You could say that Artie Reckert fell into his latest gig as the owner and chef of Gypsy Flame, a Paso Robles-based pop-up eatery known for its wood-grilled pizzas.
Several years ago, Reckert was living an enviable and adventurous life in Mammoth. The former U.S. Navy corpsman filmed skydiving jumps in the summertime and taught snowboarding during the winter.
A skydiving accident put an end to all that.
Reckert returned to the Central Coast, where he’d grown up, to recuperate with family. While reconnecting with an old friend, he recalled, “I started talking about food truck ideas and realized nobody does grilled pizzas.”
That conversation sparked Reckert into action, but he discovered the traditional food truck concept wasn’t going to work. For safety reasons, burning wood fires are illegal in California food trucks.
Undeterred, Reckert figured out a pop-up setup with a Santa Maria-style grill.
After sampling several pizzas in the area for due diligence, he developed some recipes and served his first Gypsy Flame pizzas at a Far Out Wineries weekend event at Tolo Cellars, in conjunction with Kiamie Wine Cellars. Both are located on Adelaida Road in Paso Robles.
That was three and a half years ago. Since then, Reckert has fired up his grill at a host of events including catered wedding rehearsals, wine club pick-up parties, the Morro Bay Oyster Festival (now the Central Coast Oyster Festival in Avila Beach) and the Atascadero Lakeside Wine Festival.
Gypsy Flame also has a fairly regular weekend schedule. Reckert stops at Chronic Cellars in Paso Robles on Friday afternoons, at Bristols Cider House in Atascadero on Saturday evenings and at BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Paso Robles from noon to close on Sundays. (Check Gypsy Flame’s social media pages for updates and/or schedule changes.)
Gypsy Flame has caught on enough that Reckert has left his day job as a phlebotomist at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton and is tossing and grilling pizzas full-time. He hopes to further expand the operation, in part by attending events outside of the area and putting more options on the regular menu.
Currently, the core Gypsy Flame lineup consists of five pizzas. There’s the Horowitz with tomato and basil, the Sergeant Major with roasted portabella mushrooms and spinach, the Vic with pepperoni and housemade sausage, the Bandito with linguica and jalapeños and the decadent Pizzanista with tomato sauce and mac and cheese.
All the sauces are made from scratch, as is the pizza dough. However, Gypsy Flame’s distinctive dough is made with a touch of nutritional yeast, which gives it a subtle, nutty unami flavor.
“Pizzas aren’t the only thing I do,” Reckert said. His versatile grilling and preparation setup allows him to make everything from salads to appetizers to sandwiches — and he’s happy to take special requests for events.
Though his Gypsy Flame is relatively new, Reckert isn’t a newcomer to the culinary world.
He began cooking at age 5, and — after a stint working at McDonald’s — landed his first restaurant kitchen job at the upscale Paso Robles restaurant Joshua’s, which has since closed.
From there, Reckert gained experience in a wide range of kitchens and cuisines.
“I’ve worked for Jewish chefs in Mammoth, Italian chefs in Los Angeles, Mexican and French chefs in Paso Robles, Islamic chefs in Manhattan Beach and Catholic chefs in Cardiff-by-the-Sea," Reckert said.
That free spirit of adventure is what led him to the name “Gypsy Flame.” Obviously, the word “flame” refers to the grilled pizzas, and Reckert has been a bit of a nomad in the past.
“My heritage is from Austria and Eastern Europe and we’ve got some Gypsy in there, so I guess it’s just in my blood,” he said.
Check Gypsy Flame’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pages/Gypsy-Flame/138505636278355, and Twitter feed, https://twitter.com/gypsyflamepizza, for scheduling and updates.
The cuisine: This mobile setup is known for from-scratch grilled pizzas. Other food options such as appetizers, salads and sandwiches are sometimes available as well, especially for special events or private catering.
Expect to spend: Pizzas $12-14.