BY MARIE LODI
Going to culinary school and becoming a chef was always what Jessica Catalano wanted to do, but her journey to achieve these goals wasn’t as straightforward. Initially, Catalano went to school for clinical psychology, as her parents thought that would be a more lucrative career choice than one focused on cooking. She realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do, so she headed to Colorado, enrolled in EMT school, completed her certification, and started working in a detox unit. The following semester, she finally began working on her dream by enrolling in a Culinary Arts program. As she says, “the rest is history.”
Catalano quickly became a pioneer in cannabis cuisine, experimenting with terpene and strain-specific cooking. She wanted to share recipes and tips with medical marijuana patients. So, 10 years ago, she launched a blog, Ganja Kitchen Revolution, which led to a book of the same name. Ahead, Catalano dishes on her unique approach to cannabis cooking, which includes a distinctive focus on incorporating the best types of strains, not simply cannabis itself, in the kitchen.
How did your passion for cannabis cooking begin?
My interest in cooking with cannabis started at an early age, when I saw my friend’s mother making pot brownies. It was the summer after seventh grade, and it sparked my interest immediately. I watched her make them, as my friend cracked jokes. Little did I know, that experience set me on the path to cannabis edibles. Everything happens for a reason, right?
You have a special approach to cannabis cooking. What’s your strain specific concept?
I pioneered strain specific cannabis cuisine for flavor, as the first chef in the world to publicly do so, by infusing terpenes into cooking and baking via strain-specific recipes to elevate the taste in the edibles I create. This means I use specific strains in certain recipes to enhance the flavor profiles of the dishes I construct. For example, Lemon Kush can be paired with Vietnamese spring rolls: the Lemon Kush imparts a lemony taste with floral and mint undertones which deepens the flavors in this dish, because of the similar taste profiles already present in the ingredients. This also helps [medical] patients understand the importance of flavor profiles in recipes for a more enjoyable experience and how each strain will affect their bodies.
What challenges did you face, if any, when starting to cook with cannabis?
I think a lot of cannabis chefs face many challenges when they start. It can be anything from family members, to their co-workers, to society. For me, the biggest hurdle I had to face was people who were so brainwashed into believing cannabis was an evil drug that was going to make you stupid and destroy your brain chemistry. It took an insane amount of energy and courage to face these people in an eloquent, gentle way that wouldn’t threaten their intelligence. I found that as long as you approached the situation in the right manner, by the end of the conversation or cannabis cooking class, I found I had a new friend that was willing to learn the truth.
What are some of your favorite career memories thus far?
I feel so grateful and blessed to have so many wonderful experiences in my career. One particularly magical one was working with Philip Wolf and Cultivating Spirits. We opened up for the 2015 Aspen XGames, and made history with the first cannabis pairing dinner. The next day, we cooked for Snoop Dogg. But the biggest joy has been helping all the medical cannabis patients over the span of my career—almost a decade of doing everything in my power to make sure people and animals were taken care of when they needed it the most.
How have edibles and cannabis cooking evolved within the industry since you started?
When I pioneered strain-specific cannabis cuisine, it was something people were interested in and excited about, because it was new. Now, every chef in the industry is doing this, which is amazing! It’s been so fun to watch this evolve and see how each chef puts their own spin on it. As far as edibles are concerned, I’m so happy that more companies are becoming so health conscious. You can find everything from vegan to gluten-free to non-GMO options and more.
What are your go-to cannabis recipes?
I like to cater to my audience, so my favorite recipes are tailored to the people I’m cooking for. For example, I love making a smoky BBQ pulled jackfruit sandwich for my fellow vegans, plant-based, or adventurous eaters. It comes on a gluten-free toasted roll, with an apple cider vinegar slaw, caramelized onions, a slice of melted Chao cheese, and vegan garlic aioli.
To learn more about Jessica Catalano and her Ganja Kitchen Revolution, visit jessicacatalano.com.