Culture

Meet Manuel Mendoza, Culinary Cannabis Chef & Winner of Kelis-Hosted Cook-Off Show

Photo by Issac Torres. Courtesy of Manuel Mendoza.

Cooked with Cannabis made it’s timely Netflix debut on April 20. The show, hosted by singer/songwriter and chef Kelis and veteran cannabis chef Leather Storrs, is presented as your typical competition cook-off with a weed-friendly twist. Essentially, it broadens the horizons of cooking with cannabis as the star ingredient. Needless to say, the show goes beyond your conventional home-baked treat.

The kitchen heats up as three culinary experts each face-off to create a three-course cannabis-infused menu for a chance to win bragging rights and a prize of $10,000.

Enter Manuel Mendoza, a culinary cannabis chef from Chicago who fired up some serious competition in the final episode with his marijuana-infused weed leaf-shaped chilaquiles and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) infused pupusas. The familiarity and zeal he brought to the table through his culturally inspired tasty Mexican & Salvadoran dishes were ultimately what won over the judges and the $10,000 prize during the comfort-food-themed, final episode.

Beyond the entertainment of seeing judges get high on fine delectables, Mendoza details the very personal meaning of what cooking with cannabis signifies for him and how he demonstrated that on the show.

“I grew up in Pilsen, a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in Chicago,” he tells Remezcla. “It was important to represent who I am, where I come from and what people eat where I’m from. Being half Mexican and half Salvadoran and having this platform, I made the deliberate choice to pair and infuse those dishes with cannabis so other people from Latin American countries can view their own foods in the same light.”

Mendoza is aware of the inequalities of food distribution in deprived communities like his, and knows not everyone has access to quality, affordable and healthy produce. He was inspired to use food and cannabis to bring attention to the complex nature of the impact of inequitable food distribution and stimulate a discussion on ways to address urban food deprivation as well as immigrant farmworkers’ labor rights.

Photo by Sergey Kolivayko. Courtesy of Manuel Mendoza.

“We often don’t know where a lot of our food comes from, where the supply chains distribute, and who’s being exploited by this,” he explains. “When we go to the grocery store, we don’t see the farmworkers behind our produce and realize the risks they take or face with deportation.”

A reality that has become even starker in the face of our current pandemic.

In 2017, Mendoza created his company, Herbal Notes, as a safe space for people to meet and “elevate the cannabis conversation around the dinner table worldwide.” His experiential events are designed with THC and cannabidiol (CBD) infused tasting menus that are often paired with marijuana cocktails and a DJ to provide the ambiance for his three-course culinary journey. Mendoza says this fosters the environment for dinner conversation to tackle both food and cannabis justice/equity.

As more states move to legalize marijuana, Mendoza wants people to be vigilant about continuing injustices.

“Who’s being benefited by this?” he asks. “And how do communities of color who were the most affected by incarceration and discrimination of previous laws in the war on drugs gain accessibility and a seat at the table of this new booming business?”

Putting his community at the forefront of his brand isn’t the only thing that’s garnered recognition for Herbal Notes. Mendoza’s careful attention to detail and execution ensures his food receives the same acclaim as any other well-regarded chef in Chicago. His hope is to elevate the idea of what it means to be a cannabis chef and eliminate the potential stigma around it.

Some people may be wary about the tricky business of consuming marijuana due to erratic experiences with homemade edibles. Medoza explains that this is usually caused by inconsistent dosing.

“Start off small,” he suggests. “One to five milligrams is a micro-dose that’s usually manageable for most people, ten milligrams is a standard low dose, once you go to 15-20 and up, per serving now you’re starting to get a more potent effect.”

Mendoza wants to use his newly-earned platform to further educate the public about the craft behind the culinary use of cannabis. He also plans to utilize his reward as a stepping stone to realize other aspirations.

“The surrealism of it all came rushing back once that episode aired. I did just get the prize money, which has been super helpful at a time like this amid the pandemic that has greatly impacted the food and restaurant industry,” Mendoza shares.“I hope to use it to help my community and for my business so that I’m not dependent on outside funding. I want to have my own dispensary so I can have a farm to table approach and not source products from other companies that don’t represent people like me or have the same mission behind what I do.”

Check out a special recipe from Mendoza, for those of us who are quarantined in weed-friendly states:

The full breakdown for each component of the meal is listed below. Here’s how to make Infused Chipotle Chicken Parmesan Torta for two:

Chicken Milanesa

Ingredients:

1 pounded and flattened chicken breast
1 1/4 C buttermilk
1 C self-rising Flour
2 beaten eggs, with 1/4 C buttermilk
2 C breadcrumbs
2 tsp roasted garlic powder
2 tsp smoked paprika
Salt & pepper
4 C frying oil
4 C brine liquid

1) Make brine at least several hours in advance. Bring to a boil: 4 C water, 1 C salt, 1 cup sugar, 1 T pickling spices, fresh basil & dill. Once at a boil, cool down brine immediately and completely. Add chicken to into brine once chilled and cool in the fridge for at least one hour until ready to use.

2) Once the chicken is brined, remove from liquid and pat dry with paper towels. Then marinate the chicken in buttermilk with spices & seasonings for 10 minutes.

3) Arrange your breading stations with three dishes containing one with flour, one with egg mixture, and one for breadcrumbs in that order from left to right. Transfer each chicken from buttermilk to flour to egg mix to bread crumb on both sides. Make sure chicken is completely coated and crusted with breading.

4) In a medium cast-iron pan, heat oil to med-high, and fry chicken 1 at a time until golden brown on both sides. Let chicken rest for a couple of minutes on paper towels.

Infused Chipotle Marinara

Ingredients:

1 can (28 oz) Tomatoes, canned/peeled (preferably San Marzano)
1 T Sugar
1 T Italian Herbs, dried
3-5 oz Chipotles, in adobo (depending on how spicy you like it)
2 oz white wine
2 tsp Infused Avocado Oil (1 Cup Oil + 2 grams dry herb)
Salt & pepper, to taste

1) To make infused oil, take your ground herbs and decarb or “activate” them by heating in an oven at 240 degrees F for 35 min. Once activated, steep in oil at 150 degrees F for 1 hour. Then, strain oil with cheesecloth or coffee filter.

2) Set the infused oil aside, and combine all other ingredients in a medium saucepot. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Once ingredients have become fragrant and combined, add infused oil, fresh basil, and stir pot while also crushing the tomatoes into a chunky sauce until everything is emulsified.

Homemade Telera Bread

Dough ingredients:

4 C AP Flour
1.5 C Water
2 tsp Instant Yeast
1 T Honey
2 tsp Salt

Glaze ingredients:

1 egg, beaten with 1 T water

1) In a large bowl or the pan of your bread machine set on the dough cycle, combine the yeast, water, honey, melted fat, salt and 4 cups of the flour. Mix until a soft dough forms.

2) Check the dough’s consistency; if the dough sticks to your finger when you touch it lightly, add 1/4 cup of the additional flour and mix for another minute. Check the dough again, adding the remaining 1/4 cup of flour only if you need it; the dough should be soft, but not sticky.

3) Knead for 6 to 8 minutes at medium speed in a stand mixer, or 10 minutes by hand, until it’s smooth and bouncy.

4) Cover the bowl and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled, or let the bread machine complete its cycle.

5) Once the dough has risen, deflate it and divide into 10 pieces, roll into balls, and cover the pieces.

6) Let them rest for 5 minutes before shaping the rolls into a football shape, tapering toward the edges; the rolls should be 5 1/2″ long and 2″ around at the center.

7) Place the rolls onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with greased plastic. Allow the rolls to rise while turning the oven on and preheating to 400°F

8) When the rolls are almost doubled in size, brush the tops and sides with egg wash. Using a greased knife, slash the rolls twice parallel to each other. Press down firmly with each slice.

9) Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing.

Herb Butter

1 bunch basil
2 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs thyme
4 garlic cloves, roasted whole
1 shallot, minced and caramelized
1 lb butter, softened 

Mix chopped herbs with softened butter to make compound butter.

Extras

4 slices of chihuahua cheese
1 C parmesan/romano cheese