Before the 1980s, the idea of putting ingredients like broccoli, eggs, or chicken on a pizza was close to taboo. Most people were pepperoni fans, or they preferred to go with a simple cheese topping.
The idea of doing anything different was pretentious. Some would have even said that the idea of tinkering with a traditional pizza recipe was blasphemous.
California pizza would change how people think about enjoying a slice over the next 30 years.
What Is California Pizza?
California pizza focuses more on the serving size that you receive rather than specific cooking processes or ingredients. An authentic recipe will be a single-serving pizza that combines a thin crust with toppings that you would typically see in the western United States.
There are some similarities between California-style pizza and New York or Italian versions. The goal is to find fresh ingredients that can be sourced locally to maximize the flavors of each recipe.
Although it is not mandatory to use a wood-burning oven to create California pizza, this method of baking does create the bright flavors and smoky aftertaste that are hallmarks of this style. When it is made correctly, it will feel like you’re having a gourmet experience while enjoying a slice at an affordable price.
The History of California Pizza
The invention of California-style pizza is usually attributed to Ed LaDou and by the kitchen at Chez Panisse because they came up with the same concepts simultaneously.
LaDou learned how to make pizza as a teen while working at a traditional New York-style pizzeria in his hometown of Mountain View, CA. He would serve one of his pizzas in 1980 to Wolfgang Puck, who at the time was working to open his world-famous restaurant called Spago.
Puck was so impressed by LaDou that he hired him to be the head pizza chef at the new restaurant. The two would develop over 250 different pizza concepts based on the California style, including toppings that included capers, dill, scallops, and baby zucchini flowers. One of their most famous innovations was to create pizzas using chili oil, baby vegetables, and flavored dough.
LaDou saved many of the recipes that he helped to develop at Spago. By 1985, he joined with two beginning restaurateurs to start the concept of California Pizza Kitchen, or CPK. Instead of using gourmet ingredients, the trio opted to used comfort foods – including their trademark barbecue chicken pizza.
The first California Pizza Kitchen location opened in Beverly Hills to create a pie that could rival the reputations that pizzas had earned in New York City and Chicago. The original menu items included chicken in different variations, including barbecue, Jamaican jerk, and Thai. Then the pies were cooked in an open kitchen so that customers could see the entire journey their food took to their table.
Based on the successes of Spago and CPK, both chefs opened a series of restaurants based on this format. You can even try them frozen at most local grocery stores, especially since California Pizza Kitchen products receive backing from Kraft foods.
What Makes California Pizza Unique?
California pizza is unique because there are no rules beyond the single-serving size of the pie. You can put whatever ingredients you want in whatever amount suits you.
If you were to visit one of the California Pizza Kitchen locations today, you would find 20 different flavors from which to choose on their standard menu. One of their most popular options is called the California Club, which uses grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, and mozzarella on a foundation of carne aside influences.
You have the option to enjoy a gluten-free pizza when you choose the California style as well. The popular barbecue chicken pie is on that list, as well as their mushroom, sausage, and pepperoni.
You can even go with something simple, like a Margherita pizza, while still enjoying the uniqueness of the California approach.
Although the pizzas are designed to be for one person, the serving size makes them more conducive to sharing. Most of them are large enough to feed at least two people.
Why People Love California Pizza
Because you can place any ingredient on a California-style pizza, there are some international variations of this recipe that create unique flavor profiles. There is a CPK outpost located in Kawasaki, Japan, that offers a kalbi steak and miso shrimp pizza to enjoy.
Australians have created an entire menu of breakfast pizzas based off of the California-style method. Each region, including different areas in the U.S. like New England or the Midwest, all have a different take that you can enjoy.
If you can dream it up, then you can put it on a California pizza. Here are some of the other reasons why people love this approach to enjoying a slice.
1. You can try several different styles of pizza.
If you have always wanted to try a different style of pie that what is in your usual routine, then a California pizza is your ticket to a fun experience. You can make a Sicilian-style slice, create a tostada, or go with a traditional Margherita recipe. One of CPK’s most popular options is a Thai chicken pizza, which includes thinly shredded vegetables and peanut sauce. That means you can try something different every time you have a craving for some pizza.
2. It focuses on traditional Italian methods of cooking.
California pizza created an era of experimentation. There are gourmet, artisanal pies that you can find all over the world today because of the success that this style had in the United States. You’ll still find these slices use the traditional methods of creating a dish by using the processes that were perfected in Italy.
3. Each pizza features fresh ingredients.
The trademark of the California pizza is to use fresh ingredients whenever possible. Pizzerias work with local farmers and growers to make sure the meats, cheese, and vegetables come from the community. That means the quality of the ingredients that you receive with each order are at their very best.
4. The portions offered with a California pizza are huge.
Families love to order a California pizza because it will feed their children without using a lot of dough. The ingredients provide an excellent combination of vitamins and minerals without being high in fat – unless multiple meat toppings are used, anyway. That means even a large family can make them at home or enjoy a sit-down meal without breaking the budget. If you’re extra hungry, then you have the option to finish all of your slices solo too.
5. It still feels like it is a rebellious option to try.
Even though California pizza has more than four decades of influence in society, there are still plenty of people who think that the idea of an exotic ingredient on a slice is a bad idea. Chicken was still a rare ingredient in recipes in the 1990s because it felt so strange to most people. Can you imagine what it would be like for them to eat a pizza with asparagus, ricotta, and mint as the primary toppings?
6. Everyone can choose what they like.
If you visit the traditional pizzeria, including those that focus on the Neapolitan approach, then families typically order one or two pizzas for everyone to share. When you look at the California approach, everyone gets to order the slices they want. Everything is made from scratch so that you can avoid the buffet-like atmosphere too. It might cost a little more, but most people enjoy the idea of having a variety.
7. You can find it almost anywhere.
California pizza is something that might be rooted in gourmet, upscale restaurants, but it is now an approach you can find at all socioeconomic levels. You can still find a place like Spago to serve you something exotic and unique. Families can enjoy frozen pizzas from their grocery store. Most communities have at least one hole-in-the-wall place that experiments with different topping combinations. It is this variety that makes the style such an attractive option.
8. There are plenty of topping and serving options for a healthy lifestyle.
When most people think about healthy food choices, pizza is not one of the first choices that come to mind. Some fantastic benefits can come your way when you eat pizza, especially when you take the California approach. You’re also avoiding processed foods with this style, which means a pizzeria will make something close to what you could create at home.
9. You can put on all of your favorite colorful veggies.
If you top a pizza with lots of different colors, then you can build a foundation for healthy eating. California pizza allows you to add garlic to any pie as well, which means you can boost your manganese and selenium levels. If you’re trying to follow a specific diet, then this style will let you create a thin whole-wheat crust so that you can reach your wellness goals. This flexibility is something that you won’t find in most other pizza styles.
10. There are delivery options in some communities.
If you want to enjoy a pizza from CPK, then most locations will deliver. You will need to contact your local kitchen to determine what the delivery zone is for your area. If you have a big party that you’re throwing, then the chain will make pizzas for you in a 35-foot mobile kitchen if you live in Southern California.
11. California-style pizza pairs well with sangria.
CPK offers an extensive wine list for their customers to enjoy. One of the most popular options, especially in the summer, is a sangria that you can sip. This approach makes it fun to have a night out or an enjoyable experience while eating in that evening. You get to be in full control of the experience.
Are You Ready for Some Pizza from the Golden State?
California pizza transformed from a gourmet-only option to something that everyone can enjoy. Whether your preference is for pepperoni, cheese, or something more exotic, you’ll find a slice waiting for you that satisfies your hunger.
You don’t need to travel to California to enjoy this style of pizza either. Anyone can make this recipe because of its use of traditional techniques. All you need to do is find the ingredients you want to try, and then create a single-serving pie from it.
As long as you remember that California pizza eliminates the restrictions on ingredients, then you’re ready to have an excellent culinary experience.