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California-style pizza (also known as gourmet pizza or California pizza) is a style of single-serving pizza that combines New York and Italian thin crust with toppings from the California Cuisine cooking style. Wolfgang Puck popularized this style of pizza.[1] Restaurant chains such as California Pizza Kitchen, Extreme Pizza, and Sammy's Woodfired Pizza are three major pizza franchises associated with California-style pizza, but it is served in a number of California Cuisine restaurants.


California-style pizza was invented more or less simultaneously in 1980 by Ed LaDou (the "Prince of Pizza"), then working as pizza chef for Spectrum Foods' Prego Restaurant in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood,[2] and by pizza chefs working for Alice Waters at the Chez Panisse cafe in Berkeley, California.[3]

LaDou had learned pizza-making in the 1970s as a teenager at Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too, a traditional New York-style pizzeria in Mountain View, California.[4] He made pizzas briefly at Ecco, an upscale restaurant at the Hyatt Hotel in Palo Alto, California,[5] before starting at Prego. Although Prego specialized in classic, Italian-style thin crust pizzas, its chefs encouraged LaDou to experiment with prosciutto, goat cheese, and truffles in their wood-burning oven, and send his results to guests.[4][5] One table, to whom he served an off-menu invention involving mustard, ricotta, paté and red pepper turned out to be chef Wolfgang Puck and his then-girlfriend designer Barbara Lazaroff.

Pizza topped with egg from the Chez Panisse cafe

By 1980, Alice Waters' Chez Panisse and its head chef Jeremiah Tower had already invented California cuisine, a combination of French and Italian techniques and presentation with fresh local ingredient-focused flavors. Waters was a long-time fan of Tommasso's Italian restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach, which had installed the West Coast's first wood-fired pizza oven when it opened in 1935.[6] After traveling to Italy, Waters decided to make an open kitchen featuring a Tomasso's-style pizza oven the focus of the new cafe she was opening above her main dining room. Although prepared in classic fashion, her chefs added exotic fine ingredients to their single-serving pizzas and calzones, such as goat cheese and duck sausage.[3] Her cafe, and its pizzas in particular, were an instant success, attracting wide attention among food critics.[7][8]

Wolfgang Puck, in 1980 and 1981, was preparing to open the restaurant that would make him famous, Spago, in West Hollywood, California. Initially conceived as a pizzeria, Spago's was modeled after the upstairs cafe at Chez Panisse.[3][9] He was so impressed with the pizza LaDou had made for him at Prego, he hired LaDou as head pizza chef. Under Puck's guidance, LaDou developed more than 250 pizza concepts using ingredients such as scallops, roe, and baby zucchini flowers.[5] Among their most famous invention was "Jewish pizza", a pizza dough first cooked then topped with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, capers, and dill.[10] Another innovation was using infused olive oil, baby vegetables, chili oil, and flavored dough.[4]

California-style pizza with greens, egg, bacon, and garden vegetables

In 1985 LaDou helped two inexperienced lawyer-restaurateurs start a new restaurant concept, California Pizza Kitchen (also known as "CPK"). He brought them many of Spago's recipes, which he had carefully saved.[5] The new restaurant borrowed the concept of open kitchens centered around wood-burning pizza ovens from Spago, but instead of exotic gourmet ingredients it used innovative but simpler comfort food toppings.[5][11] When the new restaurant's chef quit less than a month before opening, LaDou quickly designed and cooked an entire menu, inventing the now-ubiquitous barbecue chicken pizza on the spot.[4] LaDou also helped develop pizza menus for Sammy's Woodfired Pizza and the Hard Rock Cafe.[4]

Both Wolfgang Puck and California Pizza Kitchen were instrumental in turning California-style pizza from a gourmet food trend to a mass consumer food product. Based on the success of his pizzas and his status as a celebrity chef, Puck opened a series of restaurants, ranging from high end clones of Spago, to convenience chains for airports and mall food courts. California Pizza Kitchen grew to 200 outlets. Both introduced frozen pizzas, but after an early success Puck's supermarket lines were overtaken by CPK's, which are backed by Kraft foods.[12]


Apple-oatmeal "pizza" with a sourdough crust

In much the same way as pizza restaurants throughout the United States may carry a Chicago-style deep dish option, they may also have California-style items on the menu. Once-innovative ingredients like barbecue, curry, eggs, or goat cheese, are now sold at more traditional pizza restaurants and chains, as simply another topping choice. California-style pizza is common as frozen pre-prepared pizza as well. A number of smaller and newer chains either specialize in, or carry, the style. In the fine dining end, many expensive restaurants continue to offer single-serving pizzas with expensive or exotic ingredients, baked in wood ovens, or even devote a portion of their menu to California-style pizza.

While most other styles are associated with their own kind of crust, the distinguishing feature of California-style pizza is the use of nontraditional toppings that derive from cuisines other than the usual Italian-style tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, and especially incorporating fresh vegetables such as artichokes. For example, California-style pizza might include Thai pizza topped with bean sprouts and peanut sauce; Mexican pizza topped with carne asada, guacamole, and sour cream; Caribbean pizza topped with Jamaican jerk chicken; or chicken pizza with a white creamy garlic sauce. A breakfast pizza is in the same genre, with toppings such as scrambled eggs.

California pizzas are generally smaller than the standard eight-slice Neapolitan; most are single-serving dishes. While this provides more versatility in individual tastes, it can be surprising to those who are used to the traditional size, expecting a single pizza to serve five or six people.


  1. ^ Larry Olmsted. "Celebrity chefs transform Las Vegas dining scene". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  2. ^ Amy Spector (1999-03-15). "Ed LaDou: The 'prince' of pizza finds a new loyal following". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  3. ^ a b c Robert Lauriston (2007-09-26). "Pizza Smackdown:SoCal chain goes head to head with hometown favorite". San Francisco Weekly. Retrieved 2007-10-02.  
  4. ^ a b c d e Marc S. Botts (October, 2007). "Guru of Gourmet:Pizza innovator still has tricks up his sleeve". Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  5. ^ a b c d e Steeve Coomes (2003-08-29). "Who’s Who: Ed LaDou". Pizza Marketplace. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  6. ^ "Tommaso's Restaurant - A Brief History". Tomasso's Restaurant. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  7. ^ Craig Claiborne (1981-06-03). "Cuisine Bourgeoise Out West". "New York Times". Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  8. ^ Moira Hodgson (1991-08-04). "Pizza Taking On an International Flair". "New York Times". Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  9. ^ Michael Bauer (2001-02-07). "101 Reasons We're America's Culinary Mecca". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  .
  10. ^ Peter Reinhart. "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza". Ten Speed Press. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  11. ^ Richard Martin (1985-06-24). "California Pizza for the masses; CPK offering Spago-inspired nouvelle pies". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  12. ^ Rachel Brown. "Pie Fight:California Pizza Kitchen's frozen fare bucks Puck". Farlex Free Library.'s+frozen+fare+bucks+Puck-a0148858213. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  


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