What an autumn it has been for pastry chef turned entrepreneur Ricky Webster of Spokane. Webster opened his first business, the gourmet cheese and artisan bakery Rind and Wheat, in Browne’s Addition in October.
Then on Wednesday afternoon, he learned that he won not once but twice in the 2020 Real California Pizza Competition, first in his category, the Real California, for his pizza the Wharf for $5,000, then the grand prize of $10,000 as the overall winner.
“I was very surprised to take both of those prizes, and the $15,000 prize is really great especially right now,” Webster said over the phone Friday morning. “I was shocked because I’m not a pizza chef, but at the end of the day what it breaks down to is I’m a cook.
“We’re all cooks in this industry – baker, line cook, prep cook, you’re a cook. If you’re a good cook, you’re seasoning things well, you have attention to detail, you are learning and perfecting your craft. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years. To take the competition as the grand prize winner, I was blown away.”
Pizza recipes for this year’s competition were submitted in May, but with the pandemic, the contest was in question. An extended deadline was announced in June, and the finalists were selected in July. “I was surprised and happy that I made the final cut again,” Webster said.
With the decision to host the competition virtually, the finalists were not flown to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., in the Napa Valley. In lieu of on-site expenditures, organizers mailed each finalist a check for $500.
“I love competitions, as it allows me to continue to push myself, and this did just that,” Webster posted on his Facebook page. “I’m honored to have made a pie worthy of the win and can’t wait to remain part of this event however possible in the coming years. Real California Milk is a special group of individuals.”
The two-time winning pizza the Wharf was inspired by San Francisco and Webster’s fond memories of visiting while growing up in the Bay Area and the way his family would look forward to the Fisherman’s Wharf clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.
“I took a sourdough starter and made my pizza with it. Atop it, I built a classic white clam pie and then added all the yumminess from that bowl of clam chowder like fennel, potato, bacon, onions and garlic,” Webster posted on Facebook.
Webster is no stranger to competitions or winning. He was a national finalist in the pizza contest last year and won Hallmark Drama’s “Christmas Cookie Matchup” last December. And in the 2018 holiday season, he won the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge: Modern Classics.”
Webster plans to sell the Wharf at Rind and Wheat at 1516 W. Riverside Ave., which continues to operate during the latest quarantine restrictions enacted by Gov. Jay Inslee. “We’re controlling the flow of traffic, but we’re still open for business,” Webster said.
“We’re hoping to sell the Wharf the week after Thanksgiving or the first weeks in December as a preorder pop-up and pickup and to-go only,” Webster said. “People can get a little taste of this national award-winning pizza. I’m excited to actually physically make the pizza again!”
Lars Smith of Los Altos, California, won the other two categories in the pizza contest, for Elotero in the Cal-Mex category and Fire on the Mountain in the Plant Forward category, for a total of $10,000 in prize money.
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