The year’s biggest celebration of cannabis culminates on April 20 – and it marks “a crazy time” for chefs like Ron Young.
“Everybody wants something,” says Young, who works as a private cannabis chef under the moniker Kush Kitchen and runs a cannabis-free meal prep and catering business, Food Vision. “I’m only one person, so I try to be selective.”
‘How High Do You Want to Be?’It’s a question that guides Young as he meets with clients seeking private cannabis meals. He offers a range of levels and infuses the meal based on customer preferences. Cannabis products are not sold at these private events, and the cannabis is provided or donated, in keeping with Arizona law.
Young says he walks guests through what to expect and also makes sure they have a safe ride home.
“I tell people it’s a journey; it’s not something that happens right away,” he says, adding there are three phases: “the talkative phase, the goofy phase, and the ‘I need to be alone phase.’”
Young was always interested in food and cannabis but wanted to create more of a fine-dining experience – something that’s becoming a trend after Arizona legalized recreational marijuana.
For fellow cannabis chef Patrick Rusche, who has been on the forefront of that trend, says he sees a mix of private parties and large cannabis industry events. Some of his clients “like to have a more elegant experience," he says, "without feeling like they’re in a Cheech and Chong movie."
For Young, it was important to integrate cannabis without overpowering his food with the strong flavor of weed. He found that with a cannabis distillate from Goldsmith Extracts, which he’s used to infuse savory and sweet dishes from eggplant and tomato lasagna to honey-glazed croissants.
“People are usually shocked that the food doesn’t taste like weed,” he says. “I love the energy that (cannabis) brings to the table.”
Despite cooking being a second act – Young played football professionally in the U.S. and Canada – working in a kitchen, and with cannabis, isn't new to Young. His mom pressed flower in her kitchen to make her own rosin, or extract, and cooked with it.
“Cannabis is big in my family," Young says. He brings the focus he had as an athlete to his work in the kitchen.“I study and I practice every day."
Healing With Food– something he knows about first-hand.
After being diagnosed with a rare disorder and nearly overdosing on a prescribed medication, Rusche moved to Arizona, got his medical marijuana card, and began a journey to focus on his own health. He's combined that experience with his knowledge of cooking. His mom was a chef, and he grew up in kitchens. He’s taken what he's learned managing his health and is working to share that with others through cooking with cannabis.
“I exist as a formulary to figure [out] what works best for their system,” Rusche says, noting that he’s studied nutrition, as well as extraction processes to better understand how food and cannabis interact – and how they can best serve his clients who do not want to smoke.
“Utilizing their own medicine that they enjoy is part of the healing process,” he says, of integrating a client's medical cannabis into "a healthy, balanced meal.”
But not all cannabis is health-related; some is just for pure fun. Rusche makes, essentially, fancy Twix bars infused with CBD and THC by layering a shortbread cookie with toasted caramel toffee, almond Nutella, and dark cacao, then cover it all in milk chocolate.
Mamajuana's Eats ‘N Treats owners Stephanie Sabori and Andrea Flores started their business offering cannabis-free catering, custom cakes, and treats like chocolate-dipped strawberries and chamoy candies.
Though they were personally engaged in the Valley’s cannabis community, they initially weren’t offering infused foods until their customers asked for them.
“It just kind of fell in our lap, working with cannabis,” Sabori says.
When they entered the Mint Cafe Culinary Cup, a cannabis recipe competition hosted by Mint Cannabis' "canna-kitchen," they placed in the top 10. With that boost, the duo realized they might be onto something.
For 4/20, they're getting requests for party-sized dessert trays and cake pops. While helping people celebrate is rewarding, they're also motivated by the relief their infused items can provide.
“Being able to help someone with their pain management or their depression or whatever it is they’re going through, that’s what does it for us,” Sabori says.
A Future for Cannabis Cafes?While public consumption of marijuana remains illegal, cannabis lounges are popping up. And, there is interest among chefs for a future with public culinary cannabis spaces.
Young says he would love to open a cannabis cafe modeled after those he experienced in Vancouver. Rusche says he’s exploring hosting a pop-up. Sabori and Flores say they’d love to be able to share their treats with more people.
“Cannabis has helped us a lot with our business. Hopefully, we’ll just continue to grow,” Sabori says. “One day I’d like to have our own bakery where we can do both.”