The first-ever High Times Top Chef shares the ins and outs of cooking
(Photo Credit: Chloe Hom)
Meet Brandon Allen, the first-ever High Times Top Cannabis Chef, certified Interpener, cannabis educator, and guru of paleo and ketogenic cuisine. As a leader in the canna-culinary industry, Chef Brandon’s long list of accomplishments is impressive and well deserved.
After our first encounter with this prestigious chef, his passion for cannabis was contagious. We immediately admired his deep understanding of cooking with herbal products and rooted knowledge in industry research.
Chef Brandon’s passion for the gourmet world began in 2010 when his mother and step-father bought a small pizza and sandwich shop in State College, Pennsylvania. They offered him the role as the lead chef in which he’d create a vegan-only menu since not many restaurants were preparing food in this fashion at that time. Chef Brandon was also a dedicated vegan himself, so the position was an excellent fit. Excited and thrilled by the opportunity, he left his job as a sales representative and began focusing all of his efforts on crafting vegan culinary delights.
Chef Brandon didn’t stop there. After a year of working at the cafe, he became even more captivated by the culinary arts. During his free time, he would spend countless hours watching every cooking show imaginable and read every Anthony Bourdain book cover to cover. It was after reading Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” when his entire perspective of food changed. This book was inspiring for Chef Brandon and ultimately lead to his decision to end his strict vegan diet and to also pursue his overwhelming excitement to learn about world cuisines. He applied to a handful of culinary schools shortly after but decided to attend The Art Institute of Pittsburgh due to their scholarship opportunities.
Chef Brandon worked diligently while at culinary school and always looked for unique ways to improve his skill set. He even decided to create his own apprenticeship with a certified Master Chef on the Olympic Culinary Team, which provided him with a “Master’s Degree” worth of culinary knowledge while he completed his Associates of Culinary Arts Degree.
After completing the program, he desired to work for several restaurants throughout the country to continue to learn even more about international cuisines, but shortly afterward Chef Brandon suffered from a back injury that halted his plans. He found himself in a lot of pain and discomfort. After being prescribed pain pill after pain pill, he finally had enough and wanted to seek a more holistic approach to healing. The first step was to get his diet on track, so Chef Brandon adopted a ketogenic lifestyle that helped him lose a significant amount of weight. By changing his old bad habits and adopting healthier eating patterns, his back felt much better, but he still needed something to help with the severe flare-ups. Luckily, Chef Brandon and his girlfriend moved to Los Angeles and found a Medical Marijuana Doctor that prescribed cannabis for the pain.
Chef Brandon recalls, “Within a few days of medicating with a 1:1 edible, I found my back pain diminishing and my sleeping schedule much more stable. I was sleeping less but found myself better rested. I was really impressed with the immediate benefits of cannabis and decided I wanted to start making my own ketogenic infused recipes because the majority of edibles on the shelves are very unhealthy, even though they claim to be "medicine".”
And so, Chef Brandon Allen entered the cannabis industry but would not settle to make butter or oil infusions with just any old cannabis flower. He decided to travel to Denver to take the Trichome Institute’s Interpening course. Similar to a beginner wine sommelier program, Interpening is focused on teaching students how to identify flower quality and terpene aromatics. He quickly became an expert and learned to apply this specialty to his culinary creations. Due to his attention to detail, his unique Cannabis and Ketosis Theory, and educational Instagram videos, he was then invited to compete in the first High Times Cannabis Cup Chef Competition held in 2016 in which he won!
Chef Brandon notes, “After winning the competition, I dove headfirst into the factual and scientific research involving cannabis, the Endocannabinoid System, and metabolic health. I’ve formulated a theory that I feel could drastically change the overall state of health of the world.”
His theory states, “The ultimate state of the human body is to be in Nutritional Ketosis while supplementing the Endocannabinoid System with Phytocannabinoids from Cannabis.”
(Photo Credit: Canyon Country LA)
Below are a few other key insights Chef Brandon was able to share with us on the ins and outs of cooking with cannabis, and how to best work with this herbal plant.
What advice would you give a beginner cannabis chef?
Since I won the competition, I’ve had chefs from all over the country reach out to me asking for advice and tips on becoming a cannabis chef. I tell them all the same thing; you don’t need to learn how to cook with cannabis, you just need to learn how to cook and then add the cannabis at the end. Focus on a style of cuisine that you absolutely love and are passionate about, and become the expert in that cuisine infused with cannabis. Secondly, education is key. As a cannabis chef, it's our responsibility to understand the science of this plant. If a cannabis chef doesn't put forth the effort in understanding intoxicating ingredients, they don't have the right to serve intoxicating foods.
Can you share any recommendations for at home cannabis chefs?
Never cook with cannabinoids at high heat, know your dose, and never give anyone infused food unless you know the exact dosage. I’ve heard way too many people say they had a terrible edible experience and it’s because people are given a brownie that has 100+ milligrams in it, and it sends them to the moon with only a one-way ticket. As a chef, you need to know all the ingredients you’re cooking with, as a cannabis chef, it’s your responsibility to make sure you know your dose and understand the various cannabinoids you’re working with. Focus on the food first to ensure your final product tastes amazing, then add your cannabinoids. Also be sure to always have CBD on hand in the event you or a guest ends up getting too high. CBD modulates the intoxicating effects of THC, so if you or a guest becomes uncomfortable, give them double the amount of CBD than the THC they consumed and make sure they hydrate.
What are your favorite infused products to cook with?
My absolute favorite infused cannabis product to work with would be Pot d’Huile’s organically grown, extra virgin olive oil, which has 5 mg of THC per 5 ml / 1 tsp. The oil itself is beautiful and has a fantastic floral and mildly bitter flavor profile. Pot d’Huile uses whole plant extract to infuse their oil, so there are terpenes present that play a minor role in the oil’s aromatics, but the flavor of the oil itself is what I love. I also use a lot of CBD isolate since it’s water soluble above about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Isolate is great to add to beverages, so I always begin my cannabis dinners with a CBD infused water or mocktail. I’ll heat the isolate with a small amount of the beverage, then add to the chilled container once it’s properly dissolved. For the price and flexibility, CBD isolate is by far the easiest cannabinoid form to cook with.
Are there any specific strains you like to cook with?
When it comes to my cannabis consumption, the strain name is the least of my concerns. Instead, I focus on the quality of the flower. As a trained Interpener, I inspect every flower that I obtain by identifying the flower phenotype and terpenoid profile, which allows me to determine where the flower falls into the Indica / Sativa spectrum and the effects the flower will provide me. However, the physical and aromatic profile is only half the battle in determining flower quality. There are things like pesticides and microbials that I can’t necessarily sense on my own without the help of a lab report, which is the final factor in determining the quality of flower. If there’s no lab test, I won’t consume it.
The flower quality and infusion method are my priorities when I make my own edibles. I prefer to use less than a year old, organic, first cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil for my cannabis oil. California Olive Ranch, Bellucci, and Napa Valley are all fantastic options. The extraction processes these companies utilize maintain the quality of the olive oil. I use my sous vide machine and first decarboxylate at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, then add my oil, and infuse for another 2 hours at the same temperature. I've read so many conflicting temperatures for decarboxylating and infusing, so some people might not agree with my 200 degree temperature theory, but I can assure you the procedure is highly effective!
(Photo Credit: Canndescent)
Are there different cooking methods you use between CBD and THC meals?
Since I am a savory cannabis chef and generally stay clear of desserts and sweets, I never cook with cannabinoids at the beginning of the cooking process and never with high heat. I usually only finish sauces, dips, and dressing for example at the very end of the cooking process, or simply drizzle on top of a finished plate. Adding the infused product at the end helps maintain the integrity of the cannabinoids and also ensures accurate dosing. I would never infuse a giant crock of soup or a large bowl of slaw. Instead, I’ll portion out the proper serving for myself or my guests, and then add the infused oil as a garnish. However, if I wanted to infuse a salad dressing for example, I would take a small amount of the dressing, say ¼ cup, and would infuse that small amount with oil, CBD isolate, or THC distillate, etc. The next step would be to finish the dish with dressing that is dosed accurately, and then add more of the non-infused dressing if needed. The infusion process between a CBD only and a mixed cannabinoid meal doesn’t change that much, depending on the solubility of the cannabinoid extractions.
Can you recommend ways to best maintain terpenes while cooking?
Cooking with and digesting terpenes is a completely different world in comparison to inhaling terpenes. The most effective way to ensure the aromatic terpenoid profile is abundant when cooking, would be to simply microplane (grate) raw flower onto the top of a dish as a garnish. The aroma will be powerful but so will the flavor, which can turn off a lot of people. I love the flavor of cannabis leaves, but the profile of the flower itself (the trichomes or keif to be specific) can be incredibly harsh, bitter, and can also stick to your teeth, dominating the palate. Instead, I love using isolated terpenes to enhance the aromatics of a dish. It’s amazing how a drop of limonene on top a grilled piece of salmon can completely change the flavor since about 80% of our taste stems from our sense of smell. I think our Olfactory Epithelium is about as intriguing as our Endocannabinoid System!
What infused dish did you make when you won the High Times Top Cannabis Chef Competition?
Round 1: Jamaican
When Jamaican was announced, the first thing I thought of was “I’ve never cooked Jamaican in my life” and the second thing I thought was “good thing I brought a Jamaican spice rub I made as one of my secret ingredients”. Utilizing the pantry ingredients, I prepared the following: Pan Seared Ribeye, sautéed vegetables with a Jamaican Jerk Coconut milk, sweet potato hash, apple and bell pepper slaw, infused cilantro and parsley herb oil, fried cannabis leaf (another secret ingredient I brought).
Round 2: Italian
When Italian was called, I immediately grabbed the butternut squash from the pantry and thought about doing a traditional Italian Butternut Squash soup, as an action dish. I garnished the large soup bowl with crispy bacon and hot Italian sausage, caramelized vegetables, apple slaw, fried cannabis leaf, parmesan cheese, and infused herb oil. I then prepared a creamy butternut squash puree, garnished with cannabis leaf chiffonade and the same herb oil, served in a smaller bowl to then be poured over the large bowl with the proteins. As you will notice, I made the apple slaw again with the fried cannabis leaf, and did it again for the final round too. Apple was the only sweet produce/fruit item aside from berries, so it balanced out the flavor profiles of all my dishes. The fried cannabis leaf was also such a hit because each round had different judges - I worked what was working!
Round 3: French
I went to bed the night before the finals thinking, “What am I going to make if they call French?” I called one of my best friends from culinary school, who is one of the most talented chefs that I know and asked for his advice. Chef Andrew Robinson told me, “Make steak au Poivre since you already know there’s ribeye in the pantry, and blow them away with your own twist of a classic dish.” I can’t thank him enough for his suggestion! For the final round, I made pan seared Ribeye au Poivre, smashed fingerling potatoes cooked with cannabis leaves and then seared with cannabis butter, caramelized peppers and onions, apple and red bell pepper slaw, infused herb oil, fried cannabis leaf, and peppercorn cream sauce mounted with cannabis butter. And I won!
What are two foods you cannot live without?
Well aside from cannabis – which I think is a given! Grass Fed Butter. I love butter! There’s so much you can do with butter! Not only do I love butter as a chef but I love butter as someone who lives a ketogenic lifestyle. I start my day with a huge coffee that has a lot of butter in it. Below is my recipe:
My second favorite is wild-caught sardines. I know, most of you already gagged before you even processed the word sardine, but it’s one of the most sustainable and healthy proteins on the planet. Believe it or not, sardines enhance your Endocannabinoid receptors by providing them with the very fat that makes up a majority of the cell membrane and a significant percentage of your brain mass beyond water. In addition, sardines can improve your metabolism, enhance your immune system, and ultimately benefit your Endocannabinoid system, providing you with enhanced effects from cannabinoids due to the high amounts of DHA Omega 3, clean sustainable protein, CoQ10, the best source of calcium ever, and many beneficial minerals that are present in those deliciously stinky little fish!
(Photo Credit: Chef Brandon Allen)
A special thank you to Chef Brandon Allen for his dedication to the cannabis industry and for sharing some key insights on cooking with cannabis.
To find out more about Chef Brandon Allen or to attend one of his culinary events, please his Instagram @chefbrandonallen and www.patreon.com/chefbrandonallen to subscribe to his Patreon Channel as he develops a book on his Cannabis & Ketosis Lifestyle.
Peace, Love & Cannabis,
The Herb Somm