As many of you may remember, several years ago California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) introduced gluten free pizzas, but they quickly pulled them off the menu due to concerns about cross contamination from the preparation of their regular pizzas in the same area.
Fast forward three years, and California Pizza Kitchen is back with gluten free pizzas...this time having invested in thorough training by the Gluten Intolerance Group's Gluten Free Food Service and Management Training Program. Bob Moncrief, VP of Training and Development, explained, "We wanted a third party to verify our procedures so that gluten free diners could be comfortable." So now the systems are in place for CPK to offer a safe product for Celiac and gluten sensitive diners. And it's a good thing...apparently gluten free pizza has been the most requested item in CPK's restaurants nationwide.
I was priviledged to speak with Brian Sullivan, the Senior Vice President of Culinary Development for California Pizza Kitchen, and also attend a lunch at CPK's "Innovation" test kitchen in Redondo Beach, California. What I learned about their new training and procedures impressed me, and I can attest to the fact that their pizza is wonderful. (Read on for details about how you can win a $25 gift card to California Pizza Kitchen.)
Here are some details...
Brian, who joined California Pizza Kitchen 25 years ago when they had just 4 locations, explained that CPK now offers 5 gluten free pizzas. Four are listed on their GF menu: the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza, Pepperoni, Mushroom/Pepperoni/Sausage, and Margherita. You can request the "off menu" Untraditional Cheese pizza, too. The pizzas range in price from about $12-$16, and they are larger than the typical "individual" sized pizza. They are cut into 8 slices, making it great for two people to share -- or for one person to order and take leftovers home.
The crust used by CPK is manufactured off-site using their own proprietary recipe. Brian and his team spent almost a year testing recipes and evaluating companies that would be able to produce a crust consistent with their specifications for texture, crispness, pliability, and taste. Their hard work clearly paid off, because I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the best gluten free pizza I've ever had -- bar none. It is literally indistinguishable from "regular" pizza. No, actually it's better. The thin crust's consistency is the perfect blend of chewiness and crispiness.
Brian shared with me the various ingredients he included in the recipe for their gluten free crust: rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, cane sugar, and potato flour. California Pizza Kitchen's gluten free pizza toppings are also of the highest quality and taste. The Pepperoni pizza is even topped with two types of mozzarella cheese and two types of pepperoni. (If you are in the mood for a really special treat, be sure to request their white truffle oil to drizzle over the top!)
CPK's gluten free crusts are shipped twice per week to their restaurants, which have all been thoroughly trained in the handling of gluten free orders. When an order is taken for a gluten free pizza, the chefs are alerted with a signal on the ordering screen, and a manager is called to the line to oversee the preparation. The gluten free pizzas are produced in an area separate from the "regular" pizzas. All 17 ingredients used in their gluten free pizzas are kept in separate blue containers in a separate "drawer"on the line. Designated blue utensils are used, to indicate gluten free. In fact, everything is color-coded blue for gluten free, including the blue gloves the chefs put on after thoroughly washing their hands prior to preparing a gluten free order.
Also -- and this is terrific -- the flour used for "dusting" ALL pizza crusts (both GF and regular) at CPK restaurants is RICE FLOUR. So this eliminates the concern about airborne flour as pizza crusts are stretched and hand-tossed.
When the pizzas get put in the oven, they are in a special cooking tin, providing a barrier below the pizza -- and a 3/4" lip to eliminate rim to rim contact with other pizzas. When the pizza is done cooking, a separate plate and pizza cutter are used, and the pizza is literally "flagged" with a flag in the crust to indicate it's gluten free. The manager then personally delivers the pizza to the gluten free guest.
ALL CPK employees -- kitchen staff, servers, and management -- have been thoroughly trained, and quarterly "audits" will ensure that the high standards are maintained throughout the chain. California Pizza Kitchen is also currently in the process of getting more of their menu offerings checked and evaluated for a gluten free designation, so their Gluten Free Menu offerings should soon expand dramatically beyond the five pizza options. (Note: you currently can request any of CPK's pizzas be made on their gluten free crust, but please note that only the ingredients used for the GF pizzas listed on their GF Menu are kept separate from toppings used on all their other pizzas.)
With 201 locations in the United States and 69 internationally, it's not hard to find a California Pizza Kitchen -- if not where you live, then perhaps where you travel (although it will probably be another 6 months until the GF pizzas are available internationally). Their gluten free pizzas are also available for take-out as well as dine in. (Take-out pizza boxes are even flagged with a blue "GLUTEN FREE" sticker on top.) So put CPK high on your list for your next meal out, and be sure to take a moment to submit a review for whatever location you visit to our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite.
WIN A $25 GIFT CARD TO CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN
California Pizza Kitchen was kind enough to give us a $25 Gift Card to award to one lucky reviewer of their restaurant. To enter, simply submit a review to our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite, of the specific California Pizza Kitchen location where you try their new gluten free pizza. Let us know what you thought of the GF pizza! And since you may not be able to run out to a CPK right away, the deadline for your entries will be in a month from now. One winner will be chosen by a random drawing from all entries (review submissions) received by GlutenFreeTravelSite by 11:59 pm Eastern time on Thursday, November 7, 2013. So make a point of visiting a CPK in the next month, and share your review on GlutenFreeTravelSite.