Winning pizza available for purchase one day only on May 5
Michael Vakneen, chef and pizzaiolo of Pop Up Pizza at the Plaza Hotel & Casino won first place in the southwest region of the U.S. and second in the world in the non-traditional professional division at the International Pizza Challenge during Pizza Expo 2023 for his “Pork Belly and Date Jam” pizza on a 72-hour fermented sourdough crust that is mixed and finished by hand.
Vakneen’s winning pizza is topped with onion and date jam, maple glazed lardons and duck prosciutto from Tempesta Chicago, Grand Cheese Co. smoked mozzarella, Coachella valley dates, Point Reyes blue cheese, Stracciatella, fried and caramelized pecans, orange zest, microgreens, and edible flowers.
Dubbed the “Champ’s Pie,” Vakneen’s winning pizza will be available for the public to buy at Pop Up Pizza during a special, one-day-only tasting on Friday, May 5, 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. or while supplies last.
Vakneen also won the title of World Sandwich Champion at the International Italian Sandwich Championship.
Now in its third year, the competition evaluates competitors’ entries which can be a hot or cold Italian-inspired sandwich consisting of any combination of Italian ingredients, sauces, toppings, and/or garnishes on any type of bread, roll, or bun.
Vakneen was also inducted into the World Pizza Champions team. The nonprofit, multinational group is made up of elite pizza professionals who are dedicated to promoting pizza making as a respected craft and viable career choice.
Team members are selected from world-champion competitors and acclaimed industry leaders.
Inclusion on the team is by invitation only and based on skill, character, compatibility, and selfless effort on behalf of the industry with the shared goal of setting the industry-wide standard of excellence in all aspects of the pizza maker’s art.