Photo Credit: Julie Soefer
Three years ago, when chef Ryan Pera turned 41, he made a decision to get healthy. He lost 50 pounds and made going to the gym and exercising a part of his daily routine. Now Pera, who owns Revival Market, Coltivare and Eight Row Flint with Morgan Weber, is melding that passion for fitness with efforts to raise money for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry, a program dedicated to helping end childhood hunger.
Pera and nine members of his team across the three restaurants will participate in Chef Cycle, a 100-mile bike ride on October 18 to benefit No Kid Hungry. Just last weekend the team did a 65-mile training ride to prepare. “I’ve never ridden that much in my life,” said Pera. He also was involved with Taste Of The Nation, a culinary event by Share Our Strength that raised $100,000 this month.
We talked to Pera about what motivated him to do the ride, how he got into fitness and his favorite places to eat in town.
What motivated you to get involved with Taste of the Nation and Chef Cycle?
I’d been participating in Taste of the Nation for a few years. Then they asked me to be one of the chef chairs of the Taste of the Nation committee, which I was happy to do, and part of that was going down to New Orleans to see kids in action. I will say that was pretty eye opening, being there in the classrooms feeding kids, lots of breakfast programs and afterschool programs, and it was definitely eye opening. We were talking about different strategies and goals they had for raising money and Chef Cycle stood out because I had been paying attention to my own personal health and fitness and that one matched some of my personal goals with their goals of raising money. So I thought it was a good combination of what I was trying to do personally and what they were trying to do. It made sense.
Tell me about your journey into fitness.
A few things happened at once. Number one was the planning of Coltivare. At that point Morgan [Weber] and I just had Revival Market. We were looking at the Coltivare space and deciding if we were going to move forward and my wife who’s a physician was, I guess to say it mildly, not happy with my physical well being. She really put it toward me that if we were to do another project, I would need to make some sort of commitment to get in shape because it is long and hard to open a restaurant and she was concerned about my health. At the same time, I had hurt my back butchering a whole pig at Revival Market. I strained my back doing my job and it really made me think, you know here I am trying to do my job and my physical abilities are not allowing me to do so, so I felt it was the right time to do something about it. I started going to the gym regularly and I would say almost got addicted. I would come into Revival at eight and then I would leave for the gym for an hour at around two o’clock and then I’d come back and work at Coltivare for the rest of the night. It gave me a nice way to put a break in my day between the two businesses and really put my mind at peace and think about things and come back with some energy. And I still do that to this day.
How do you balance a healthy lifestyle with working in the kitchen?
It’s hard. I won’t lie. I am a chef and I do believe I have to try everything, which I do do. It’s a matter of moderation and self-control on what we eat because everything is literally in front of us, whether it’s a delicious confection that our pastry chef made or whether it’s an incredible piece of meat that we’re grilling or trying. Sometimes we’ll try dishes over and over, on the R&D side we’ll make a pasta a dozen times in different iterations until we like what we put on the plate. So one bite is what I go for, or enough bites to be happy with having tasted a dish in full, and just trying to be moderate and not overindulging, I think that’s the key.
Your staff is doing Chef Cycle with you … how did you get them on board?
To be honest when I signed up I didn’t plan on creating a team. I was just going to do it myself and set an example. We started talking about it and they became interested so I posed the question to the whole staff to see if anyone wanted to do it and I think these were the people who were interested and it really went from there. I was pleasantly surprised with their desire to do it and I’m happy that they were as on board as I was. We’re all looking forward to the ride next month.
Your menu at Coltivare is inspired by what’s locally available from farmers and your own garden. What are some ingredients people can look forward to this fall?
Our number one seller, which we just put back on the menu, is our pickled butternut squash salad that just went back on last week for the fall season. It’s a unique take on the preparation of the butternut squash, which has that fall connotation. We take it raw, pickle it and make a salad and serve it with lacinato kale, which we grow in the garden at Coltivare, Texas gouda cheese, and some apples and Texas pecans that have been spiced with cayenne pepper. It’s definitely been a hit. We’re working on right now a pumpkin ravioli and we’re working on a great mushroom pizza -- I always feel that mushrooms are a great fall ingredient -- that’ll be coming on soon. We’re going to create a nice fall entree with some berkshire pork and some whole grains, which are in and taste great. I personally like farro right now because it’s an Italian ingredient because it works for Coltivare and at the same time it’s a nice whole grain. We just actually launched a new dessert with roasted apple and kind of a fall spiced panna cotta. It turned out really nice with pomegranate and pomegranate juice and fresh tarragon from the garden.
What are some of your favorite places to eat and drink in Houston?
Hugo’s has been my wife and I’s favorite place since we moved here 14 years ago. It was the first great restaurant we ate at in Houston. We love to go to the bar, we almost never get a table, we love to hang out and get some margaritas and bar snacks. That would be our first go-to place. There’s this little place called Nam Giao (6928 Wilcrest Drive). I love Vietnamese food, my wife and I went there on vacation this past January, and there’s a lot of amazing Vietnamese restaurants but that one really resonates with us because it’s really fresh. I just had some coffee at Morningstar the other day. They’re new and I think they’re doing a great job, they have some nice breakfast, it’s very neighborhoody so it’s a very relaxed atmosphere and the coffee is incredible. I’m a huge coffee drinker so I’m always looking for a great cup and they have some cool things on the menu as well.