PHOENIX -- Pizzeria Bianco owner Chris Bianco has received a culinary honor rarely bestowed on chefs in the pizza ranks: a James Beard Award.

According to the Arizona Republic, the prestigious James Beard Foundation in New York City recently named Bianco, 41, the best chef of the Southwest.

The award is given in honor of the late Beard, a legendary American chef and cookbook author. Beard awards typically go to chefs at fine-dining restaurants.

"It's a wonderful honor," Bianco told the Republic. "It's great to be recognized by your peers. I think there's an element that when something is the best, the optimum, it transcends the medium."

Bianco is famous for its artisan pizza made from fresh dough, fresh mozzarella cheese, home-grown herbs and unique toppings, such as wood-roasted onions and salami.

Bianco grew up in Ossining, N.Y., and moved to Phoenix in 1985. He opened Pizzeria Bianco there in 1993.

In 2000 the restaurant received an impressive 29 out of 30 score from the Zagat Guide.

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