Side effects: Pot coloring the kettle corn green in budding culinary industry
Oklahoma’s culinary community is embracing new opportunities in the state’s fledgling cannabis market with varying degrees of commitment.
As it became clear momentum was moving toward passage of medical marijuana regulations, chefs, gourmets and food professionals moved quickly into development in divergent directions. Some have committed their careers to cannabis while others see it as an opportunity to diversify their income.
Chef Tony Freitas created Green & Clean Gourmet Chefs shortly after moving back to Oklahoma last August. Freitas, the son of Church of Christ missionaries, grew up between here, California, Colorado and Brazil and graduated from Oklahoma Christian.
It was his grandmother living in Oklahoma who stoked his passion for cooking, but he embraced cannabis-infused cooking to create a healing protocol for chronic pain and eventually depression and anxiety.
“My patient story began when I was living in New York, training for a 473-mile bike race in Iowa,” he said. “I was hit by a car during a 50-mile training and ended up in the hospital.”
Pain medication was prescribed for his injured back, and for awhile Freitas used and toiled with opiods.
"A couple of years later, I not only didn't feel any better," Freitas said. "I felt worse."
Seeking an alternative, he moved to California to get his medical marijuana card. He credits cannabis for not only moving him away from opioids but changing his lifestyle and ultimately his career path.
“About seven years ago, I moved to California, got my card, got educated about cannabis, and went into business," Freitas said. "A couple of years ago, I moved to Texas because I thought it was the future of the industry, but when 788 passed, I was like ‘I’m going home!’”
Freitas believes we should look at cannabis less as medicine and more as a superfood.
"I think the main benefits of cannabis are as a preventative medicine," Freitas explained. "If we started treating it and consuming it as a superfood in small doses, it would benefit and promote a healthier lifestyle."
He puts his knowledge of cannabis together with his skills as a chef to offer consulting services for growers, processors and retailers. For the public, he offers dining experiences and infusion education services.
His goal for patients is to get them clean. That might sound counter-intuitive when pot is still considered a schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government, but Freitas said the chemicals we use to treat plants and feed animals for consumption don't come without a price we pay with our health.
"I believe the more chemicals you can eliminate from your diet the better," he said. "I believe pesticides and preservatives over time can have a cumulative effect on your general health."
Freitas hopes to eventually convince one of the state university’s to back his research for publication. In the meantime, he’s treating patients via the culinary arts.
“What I do are five-course infused meals,” Freitas said. “I try to emphasize the medicinal value isn’t just in the infusion but also in the chemical-free plants, and organically raised beef, chicken and pork I source.”
To learn more about Green and Clean, go to its Facebook page. Keyword: @GreenandCleanChefs
Chef Corey Harris chose a more conservative approach to entering the cannabis business. In a nondescript building guarded by a Cane Corso, not too far from his original Off the Hook Seafood & More location, Harris produces a line of medicinal snack foods under the banner Dope Foods.
Harris has plenty to keep himself busy between two Off the Hook locations, so he decided to create a line of foods to be sold through local dispensaries.
The burgeoning restaurateur is now a full-on culinary entrepreneur, but the inspiration to enter the industry was Harris' grandmother.
“I'm in this to make money, but I'm also in this to provide people alternative medication,” Harris said. "I'm one of those people for years who avoids pills as much as possible. I've seen so many people like my grandmother, who was 80 years old when she died two years ago, she would smoke weed whenever she could get it, but what killed her was not anything she was sick from, what killed her was she had liver failure from all the pills they had her on. She was taking like 20 or 30 pills."
Dope Foods aims to provide relief to those who need it through potato chips and kettle corn for now with plans to add beef jerky, juice, gourmet chocolates, peanut butter cups, and even ice cream in the future.
"My niche is gonna be 'munchie foods' but with lower doses of THC," he said. "I want to you to eat an entire of bag of potato chips and you're fine instead of you eat two potato chips and you're out."
Should the law eventually include recreational use, Harris has a plan for that, too.
"My overall goal, if we go recreational, is to open a mini grocery store where all the products are infused THC or CBD," he said. "So if you want to bake a cake, you come in and buy some infused flour or infused icing."
Until then, Dope Foods is being developed for wholesale trade. Harris estimates the products will be available in dispensaries come September. Which dispensaries is still a matter of negotiation.
Harris said the exercise has even stretched his culinary muscles.
"There's a lot of science involved," he said. "And a lot practice goes into it. A lot of trial and error."
He said the time he's taken to get Dope Foods right has proven wise based on response he's gotten from dispensaries.
"There are a lot of edibles available, but the vendors I've talked to said a lot of it is trash," Harris said. "Problem is you've got a lot of people that've never worked in a restaurant, never worked in any kind of food service, but they decide 'Hey, I can make cookies.' And they want to get in the industry but don't want to grow or open a dispensary, so they start baking. It's been kind of a wild, wild west."
Constant communication with health inspectors led Harris to slow his roll, which helped him avoid headaches since Oklahoma State Department of Health inspectors have begun visiting businesses that make or sell infused food and drink.
"Just right now, they're finally coming down on people making sure that every (edible producer) has a licensed kitchen, and if you don't have a licensed product they're pulling products from shelves."
State law now requires dispensaries and CBD shops that produce, handle or sell CBD- or marijuana-infused edibles to have a food safety license and follow state labeling and packing laws for edibles.