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Cauliflower power

January/February 2019 California Bountiful magazine

Vegetable helps health coach recapture the fun of family fun night


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Board games and cauliflower-crust pizza are weekly staples at the Lacey household in Chico. From left, James Jr., Caroline, Amy, James and Grant Lacey play a game of Catan during family fun night. Photo: © 2019 Frank Rebelo

Every Friday, when "family fun night" rolled around, Amy Lacey, her husband and their three children would gather in the kitchen, making pizza to enjoy over a game of Monopoly or Clue.

But as the rest of the family ate their slices and strategized about the games, Lacey found herself eating only the toppings of her pie, leaving the crust behind.

Because she had been diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, Lacey said she noticed her symptoms intensified after eating certain foods. Unwilling to forfeit a family tradition, she eventually realized pizza crust wasn't something to be avoided. In fact, finding an alternative became its own game of strategy.

Along with her school-aged daughter, Caroline, the Chico resident began experimenting in her home kitchen, testing recipes that could substitute for a flour-based pizza crust. She landed on cauliflower as the key ingredient, as the vegetable is high in vitamins and fiber and, once mashed, functions similarly to flour in a recipe.

"Cauliflower doesn't have a distinct flavor itself," Lacey said. "It truly takes over whatever flavor you are cooking with, which makes it great to work with."

It took a few tries—and a lot of messy dishes—but Lacey developed a recipe using fresh California-grown cauliflower that she said she loved and that others enjoyed, too. A health coach, she began hosting "healthy happy hours" featuring pizza made on her cauliflower-based crusts. They were a hit. Lacey moved to a commercial kitchen and began packaging and selling her crusts at her local farmers market, officially launching Cali'flour Foods in 2016.

It took only one season at the farmers market for the business to take off. Lacey expanded into e-commerce and grocery stores as Cali'flour Foods crusts found popularity with other people facing restrictive diets, such as those with diabetes, and those simply seeking to eat more vegetables.


Jim King serves about 100 cauliflower-crust pizzas a week at his Rolling Stone Pizza Co. in Yuba City. Photo: © 2019 Frank Rebelo

Pizza creations

Rolling Stone Pizza Co. owner Jim King was one of Lacey's first customers, buying Cali'flour Foods crusts to offer as an option for the wood-fired pizzas he creates. His business is located inside the Yuba City New Earth Market, a small, family-owned grocery store, which also carries the crusts for shoppers to buy and use at home.

King, who started his business in 2009 with a wood-fired oven he built in his own backyard, said he thought the crusts would appeal to health-conscious pizza lovers and found they paired well with his homemade sauces and fresh toppings.

Today, he makes about 100 cauliflower-crust pizzas a week, even naming one the Cali Girl, borrowing from the Cali'flour Foods name. The pizza features a bevy of vegetables, including bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes, and a sauce with a bit more kick than a traditional marinara. It is cooked on a Cali'flour Foods Original Italian crust over an open flame, lightly crisped for a slight crunch.

"The bottom line is, it has to taste great, and it does," King said. "I knew the crusts were a success when guys started ordering their pizzas with them—it wasn't just a fad then. People really enjoy them."

Lacey's cauliflower-based crusts offer the convenience of being ready to cook, providing an opportunity for at-home cooks to customize their pizzas and even spurring families to be imaginative with what they can create. Coming in three flavors (Original Italian, Sweet Red Pepper and Spicy Jalapeño), the crusts can be used for other dishes, too. The Cali'flour Foods website features recipes for lasagna, egg bites, pies and even cauliflower chips to serve alongside hummus.


Fresh cauliflower is the key ingredient in Amy Lacey's Cali'flour Foods product line. Photo: © 2019 Frank Rebelo

Cauliflower craze

The success Lacey has seen in her business coincides with a growing interest in cauliflower. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show consumption of fresh cauliflower nationwide rose 38 percent per person between 2016 and 2017, with Americans eating an average of 2.18 pounds in 2017, up from 1.57 pounds in 2016.

California is the largest producer of cauliflower, which comes from the same family as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and bok choy. Farmers here grow and harvest about 90 percent of the U.S. cauliflower crop.

In recent years, much of that cauliflower has been used to make value-added products, such as Lacey's pizza crusts. National pizza chains carry versions of cauliflower-based crusts now, and the freezer aisle in grocery stores also features new cauliflower-based items, including cauliflower crumbles that can be mashed and served with butter, salt and pepper, or riced cauliflower that can be used to make burrito bowls or even sushi.

The cauliflower craze has been on such an upward trajectory that Lacey, who once purchased her cauliflower from an area farmer, has had to expand her network to buy the vegetable from more California farmers, as well as those in other states, and has to hold the names of her farmers closely, so as not to lose them to competitors.

Having a ready supply of fresh California cauliflower is especially important as Lacey continues to offer even more cauliflower-based products, she said. Cali'flour Foods has a pasta line made from cauliflower and lentils, and Lacey said a sweeter crust, for desserts, is on the horizon. She also sells crusts made without eggs and dairy products.


Amy Lacey, second from left, cooks in her home kitchen with children Grant, Caroline and James Jr. Lacey founded one of the first companies to market a cauliflower-based pizza crust, contributing to the growing number of cauliflower-based products available. Photo: © 2019 Frank Rebelo

But more than an ambassador of her own brand, Lacey is a champion of cauliflower, so much so that she recently published a cookbook titled "Cali'Flour Kitchen," which provides 125 cauliflower-based recipes for people to make in their own kitchens. (See Book Reviews.) The book even includes the recipe for her own pizza crusts.

Lacey said she included the recipe because she wants to give families the option to buy her crusts or gather in the kitchen and make the crusts themselves, just as she once did alongside her own family.

For Lacey, restoring the excitement of cooking in one's own kitchen and helping people find new ways to enjoy the foods they love—as Lacey found with pizza—is the ultimate purpose behind Cali'flour Foods.

"This business didn't come out of an intention of making money," she said. "It came out of hoping that people could enjoy what I enjoyed eating and that they could enjoy family fun night again."

Toni Scott

Recipe

Smoky loaded pork bowl


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