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Caveman of the Day

San Diego-based Pete's Paleo lands national book deal

By Troy Johnson | Photo by Sarah Servold

Caveman of the Day

Orange-glazed pork loin

Cauliflower fried rice with blood orange-glazed pork loin

“I woke up at 4am in the morning and I had a 104 fever,” Pete Servold recalls. “It turns out you can’t eat chicken wings and bourbon everyday and be OK. The sack around my heart had swollen shut. I’m sitting in the hospital thinking, ‘I’m 26—how the hell is my heart already broken?’”

Servold can thank that broken heart for his success.

Faced with the grim news, the chef and his wife-to-be Sarah dove headfirst into CrossFit training. He started cooking dishes that fit the Paleo diet, aka the caveman diet, of eating fruits, veggies, lean meats, seafood, nuts, seeds and healthy fats (no dairy, grains, processed foods or sugars, legumes, starches or alcohol).

A year later during an echocardiogram, his doctors swore there was no way his heart was his own.

Too healthy, they said.

That life change would become a business two years later while Servold was working as a chef in a dead-end restaurant in Mira Mesa.

“A guy came in who looked like a CrossFitter,” he said. “We struck up a conversation and I offered to cook some Paleo meals for him.”

The CrossFit community went nuts for Pete’s Paleo, signing up for his premade meal plans. Six months later they had 75-80 clients. Now, they’ve got over 150. They just started shipping meals nationally, and signed a national book deal with Victory Belt Publishing (home to NY Times best-selling health and nutrition books). They’re also working on a retail line of sauces, dressings and bacon.

Wait, bacon? Doesn’t the curing process require sugar—the biggest Paleo no-no?

Explains Pete: “We smoke it and that’s it. Sugar doesn’t do anything in the process. We give it more curing time and less salt.”

“It’s highly addicting,” says Sarah.

His menu is made of the highest quality ingredients possible. Hormone-free, sustainable—all that jazz. His beef comes from a farm run by Menonites, who handle animals the old-fashioned way. On his menu are creations like bacon dashi greens with pickled romanesco and pork butt, a grass-fed brisket (raised on a diet of cloves), beet and sweet potato chips, Brazil nut granola, etc. But the star is his pork vindaloo—braised pork butt with sweet potato, garlic, ginger and curry.

“It’s the dish that made me fall in love with him,” says Sarah.

“Chefs do the same thing food companies do, we put sugar in everything from sauces to marinades and pickling,” Pete explains. “Sugar rounds out the mouth feel. It gives it a sexy shine. The trick was to get away from that and caramelizing it, slow-roasting it, to coax the flavor out of the foods.”

Pete and Sarah are also working with Native American tribes, where diabetes is a serious problem.

“Diabetes used to be 1 in 30,” says Pete. “Now if you’re born before 2050 you have a 1 in 2 chance of getting it. Since the Native Americans are less removed from the traditional diet, the processed food affects them more.”

“We want to be able to change people’s perceptions of food,” says Sarah, when I ask about the price point (around $130 a week for 10 meals and five snacks). “It costs a dollar or two more than eating at Chipotle. If you wanna look like a million bucks, you can’t eat off the dollar menu.”

The CrossFit crowd was a natural starting place (“they’re already drinking the Kool Aid,” says Sarah), but now Pete’s Paleo is forging relationships with doctor’s offices, nutritionists, chiropractors—”any kind of wellness-oriented facilities,” he says.

And do they ever cheat?

“Every once in a blue moon, I’ll eat a piece of pizza,” says Pete. “It’s delicious, but I know it’s not really food. Plus, when you eat so clean for so long, when you do cheat it’s not pleasant.”

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