The History of California Pizza -- It's Good, But Is It Pizza?

California Asparagus Pizza

California Pizza - American Pie Is Transformed

We lived in Southern California in the mid-80's, when the words "California" and "Pizza" couldn't be spoken in the same sentence without laughing. Spago's had opened (1982), and Wolfgang Puck was taking credit for the creations of Ed LaDou who had already moved to California Pizza Kitchen, but... we're getting ahead of ourselves. Then and now, the idea of finding a good East Coast, or even Chicago pizza in California was and is difficult to believe.

California pizza rush?

There was never a "Pizza Rush," where hundreds of pizza makers traveled west to stake their claim on the West Coast. Rather, this new kind of pizza started with gourmet chefs and wild experimentation.

Alice Waters, whose Chez Panisse in Berkeley was a gourmet organic restaurant that opened in 1973 (when most of us thought "organic" meant "chemistry"), opened the Chez Panisse Cafe in 1980, with a wood-burning brick oven, and started selling organic pizzas with gourmet combinations of toppings. That was about the time Californians started eating and talking about "healthy pizza" and "veggie pizza."

Also in 1980, on the other side of the Bay, Ed LaDou was making interesting pizzas at Prego Ristorante. LaDou is quoted in Everybody Loves Pizza: "The kitchen...had wonderful things to cook with...goat cheese and truffles and artichoke hearts and wonderful things like that."

Ed LaDou

LaDou did so many interesting things with pizza, that when Wolfgang Puck tasted one of his creations he invited LaDou to become the pizzaiolo at his new restaurant, Spago. The restaurant was and is Puck's brainchild. The pizzas were pure LaDou. "The truth is, Wolfgang didn't know much about pizza at all, which is why he hired me," LaDou told

LaDou left Spago in 1983. He had 250 different pizza recipes. In 1985, he became a minority partner in California Pizza Kitchen, where his barbecue-chicken pizza became famous. You can read more about CPK and its founders, Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, in our forthcoming Pizza Chains section.

LaDou left Rosenfield and Flax the same year and sold his interest in the company a year and a half later. He then opened his own place, Caioti Pizza Cafe in Laurel Canyon in 1987.

Unfortunately, Ed LaDou passed away in December of 2007, at the age of 52.

'Pushing the envelope' while stretching the dough - that's pizza California style!

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