At Santa Monica’s Hostaria del Piccolo, chef-partner Germano Minin is the prince of pizza. A native of Italy’s Friuli region, Minin has been cooking since he was a kid. But what brought his flair for classic Italian pizza to the wider world was a 2014 win of the Chopped “Pizza Perfect” episode, where he took the honors with an appetizer pizza of crabmeat, vegan pepperoni, shiitake mushrooms, mozzarella, and onions, and an entrée pizza topped with Swiss chard and a rabbit “escabeche,” using artichokes, white wine, and shallots. Any night at Piccolo, where Minin has been chef-partner since 2010, you can sample his winning pizzas, along with around two dozen others, such as the Demoni (tomato sauce, salamino piccante, roasted tomatoes, mozzarella, goat cheese) or the Norvenera (squid ink dough, smoked salmon, red onions, capers, mozzarella, mascarpone). And, since it’s California, Piccolo offers the option of a gluten-free version of any pie, made with a dough comprising kamut, soy, and polenta. It’s great to be the reigning pizza pro, of course, but Germano Minin is far from a one-note chef. “The food here—pizza, pasta, and more—really tastes like Italy,” said restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila, in her review for the Los Angeles Times. “Anyone nostalgic for a buca or small family restaurant will feel right at home here.”

There was a lot of cooking under Minin’s belt before he had even heard of Chopped. His family has been immersed in the food business for generations—his grandfather was a baker, his father and brother,  restaurateurs. After graduating from the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero, Minin cooked in Vicenza, Padova, and San Daniele, Italy, before being recruited by the Milan-based Bice Ristorante, to launch its locations in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Washington, D.C. Along with his work in the States—including Scottsdale’s Il Fornaio, and as corporate chef for the Lombardi Family, in Texas—and hitting several “best of” lists in every state he’s worked in, Minin returned to Italy to rejuvenate his family’s business, Trattoria La Grisana, in Udine.