California Pizza Kitchen, the authority on California-style pizza and industry leader in creative dining, held its inaugural Best Pizza Chef Competition March 21 during its annual Operators Conference held on Amelia Island, Florida.

The inaugural competition was the result of a nationwide search to find the Best Pizza Chef at California Pizza Kitchen. The three finalists included Francisco Rodriguez of Town Square, Nevada; Mario Soto of Tucson, Arizona; and Carlos Arellano of Tyson’s Corner, Virginia who were carefully selected based on their flawless execution, creativity, showmanship, and leadership. The trio – with a combined 20-plus years experience – competed for the prestigious title in front of more than 600 people.

During the competition, each chef was tasked with cooking the California Pizza Kitchen Original BBQ Chicken Pizza and their own original creation for a panel of celebrity judges, which included actor Steve Schirippa, best known for his role on HBO’s The Sopranos. Each chef was judged on their hand tossing technique, baking, showmanship, creativity, and craveability.   

Francisco Rodriguez went home with the title of Best Pizza Chef and was awarded $10,000. Upon his crowning, Rodriguez proposed to his girlfriend, Rachel Nagler, a server at the California Pizza Kitchen restaurant at Town Square in Las Vegas.

“For our pizza chefs, making pizza is not a job, it’s a passion, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to demonstrate why they are the best pizza chefs in the industry,” says G.J. Hart, CEO. “Our pizza chefs lead the way forward, as ambassadors of California-style pizza. All three finalists are incredibly talented and on behalf of everyone at California Pizza Kitchen, I would like to extend congratulations to Francisco Rodriguez for taking home this year’s title of Best Pizza Chef.”

The inaugural competition is part of California Pizza Kitchen’s new pizza chef program, which celebrates chefs who are experts in the art of pizza making and bring a passion for the craft that continuously elevates the practice of creating California-style pizza.


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