Food & Drink

How Wolfgang Puck ruined pizza forever

Curse you, Wolfgang Puck.

Single-handedly, Puck ruined pizza forever.

He did it casually. As if he were not starting a revolution. As if he were not flippantly knocking away the foundations upon which Western civilization had been built.

In 1982, when he was just 33, the chef opened his instantly famous Spago restaurant in West Hollywood. The bulk of the attention went to his new, life-changing creation: haute pizza.

Smoked salmon and caviar pizza. Sonoma baby lamb with braised greens and rosemary pizza. Spicy chicken pizza.

Actually, I’ve had some of this pizza, and I liked it immensely. I sampled many of the pizzas one night, but the one that stood out, the pizza de resistance, as it were, was the smoked salmon and caviar pie.

The crust was phenomenal: all those wood-fired oven places these days, whether they know it or not, are copying Puck’s crust and cooking method. The caviar was caviar, which is never a bad thing. And the smoked salmon was extraordinary.

But here’s the thing: It wasn’t pizza.

It was a big, flat, open-faced sandwich.

Pizza has tomato sauce. Pizza has cheese. Pizza has mushrooms or pepperoni or sausage. It does not have barbecued chicken with Thai duck sauce.

I realize I’m about 30 years too late with these thoughts, but I’ve been thinking them for 30 years. So I’m really au courant.

I happened to have had a pizza for lunch today. I got the mushroom. It was great. Among the pizzas I did not get were an American Gyro pizza, a pizza with roasted chicken and jalapenos on cilantro cream and one with vegetables and chimichurri.

Papa John’s is offering a pizza with beef, chili sauce, Roma tomatoes, onions, cheddar and mozzarella. It’s basically chili on a pizza crust, but then they sprinkle Fritos on top.

And this comes after the company ended its promotion for a Double Cheeseburger Pizza, which was topped with “cheeseburger sauce.”

According to “A Curious History of Food and Drink,” by Ian Crofton, pizza was being eaten in Naples in the 16th century.

It was sweet – it had a marzipan crust – and it was stuffed with crushed almonds, pine nuts, figs, dates, raisins and cookies.

It sounds marvelous. But I don’t care if they were eating it in Naples in 1570. It still ain’t pizza to me.

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