California Pizza Kitchen held its inaugural Best Pizza Chef Competition during its recent annual Operators Conference on Amelia Island, Fla.

The three finalists included Francisco Rodriguez of Town Square, Nev.; Mario Soto of Tucson, Ariz.; and Carlos Arellano of Tyson's Corner, Va. Rodriguez went home with the title and was awarded $10,000.

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. Each chef was judged on their hand tossing technique, baking, showmanship, creativity and cravability.

"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," said G.J. Hart, CEO of California Pizza Kitchen. "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."

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