Winners Turn Heads with Astonishing Culinary and Acrobatic Skills at the U.S. Pizza Team Western Trials in Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Oct. ’16 – The International Baking Industry Expo show in Las Vegas held court to the largest turn out for the U.S Pizza Team Western Culinary and Acrobatic Trials October 8-11, 2016.

25 competitors in total descended upon the Las Vegas Convention Center for a chance to grab gold, bragging rights, and a trip to the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy. The U.S. Pizza Team held their Western Trials, which included events such as Gluten-Free, Classico Pizza, Freestyle Acrobatics, Largest Dimg_0062ough Stretch, Fastest Pie Maker and Fastest Box Folder.

The Gluten-Free category showed the judges that Gluten-Free now equals PIZZA! Nine competitors demonstrated new techniques in the field of Gluten-Free dough creation, as well as outside the box toppings. First place went to Gino Rago of Panino’s Pizza, Chicago IL. with his Chi-Pie, featuring a light fluffy deep dish crust, spinach, mozzarella laced with nutmeg and home-made saus-a-roni, sausage made from fresh ground pepperoni, all cooked in a cast-iron pan. Second place goes to U.S. P.T. member Heather Zook of Sinfully Gluten Free in Dayton, OH. with her Sausage and Mushroom Pie showcasing a house made sausage and cremini mushroom with fresh mozzarella on Sinfully Gluten Free’s house made Gluten-Free dough.. Filling out the bill in third place is newcomer to U.S.P.T. competitions, Kim Desch of Wild Flour Bakery in Longmont,   CO. with her take on a Detroit Style pie using their signature Detroit style dough mix, featuring smoked pork belly, caramelized onions, hand-made sauce from heirloom cherry tomatoes and arugula seasoned in lemon and olive oil.

Second day of competition saw the biggest turn out for an individual U.S.P.T. Trial with 20 competitors from across the country showing up to compete in the classico, or gourmet division. First place went to Ali Haider of 786 degrees in Sunland, CA.  with his “Istanbul” pie featuring lamb, chicken, a ramped up tiziki sauce and thinly sliced cucumber. Second place was claimed by relative newcomer to the team, Giovanni Labbate of Bricks Wood Fired Pizza in Chicago, IL. with his Harvest Pizza, featuring butternut squash, caramelized red onions, pancetta, pumpkin seeds, Fontina, mozz and provolone cheeses topped with a pomegranate glaze. Third place was an unprecedented tie between first time competitor Massimo Manino of Nino’s Cucina Italiana in Greenville, NC. and U.S.P.T. veteran Gino Rago of Panino’s Pizza in Chicago, IL.  Massimo competed with his pie topped with Stracchino cheese, roasted tomatoes and garlic, and featuring bone marrow. Veteran Rago came to the plate with a Pizza Rustico, filled with fried eggplant, Italian Barese sausage, marinara, Galbani Cheese blend of ricotta, fresh mozz topped with fresh arugula.

Rick Wheeler of Mad Mushroom took home 1st place in Fastest Pie Maker and Fastest Box-Folder divisions. Ryan Kubil of Grimaldi’s in Ft. Myers, Fl. took 1st place in Largest Dough Stretch and 3rd place for the Fastest Pie Maker. Scott Volpe of Fiamme Pizza Napoletana in Tucson, AZ. went home with 2nd place in both

Fastest Pie Maker and Largest Dough Stretch. Michael Reyes-Casanova of YNot Italian in Virginia Beach, VA. took home second in the Box-Folding category, with Leah Scurto of Pizza My heart in Santa Cruz, CA. grabbing third for Largest Dough Stretch and Box-Folding.

The biggest and best pimg_0179rize in the athletic division happened the 4th day of competition at the Freestyle Trials. After watching the competitors all perform a 3 minute routine to the latest music, the first place title went to second time winner, Scott Volpe of Fiamme Pizza Napoletana of Tucson, AZ. He was followed closely in score for second and third by his teammates Ryan Kubil and Michael Reyes-Casanova respectively.

The first place scorers for Gluten-Free, Classico and Freestyle Acrobatics all earned a spot to join the U.S. Pizza Team to compete in the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy in May of 2017.

Other competitors in the events included: Jason Samosky (Samosky’s Homestyle Pizzeria); Tim Silva (Pizza My Heart); Michael Stevens (Palo Mesa Pizza); Bruno Brunetti (Panino’s Pizza); Chris Hanley (Slicetruck); Christopher and Michael Palmeri (Naked City  Pizza); Garek Desch (Wild Flour Bakery); Ian Robbins (Goodfellas Pizza); David Sommers (Mad Mushroom); Salvatore Passalacqua (Marabella); Daniel Saccone (Saccone’s Pizza and Subs); RC Gallegos (RC’s NYC Pizza and Pasta); Tore Trupiano (Dominic’s Italian Restaurant); Vincent Rotolo (New Brooklyn Pizza); and Lee white (RC’S NYC Pizza/D-Leecious Bites).

The competitions were over seen by some of the industries top players in their fields. The Gluten Free was judged by Lisa Smith, Janet Rogers, Jackie Caraballo, Cathy Dallaire, and April Mastroluca of Gluten Free in Las Vegas, the top site for everything Gluten Free in Sin City. Classico was judged by the one and only John Arena of Metro Pizza, Las Vegas; Dr. Carl Braunlich, a professor at the UNLV Hotel College and former food and beverage director for several strip casinos; Ian Robbins of Goodfellas Pizza in Covington, KY.; and Allison List, owner and pastry chef of The Sweet Squirrel also in Covington. Freestyle Acrobatics was judged by Jill Breslaw, Entertainment Director at Circus Circus; U.S. Pizza Team Captain Michael LaMarca of Master Pizza in Cleveland, OH.; Dave Sommers, U.S.P.T Athletic Coach and owner of Mad Mushroom, West Lafayette, IN.; and gold medalist in Freestyle Acrobatics at the World Pizza Championships, Parma, Italy 2016, U.S.P.T Athletic Coach Jamie Culliton.

PMQ’s Pizza Village and the Western Trials were sponsored in part by Peerless ovens, ItalForni, WP Bakery Group, LeSaffre Yeast, AB Mauri, Baystate Milling, Graincraft, Whalen Packaging, Doughmate, Pro Team, PA Products, Lloyd Pans, Tom Sawyer Gluten Free, and DeIorio’s Frozen Doughballs.

For more information, pictures or video, contact Brian Hernandez at 662-234-5481 x129 or by email @

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Brian Hernandez