Recently I had lunch at a new restaurant called California Pizza Kitchen. It's a high end kind of place where a pizza costs around 350 rupees plus loads of tax. The décor is faux something; I am not an authority on architecture or interior design but the place could have been described as ‘contemporary (word meaning a con that doesn't last too long), Italian’. For those who have seen the Godfather Trilogy at an impressionable age, the term contemporary Italian might inspire images of Italian men in sharp cut suits carrying AK 47s instead of Tommy guns. But hold your imagination - the term ‘contemporary something’ is used by the builder-architect-interior design industry to describe something that looks modern and very vaguely resembles something but you can’t say what.
But back to California Pizza Kitchen. The food, pizza and pasta in our case, was good. The two desserts we ordered, Red Velvet Cake and Tiramisu, were big, beautiful and finger-lickingly yummy. But what flummoxed me was the name of the place - I can’t get it out of my head and I keep wondering about it.
For those who know their geography, California is the place where a whole bunch of Indians work in the IT (not income tax), industry in Silicon Valley* and live in areas like San José (where the ‘j’ is pronounced as an ‘h’), and Bay Area. In fact, there was a time in my childhood when bright kids (described as kids who attended expensive tuition classes), would spell out their career ambition as, “I live in the Bombay Area but when I grow up I want to drop the Bom”. Only kids (and parents) in the know would ‘get’ what they were saying while the rest would wonder who they wanted to drop the ‘Bom’ on.
*Sorry, this being a responsible blog, we will not give in to the temptation cracking one-liners about Silicon Valley and Pamela Anderson.
For those who know their literature, California features in the novel, ‘Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck (not to be confused with the piano by the same name). But there are only a handful people who would make this connection. But there is a vineyard full of people who will connect grapes to California. “Napa Valley and California wines,” they will say as they enrol for golf lessons as the next step to the next level in the corporate world, “I have a white from my last wine tour, hic, that goes well with tandoori chicken”.
But California and pizza? That’s not a connection. (Well, neither is California and kitchen a logical connection, but if people are eating in that state one presumes they have kitchens too.) Of course, like closer home, where there is always talk about connections between Bollywood and the underworld, there might be a connection between Hollywood (located in California), and the Mafia which is run by Sicilians who are reluctant Italians and an inspiration for, among other things, the Godfather books, movies and TV series. But those who know their Godfather will vouch for the fact that the Corleones never ate pizza. Not on screen, not in the book. I mean what kind respect would you have for Brando if you saw him struggling to separate a slice of pizza while battling chewing gum-like strings of cheese?
So why would anyone name an eatery California Pizza Kitchen? Here’s an implausible theory or two.
Once upon a time, I used to live in a far-flung western suburb of Mumbai. (Yeah, I wasn’t bright and didn’t make it to the Anderson Valley, sorry, to Silicon Pamela, damn, I mean Silicon Valley). Parked on the corner of the highway and my poor lane used to be a Chinese Fast Food Cart. (Further down was a dance bar called 'Madonna'. But that's another story and this is a responsible kind of blog.) The Chinese Cart was intriguingly named ‘American Chinese Fast Food’. I used to find it funny. But not anymore. The owner was probably ahead of his time. Or, he had a bright son who had migrated to the Silicon part of America and had funded his father’s Chinese Food Enterprise. Or maybe he, the owner and not the son, made a fortune on his American Chinese Cart and has now launched the hip (not to be confused with the body part of the same spelling), and happening Grade I eatery called California Pizza Kitchen. Luck to him I say. But not without a little worry that soon it might turn into a trend and we will have restaurants with names like ‘London Dim Sums’ and ‘Paris Biryani House’ started by someone who made a fortune with a road-side enterprise called ‘Shanghai Wada Pav’.