Ed LaDou, California Pizza Pioneer, Dies at 52

20080104-ladou.jpgEd LaDou—the pioneer of California-style pizza, the man behind Wolfgang Puck's Spago pizzas and the original California Pizza Kitchen menu, and the owner of Caioti Pizza Café in Studio City, California—died on December 27, 2007, of cancer in Santa Monica.

From the Los Angeles Times obituary:

In January 1982, Spago opened with LaDou as pizza chef, carrying out the visions of Puck. There was pizza topped with smoked salmon and pizza topped with duck sausage. Puck also allowed LaDou to select toppings. "It was like being an artist who'd worked with 10 colors all of his life and then got to use 300," LaDou once said.

Ed Levine here at Slice–Serious Eats HQ wrote about LaDou in his book Pizza: A Slice of Heaven:

The "chef-pizza" craze kicked into high gear in 1982, when Wolfgang Puck opened Spago. There, pizza chef Ed LaDou (now of Caioti Pizza Café) expanded the range of toppings to include barbecued chicken, merguez (lamb sausage), smoked salmon and crème fraîche, and Peking duck.

According to LaDou, "The pizzas at Spago were initially expected to be a complement, almost the equivalent of appetizers, to the entrées and pastas that would showcase the artistry of Puck and his executive chef Mark Peel." Instead they became the signature dish of the restaurant. As Puck wrote in his book Pizza, Pasta, and More, "When the restaurant [the original Spago] finally opened, we could barely keep up: Pizza was the most frequently ordered item on the menu."

LaDou eventually developed 250 different pizzas for Spago. Pizza became critically important to Puck for another reason: When the kitchen was backed up, he would send out a pizza gratis to tide his ravenous customers over.

Our condolences to LaDou's family, friends, and compatriots at Caioti.

Further edification: Pizza Therapy's Albert Grande on LaDou. There's also a Pizza Therapy interview with LaDou as part of the site's Legends of Pizza series, but you'll have to pay to download it.