At home in Beverly Hills, Sprinkles founders Candace and Charles Nelson host a pizza party for friends as a hint of what’s to come.
“Charles and I have these food passions, and cupcakes came first, obviously,” says Candace Nelson, who along with her husband, founded the Sprinkles Cupcakes empire (currently 21 locations and counting), sparking a national dessert craze along the way. Pizza was always high up on the list, too, but there was just one hitch: “I’m not a pizza chef,” says Candace, a trained pastry chef who launched the cupcake business from her kitchen. Yet it only took one bite of chef Daniele Uditi’s Neapolitan-style pizza to set the wheels in motion for the couple’s newest endeavor: Pizzana, an intimate, family-friendly pizza restaurant set to debut in Brentwood this fall, with Uditi helming the stoves. “We took American-style desserts and put really good ingredients in them, and that’s something nobody did,” says Charles. “[Now] we’re taking Neapolitan classics and changing them, and also creating new things.”
When it was time to test menu items, the couple enlisted the help of a few friends for an alfresco pizza party at their home in Beverly Hills, which they share with their two sons, Charlie, 9, and Harry, 5. Guests included designer Jenni Kayne and her husband, real-estate agent Richard Ehrlich; 3 Arts Entertainment co-founder Michael Rotenberg and his wife, Shannon, executive director of the Just Keep Livin Foundation; and Pizzana partners Chris and Caroline O’Donnell, who actually introduced the Nelsons and Uditi.
For six years, the O’Donnells have hosted Sunday-night dinners at home in the Palisades, with Uditi turning out his addictive, freshly made pies. “It got to the point where people would show up, even if they weren’t invited,” says Chris. “One night we made 97 pizzas. We even had to-go boxes.” It was at one of these gatherings that the Nelsons met the Naples-born pizza and bread artisan, and the idea for bringing pizza and wine to the Westside in a casual but refined setting was born.
In the shade of a small olive grove in the Nelsons’ immaculately manicured garden, Uditi laid out a colorful feast, including a kale chopped salad with Italian salami and a bright buratta caprese salad combining tomatoes fresh from the Santa Monica Farmers Market and buratta from Southern Italy (at Pizzana, Uditi plans on using locally sourced and imported ingredients, as well as house-made mozzarella). Next came the famous Neapolitan-style margherita pizzas, hot from the Nelsons’ wood-burning pizza oven and crafted with Uditi’s time-tested technique. “I studied a lot of flour,” says Uditi, who prefers an Italian grain that’s low in gluten and high in protein and nutrients, and ground by stone. “I start the dough 48 hours before I need to serve it. When you eat it, you feel really light and you feel like you never want to stop eating pizza.” Michael Rotenberg concurs: “The dough. It’s spectacular. I’ve been waiting for this restaurant to open. I want to be able to get [this pizza] whenever I want.” Much to the delight of gluten-free vegans Kayne and Ehrlich, there was also a delicious squash-blossom-laden pie to suit their dietary restrictions. “Gluten-free is usually sticky and chewy— this tastes like real pizza,” raves Kayne.
Since no meal at the Nelsons’ is complete without a sweet finish, the evening culminated with Candace’s take on balsamic strawberry Pavlova, and Sprinkles Cupcakes, which might make an appearance on the seasonal menu. “We have Daniele, we have pizza and we have wine. And sometimes we have a game on, and the kids in the pool,” says Candace. “This is exactly how we entertain.” 11712 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; pizzana.com.
Written and edited by LESLEY McKENZIE.
PHOTOS: Jessica Sample.