bud, a culinary herb

For just a moment, forget every weed stereotype. Forget about the Scooby Gang and That 70’s Show and Cheech and Chong and gooey crispy treats and brownies and your first bong hit. Now think about when you first tried fresh basil. Or the way your clothes and hands smelled when you accidentally rubbed up against a rosemary bush as a small child.

Now what if you could try a pretty little French macaron delicately flavored with some dank-ass kush?

That’s the angle from which Stephany Gocobachi is coming at edibles. She’s the San Francisco chef asking a critical question: what if we actually treated marijuana like that other name we call it by: herb? Often edibles disguise the skunky flavor of low quality flower with sweet, heavy flavors that anticipate the munchies or belay the culinary tastes we had at the ages we first discovered weed. Instead, Gocobachi is exploring what it tastes like when cannabis is treated as a real ingredient with a flavor profile that can contribute to a dish as much as thyme, sage, or saffron.

Her company, Flour Child, started out making fancy preserves. “The Jam is one of the first products that really helped frame how I think about cannabis flavor pairings,” she explained. “Not everything tastes good together! For example, Peach or Apricot Jams are more delicate and floral flavors, which can be easily overwhelmed by assertively spicy or earthy tasting strains, like a rich OG Kush.”

Not only does she pay attention to the flavor profile, Gocobachi makes sure her products are as seasonal as any other artisan food from a farmers’ market. “The cannabis strains that we use also rotate depending on what’s in season,” she said, “so we really do have to pair strains with fruits throughout the year.”

That means getting incredibly granular and technical about the flavor profile of not only standard ingredients like fruits and berries, but also about the strains of weed she incorporates. Forget that fruity pebbles marshmallow treat you tried at Bonnaroo.

“This past year we made Strawberry Jam infused with Strawberry Banana flower rosin, made with fruit from Yerena Farms and cannabis from Bon Vivant Farm,” said Gocobachi. “My favorite is when the terpene profiles that we’re using echo each other. Strawberry Banana is very fruity, and sweetly floral, when grown right it really smells like a big bowl of ripe strawberries.”

It’s delightful to hear Gocobachi bliss out on the deep attenuation she has to flavor and flora. “If you really want to nerd out about it at my level,” she gushes, “I would make different batches with different varietals of strawberries, and notice subtle differences. We also made Blood Orange Jam infused with Sour Tangie rosin, which just amplified the citrus notes in the loveliest way. Sometimes it pairs so well that it’s hard to tell where the fruit ends and the cannabis begins!”

Gocobachi got her start cooking at home and took over the family’s Thanksgiving preparations at just eight years old. When she got older and discovered marijuana, it only made sense that she’d approach it with the culinary sensibilities she had developed since she was first old enough to chop and stir. It was, as she put it, a logical move.

That path should make sense to anyone who’s graduated from making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to wine-laced fare like bœuf bourguignon, veal piccata, or coq au vin. But, as Gocobachi points out, dishes cooked with wine rarely retain the alcohol, just the flavor profile. Edibles keep their kick. When you’re developing a cannabis cuisine, she notes, “the key is to understand how to distribute those effects evenly and intentionally.”

“Cooking with cannabis is a bit more like making a cocktail, or like baking- thinking about the science behind it is crucial, and dosage is of utmost importance,” Gocobachi says. “Also, understanding how cannabis is carried and why you can’t just sprinkle a little weed in and expect magic or consistency. Once you get comfortable with dosage and decarboxylation, the world is your [cannabis-infused] oyster.”

Before you have a chance to wonder, yes. Gocobachi has cannabis-infused oysters in her repertoire. A Frog Hollow Farm ‘Flavor King’ Pluot Mignonette spooned over Hog Island oysters, to be exact. And she’s sure to push the envelope even further, especially now that recreational marijuana is legal in California.

It’s going to be a tough row to hoe, however. Just because green has gone legal doesn’t mean that cutting edge businesses like Flour Child have a clear path forward. Legalization has had the simultaneous effect of increasing demand while stifling or complicating production. Many of the new regulations are looking forward towards a cash-rich future when cannabis is as big as craft beer.

Unfortunately, many of the businesses on the ground floor aren’t there yet. “Cannabis businesses are perceived as cash-rich behemoths, when in reality, most of the makers that have been supplying the medicinal cannabis market for years are tiny mom-and-pop type operations,” explained Gocobachi. “So very many companies have had to pause production or shut down operations while figuring out permits, waiting on permits, or looking for funding.”

Part of the issue is that, in the grand community spirit of the Haight and the Diggers and San Fran at its finest, a lot of those mom and pop cannabis businesses have relied on collaborative kitchens and shared workspaces. If regulations require them to separate operations, that increases overhead and creates another hurdle to leap in a crowded, expensive city.

Still, it’s promising that demand is there and word is getting out that legal weed in California can lead to exciting new avenues for consumption. “I do think that it’s already starting to happen, people discussing different strains and talking about terroir,” notes Gocobachi.

It’s only a matter of time until Californians come to treat weed like they do their prized wines and almonds and avocados– not as a novelty but as an integral part of California’s farm and food culture. “It only makes sense, especially in a place like California,” Gocobachi says. “There’s no reason why cannabis shouldn’t be viewed and treated just like food. It is our greatest agricultural product, after all.”

 

Meghan O’Dea is a writer and world traveler who grew up in the foothills of Appalachia and flew the coop for the Pacific Northwest. Find her on Instagram as live.true.stories or at her website, meghanodea.com.