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California Pizza Kitchen explains the creation of the chain’s first burger

California Pizza Kitchen likes to focus on what it does best, according to Paul Pszybylski, senior director of culinary development.

So CPK took a long time to add a burger to its menu.

That event happened on Oct. 4 with the debut of the West Coast Burger. It has now been on the menu for less than a month in the Playa Vista-based chain’s roughly 37-year history.

“I’ve been with the company 13 years. I think we’ve been talking hamburger for at least 10 years of that,” said Pszybylski. “Originally, it was kind of a joke, but it got to the point where we felt we were in a good position to execute.”

He was speaking on a joint phone interview with Scott Hargrove, chief marketing officer, who said that getting past the novel coronavirus pandemic gave CPK a window of opportunity to innovate.

The chain got its start in Beverly Hills in 1985 and became known for its barbecued chicken pizza. That item remains the best seller, although the chain has also had success with its salads, two-in-a-bowl soups and small plates.

“We’re always going to be focused first on pizza, and I don’t want that to get lost,” said Hargrove. “The burger was just a big, clear opportunity to bring a little more CPK magic to the traditional categories.”

“Being a bunch of chefs that primarily work on pizzas, we wanted to make sure that our hamburger stood out,” said Pszybylski.

The challenge began with the meat, which is a blend of wagyu beef, chuck and brisket with a large grind.

The chain bought flattop griddles for its kitchens to cook the patty at a high temperature and get what Pszybylski called an excellent sear.

The patty is topped with American cheese, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, tomato, pickles, lettuce and a housemade sauce. The cost is $17.99.

Instead of fries, it’s served with fingerling potatoes that are cut in half and oven roasted, then smashed to a quarter inch and quickly fried.

“It sounds pretty simple, but the process is elaborate,” Pszybylski said.

With the burger launched, his team is moving on to other projects.

“We’re constantly innovating. We can’t help ourselves,” he said. “If there’s something out there we want to eat, we want to incorporate it into our menu.”


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