Brandi Marter doesn't have much time for instruction manuals. Back in 2009, she decided it was time to leave her job in medical software. So she did what anyone would do: She responded to a Craigslist ad and took a job as a pastry chef in a nursing home.
"That's my approach," she confesses. "I dive in, and then I have no choice but to figure it out. I have to figure it out right then.
"Thank God for YouTube," she adds.
That might sound like an episode of I Love Lucy, but Marter made it work. Cakes turned into waffles, and before long, she was cooking Paleo food for some of the highest-performing athletes in the city. This Sunday, she will celebrate the grand opening of her new café on South Main, Bedrock Eats & Sweets.
So what's Paleo? It's a diet based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats — one that cuts out things like grains, dairy, sugar, and processed foods. The name comes from Paleolithic man, and the diet is supposedly based on what our prehistoric ancestors would have eaten. But Marter says she has her doubts.
"I get really tired of the caveman thing," she admits. "We don't eat like cavemen. That has almost nothing to do with it.
"The main thing is, it's gotta be fun," she continues. "These Paleo guys will tell you we eat to fuel our bodies. But if I couldn't have a brownie every now and then, I would quit."
You can taste the fun in dishes like the Peanut Butter and Banana Waffle ($8.50). Here, ingredients like organic almond flour, grass-fed butter, and coconut sugar take the place of traditional baking staples, and the results are off the hook.
Despite being gluten-free, the waffles are impossibly light and fluffy, with a nice, crunchy crust. The combination of peanut butter and maple syrup gets my vote every time. Best part? At 30 grams of protein, they're practically a meal in themselves.
"Three years ago," Marter recalls, "my skin was terrible, my hair was brittle, and I was about 20 pounds heavier. The worst thing was, my stomach hurt all the time."
"But then I went Paleo," she continues, "and then it was like, there's this level of energy that coffee can't even touch. You don't want to sit on the couch. You want to get up and do things."
Going gluten-free is like getting a tattoo — there's usually a story involved. That's certainly the case for Brandon Thomas. Today, at age 30, he's a slender guy with a contemplative aspect. But when he was 16, he weighed 300 pounds.
"You remember Kenan & Kel?" Thomas asks. "The quote 'Who loves orange soda?' Well, that was me. I loved orange soda."
Thomas says the turning point was coming home to take care of his parents, who suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure. Little by little, he taught himself to cook healthy. For the past year, he's been selling gluten-free desserts at places like Stone Soup Cafe and Miss Cordelia's. Now he's opened his own pop-up shop, Guilt Free Pastries, just across the street from Bedrock.
I recommend starting with the Caramel Avocado Brownie ($15 for four). Avocado, you ask? Why yes. As a stand-in for butter, it helps to keep the brownies light and cakey. The vegan chocolate chips are rich and dark, and the caramel sauce — made with organic medjool dates — is (quite literally) the icing on the cake. From there, you might graduate to the Vegan Snickerdoodle Cookie Bites ($12 for four).
"She's the most sinful," Thomas says, gazing wantonly at a caramel brownie. "She has 90 calories."
Ironically enough, Thomas draws inspiration from the very junk foods that used to give him so much trouble: Twinkies, cinnamon buns, MoonPies. (Actually, you wouldn't believe how many vegan and gluten-free chefs say this kind of thing.) But Thomas says his pastries aren't just a sweet treat: He's trying to help people reconnect with their bodies and live better lives.
"Most of what we eat now isn't food," he opines. "Half of those chemicals, you can find them in spritz bottles under your sink.
"The goal is to become human again," he continues. "I'm not trying to make millions. I'm trying to help millions."