caputo Cup Champion Laura Meyer. 

Judges based scores on a range of factors, focusing on the inventive use of cheeses made with Real California dairy, taste, texture, and presentation.

“California is the nation’s number one producer of milk and Mozzarella, so the pizza industry is very important to our business,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “We are committed to remaining national leaders in producing dairy products that pizza chefs trust nationwide.”

An online recipe book with all 10 pizzas, as well as exclusive videos from the contest, will be available in January 2024.

California is a reliable, consistent source of sustainable dairy products used by chefs throughout the world. As the nation’s largest dairy state, California boasts an impressive lineup of award-winning cheesemakers and dairy processors, that help drive dining innovation nationwide.

Returning Champions

Thomas Garnick
Tucson, AZ

2019, Cal-Mex & Grand Prize

Thomas Garnick, owner of Sapore Concepts, excels in wood-fired cuisine and shares his culinary expertise through mentoring, consulting, and immersive culinary experiences. He's a passionate advocate for the transformative power of food and fire. Thomas won as a Grand Prize Winner in 2019.

Ricky Webster
Spokane, WA

2020, REAL Californian & Grand Prize

Ricky Webster is the visionary behind a thriving artisan bread and cheese shop. His dream has blossomed into a reality, and he's known for his dedication to crafting exceptional bread and cheese. Ricky won as a Grand Prize Winner in 2020.

Spencer Glenn
Monterey, CA

2021, Cal-Mex, Plant-Forward & Grand Prize

Spencer Glenn, with a pizza passion since joining Pizza My Heart in 2003, rose from a delivery driver to become the Food/Beverage Manager and Executive Chef. As a proud member of the World Pizza Champions, Spencer is an all-around pizza enthusiast. Spencer won as a Grand Prize Winner in 2021.

David Jacobson
Oakland, CA

2022, REAL Californian & Grand Prize

David Jacobson's pizza journey began at Pizza My Heart. With 20 years of experience, he is now a chef at Acre Kitchen & Bar in Oakland. David won as a Grand Prize Winner in 2022.

Bill Crawford
Rexburg, ID

2023, Cal-Mex & Grand Prize

Bill Crawford, a former US Air Force fighter pilot and Harvard MBA graduate, ventured into the pizza business with Righteous Slice in Idaho. He excelled in the World Pizza Championships in Italy, owning one of the "25 Pizzerias to Watch in 2023" recognized by Pizza Today magazine. Bill was a Grand Prize Winner in 2023.

Giovanni Labbate
Schaumburg, IL

2019, All Cheese
2023, Plant-Forward

Giovanni Labbate, with over 35 years in the pizzeria business, recently launched Tievoli Pizza Bar, driven by his love for pizza, food, and family. Giovanni was a Category Winner in 2019 and 2023.

Marcus Medina
Tracy, CA

2022, Cal-Mex

Marcus Medina's Hella Pie Pizza Co. thrives on core values of quality and community. Voted Best Food Vendor and Best Pizza in Tracy, California, his goal is to cultivate a local pizza culture with a dash of '90s nostalgia. Marcus won as a Category Winner in 2022.

Vincent Sbarro
Concord, CA

2023, REAL Californian

Vincent Sbarro, inspired by his family's pizza legacy, founded Forno Di Sbarro Wood Fired Pizza Catering and Vinnie's Pizzeria in California, offering quality New York-style pizza. Vincent won as a Category Winner in 2023.

Leah Scurto
Windsor, CA

2021, REAL Californian
2022, Plant-Forward

Leah Scurto, an award-winning pizzaiola and owner of PizzaLeah, focuses on fresh, local, and organic ingredients. She's a returning competitor in pizza contests and enjoys teaching pizza classes. Leah was a Category Winner in 2021 and 2022.

Lars Smith
Los Altos, CA

2020, Cal-Mex & Plant-Forward

Executive chef Lars Smith co-owns State of Mind Restaurant Group, known for its California-inspired cuisine. He's a pizza competition veteran and champions seasonal, local ingredients in his menus. Lars won two categories in 2020.
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