Utah

How an LA comic became a Utah baker and got “a second chance at everything.”

If you’ve eaten brown butter chocolate chip cookies at Central Ninth Market or an espresso chocolate chip cookie at Coffee Noir, you’ve tasted Pete Souvall’s magical touch with all things sweet.

Although he has worked as a line cook, prep chef and barista, Souvall did not plan a career in the food industry. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he worked full-time as a standup comedian in Los Angeles, where he moved in 2017.

“I started at Open Mics and then went up the ladder there,” he said, adding that he eventually got regular bookings at venues like The Comedy Palace, The Ice House, The Comedy Store and Hollywood Improv.

As clubs closed during the pandemic and it became impossible to find concerts, Souvall moved back to Salt Lake City. And while the rest of America was making sourdough, Souvall started making bagels and worked to perfect them throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Eventually, he lost interest in bagels and switched to desserts, particularly cookies. He drops a load off at Coffee Noir (1035 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City) every Friday and delivers an array of different candies to Central Ninth Market (161 W. 900 South, Salt Lake City) every weekend.

“I fell in love with Central Ninth. I started talking to them directly, became friends with them and wanted to do something for them as people and offered to bake them cookies just for fun,” Souvall said. “When I brought them, they said, ‘Do you want to sell them?’ Absolutely!”

On Friday, Saturday and Monday he’ll be bringing his standard espresso chocolate chip along with a new recipe that challenges him like London Fog (an Earl Gray cookie with lavender frosting), mini cheesecakes or Swedish cinnamon rolls. On Sundays he brings cookies and cake.

Souvall has known Noir’s owner Alek Juliano since third grade – and said he stopped by on a whim.

“He DMed me on Instagram and said, ‘Hey, do you want to bake us cookies?’ I said, ‘Yeah, totally!'” Souvall said. “They make a little event out of it where I bring cookies every Friday. It sounds like their customers have started to know, and every now and then I get people who will DM me and say, “Oh, you make the best cookies” or “I get cookies every Friday”. It was kinda cool.”

Souvall said he got bored easily; Rotating recipes every week, he said, “is a job nobody asked me to do.” People love his simple brown butter chocolate chips, and he could get away with just delivering them. “I have to make something different for each cookie every week,” he said. “I’m just trying to think about what’s going to challenge me the most.”

Souvall also writes about food for the GastronomicSLC blog and on his own website, peteingdisorder.com. There he updates a monthly megalist called Salt Lake’s Quintessential Food Experiences, in which he writes about significant food experiences he’s had in the Salt Lake Valley, both high-end and earthy.

He’s written about Arlo, which brought Bay Area culinary sophistication to Capitol Hill, and The Other Place, an old-school Greek-American diner that Souvall points out is probably the only place in town where you can order scrambled eggs and scrambled spaghetti at the same time.

The dangers of self-irony

He said he’s heard from people about his blog’s name, including some who pressured him to change his name because they assumed he was making fun of eating disorders. A closer read reveals the opposite, as Souvall writes openly about how he’s struggled with yo-yo dieting, bulimia, body dysmorphia, and orthorexia (an obsession with eating healthy until it gets out of hand) since childhood.

“Nobody who’s been through dark times doesn’t have a sense of humor,” he said. “People who have had an eating disorder in their past will either look past me [website] name or they will think it’s funny. …

“I’ve been through drug treatment, alcohol treatment, I’ve been on detox, I’ve been in the hospital for an eating disorder. Laughter is the only thing that can really get you through. All the people you meet [there] are some of the funniest people in the world because they know how to laugh at the dark.”

For Souvall, he said, cooking was a way to allow himself certain foods that he was afraid to eat when he was deep in the clutches of his eating disorder. (He said he considers himself still in recovery.) He said part of his process is breaking binary thinking about food and exercise. It’s not either/or, he said; You can be a fit person who goes to the gym and eats cookies.

“I didn’t grow up playing sports,” Souvall said. “I was taller. I’ve often been laughed at for it. Even kind of ostracized in my own family. My whole family is very fit and athletic. We live in this culture where there’s this dominant narrative that if you’re skinny and look like that, you’re more virtuous. And I can say that first hand. I was treated horribly. I remember every case and now it’s ingrained in me as a person.”

At his lowest point — around the time he left LA — Souvall cleaned everything he ate. He said that’s another reason he needs to get out of stand-up.

“I’ve never met anyone in comedy who’s just happy and fulfilled,” he said. “It’s not a conducive lifestyle to being a happy person because you’re rewarded for telling jokes at your own expense.”

He said his self-deprecating personality became his identity and set him “down a very dark path.” Leaving comedy was a necessity, even if he felt it was calling.

“Humor was the way I dealt with the bullying,” he said. “And how I dealt with problems with my family. I always broke the silence with laughter. That’s how I was able to defuse situations. So I was like, ‘Okay, I think I can be good at that.’”

He said comedy wasn’t just a downward spiral — it made him a lot more resilient.

“It makes me feel more self-actualized and comfortable with myself,” he said. “Going on stage and most of the time not being laughed at, what’s better than being comfortable with yourself and learning not to really care about what other people think?”

Embracing the love of food

When he got home from LA, Souvall said his recovery was at zero. He began working at a therapist with the support of his wife and mother. And he began to overcome his food phobias – in the kitchen.

“I remember starting to cook, and then I was able to taste what I had cooked,” he said. “There was a process to cooking this thing, but if I wanted this thing, I had to make it. I would do it this whole event. Then you can taste the product and it is so satisfying. I wanted to eat scotch eggs, so I made scotch eggs. I wanted to eat croissants, so I made croissants. Just the appreciation of the entire process, from start to finish, makes you realize that there is so much beauty in food in general.… and so much care that it bypassed ‘oh I’m scared of that’. It was, ‘I did that. So why shouldn’t I eat it?’”

The most important thing for him, Souvall said, was to embrace and not be ashamed of his love of food, and especially food that is taboo because it is rich or perceived as unhealthy. He said he still feels extremely anxious when eating burgers and fries, pancakes and pasta. He said he’s only recently been able to eat a pastry or piece of cake and doesn’t let the resulting anxiety ruin his entire day.

“My love of food and my exposure to how I approach the world through food has only been so deep because now I can see my embrace is like I’m getting a second chance at everything,” Souvall said. “I haven’t been able to enjoy these things before, and now I can see and experience these things through a brand new lens. … You can have everything.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

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