Newest USPT Members Earn High Honors in International Competition

Fresh flavors, faces and ideas led the pack at this 30-year-old competition.

Vitangelo Recchia showing off his Award Winning Pizza in Teglia submission, The Heart of Parma

The U.S. Pizza Team (USPT) traveled to the 30th edition of the World Pizza Championship (WPC) in Parma, Italy, in search of pizza glory, and they were not disappointed. With a competing team of 12 members from across the USA, the USPT entered the Fieri di Parma with hopes of reaching the awards stage for their culinary innovations. This hope was fulfilled by two of the team’s newest members, casting a winning light on the future of the team.

Team Captain Michael LaMarca, owner of Master Pizza in Cleveland, Ohio, received the first award of the evening: the Premio Fair Play Award. A prestigious recognition from the entire pizza industry, both international and domestic, this accolade honored and thanked LaMarca for all his work on the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas and Atlantic City—and in the industry as a whole. Prior to that, the USPT was presented with a similar informal award from the competitive team for Tavatru Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, a previous Vegas champion. This honor can also be largely attributed to LaMarca’s congeniality and personality.

Cristina Aceves Smith turning in her Award Winning Pizza in Pala submission

Taking top honors for the USPT was newest member Vitangelo Recchia of Bella Napoli Pizzeria & Restaurant in Port Charlotte, Fla. Recchia took 2nd place in the world for Pizza in Teglia. Recchia also earned the highest score in the entire competition for the USA, wowing the judges with his Heart of Parma pizza featuring hand-grated porcini dust, Lardo di Colonnata, trumpet, oyster and pioppini mushrooms, mozzarella, sausage, stracchino, arugula, and a flavorful Parmigiano Reggiano aged 30 months.

It was only Recchia’s second competition, his first being the 2022 Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup (GPPC) at the Pizza Tomorrow Summit. “Being a part of a world competition on such a grand stage was always a dream,” he said. “Seeing all the competition areas, the ovens, the sponsors, all the competitors—it was incredible. I was told to just have fun and do your best. Being in Italy at the competition, I had already won.”

“I didn’t hear my name [when it was called], but my teammates at the tables went absolutely crazy,” Recchia continued. “Then it all hit me. It was incredible. To stand on the podium, second place in the world in Teglia, was an incredible honor. I met some incredible pizzaiolos, and it’s an honor to be a member of the U.S. Pizza Team competing with them.”

In her second trip to the WPC, Cristina Aceves Smith, co-owner of State of Mind Public House in Los Altos, Calif., grabbed a well-earned 5th place in the world for her Pizza in Pala submission. Tugging on the judges’ memories with familiar flavors, all sourced locally, Smith showcased a light and fluffy Roman-style crust topped with a winter quash purée, speck, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, chicory dressed in white balsamic, roasted walnuts and a 36-month aged Parmesan.

Jamie Culliton’s Pizza in Teglia submission

Multiple-time world champion Jamie Culliton, owner of The Nona Slice House in Safety Harbor, Fla., took 7th in the world in Teglia with his Truffle Parmesan frico crust, Galbani aged and fresh mozzarellas, pan-seared potatoes, guanciale cream sauce, and crispy pancetta, finished with herb-crusted Parmesan Reggiano and burrata. Culliton secured the second Top 10 ranking in this category for the USPT this year with his out-of-the-box blending and masterful execution of classic flavors and new techniques.

Lenny Rago’s Glutine-Free Barese Pizza

Honor in the Gluten-Free realm was attained by Lenny Rago of Panino’s Pizzeria in Evanston, Ill., who secured 13th place out of a field of 75 competitors. Using Panino’s own Via Pizzeria 123 Gluten-Free dough mix, Rago’s Barese pie featured a 90% hydration dough, homemade Barese sausage, tomato sauce, a blend of Galbani whole and part-skim mozzarella, rapini sautéed with garlic, olive oil, salt and crushed red pepper, stracciatella, red sweet drop peppers and field greens. Rago’s flavors brought the judges an elevated pizza experience without the gluten.

Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup Champion Jose Flores Classica submission

Top USPT recognition for Pizza Classica go to Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup Champion Jose Ahmed Flores of Crust Lovers Pizza in Sanford Fla., McKenna Carney of The Nona Slice House and Dave Sommers of Mad Mushroom, West Lafayette, Ind., seating 3 US Pizza Team members in the top 40. Flores, ranking 31st in the world out of 431 competitors, is the second USPT member to have only competed once before, in the ’22 GPPC in Orlando. This is also Carney’s second trip to Italy and first time competing in Classica. Carney and Sommers placed 34th and 36th respectively.

Additional USPT competitors on the adventure were Wilhelm Rodriguez, Papa’s Pizza, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico; Lars Smith, State of Mind Public House; Sean Dempsey, Danger Von Dempsey’s, Aberdeen, S.D.; and Drew French, Your Pie, Athens, Ga.

The USPT competes all year-round in various culinary and acrobatic trials across the country and in international competitions, like the Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup and World Pizza Championships, as well as televised national events on networks like Hulu, ESPN3, and more.


Brian Hernandez

Brian Hernandez