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Chef Holden Jagger On Destigmatizing Marijuana And The Future Of Cannabis Cuisine

Holden Jagger - a California based chef/ganjier - is putting his own twist on cannabis cuisine by hosting dinners where gourmet dishes are paired with joints and each guest gets a complementary introduction to cannabis appreciation as a side dish. And along the way, he's combating anti-cannabis stigmas in the kitchen and across America.

To find out what it's like to be on the cutting edge of cannabis culinary, we reached out to Jagger to discuss attitudes toward marijuana in the hospitality industry and the future of cannabis cuisine - including his upcoming TV show Altered Plates.

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(This is the last instalment in a three-part series with Holden Jagger. To read the first two parts, click here and here.)

Is it tough to work with a taboo ingredient like cannabis in the kitchen?

There's always a taboo-ness associated with what chefs are interested in. Cannabis is a taboo object to work with in the kitchen, but so is foie gras. Foie gras has been banned in California, but I have served it to guests because they've brought it in.

I've also fermented foods in restaurants. The Health Department wants to tell you you can't ferment your own food or make your own alcohols. So you'd better have a good wine room to hide it in.

Is there a cannabis stigma in the culinary industry?

I've worked in kitchens before where alcohol use is celebrated and my inebriant of choice was not. And I had to find a group of people who also shared my choices and everything was fine after that. It's weird if you're working for someone who would judge you for cannabis, but they have a few whiskeys at the end of the night. There's something amiss there.

I would rather have a cannabis user as an employee than an alcohol user. The cannabis user is going to go home, get stoned and go to sleep early. He's going to be at work the next day with a whole bunch of ideas about what he wants to do. The alcohol user is going to come in sweating, maybe ten minutes late, and call out sick more often.

Alcohol, I think, is far more unhealthy longterm. But it's the inebriant that many to turn to, and it can be far more troublesome in your career.

Alcohol use is a big problem in the kitchen?

There is a lot of alcoholism in the hospitality industry. Not just chefs, not just bartenders. Anyone who has that hard life where your hours are long, you're up late, and you have to clean up after your job's done. 

So not a lot of chefs use cannabis to unwind and get inspiration like you do? 

No, I've worked for some very talented people, very well-known names who would definitely say that cannabis is an inspiration to menus that they have put up for years. But you have to feel out a new kitchen and see what's okay when you start at a new place.

Is there anything that bugs you about cannabis cuisine that you'd like to change?

No. I want everyone to meet as much success in the cannabis industry as they can. If someone is willing to stand up and fight stigma and represent what this plant is capable of - in all its forms, whether it pertains to hospitality, or medicine, or industry - I'm fully supportive. I have my own path and ideas. 

What do you think will be the future of cannabis in the hospitality industry?

I think that one day - just as craft beer is a thing - craft cannabis is gonna be a thing. And knowing who grew your cannabis, just like meeting your farmer at the farmer's market and buying your food directly from them, is going to be important.

As we move away from stigma, we'll also move away from heavy regulation because people will become more and more aware that cannabis is not dangerous - that it's safer than alcohol. We've just got to keep the conversation going in a positive direction just like we have with the slow food movement and the small farmers movement.

Who do you think will lead the way for the industry?

If anyone can do it properly, I do believe it's gonna be California. This is the state that put fine wine on menus across the country. And around the world. They sell California wines all over the world now. California's hospitality and agricultural industries are capable of doing amazing things with cannabis when we get the chance.

I'm a big proponent that we already have the Napa of cannabis here in California. We really need to develop it, nurture it and promote this cottage industry that we already have. By doing that, we'll also be supporting small farmers who use some of the best cultivation practices out there -- not just for cannabis but for all sorts of food that they grow. A lot of farmers I know in Northern California grow food and subsidize it with cannabis. 

And you'll be part of that with the new web series 'Altered Plates.' Can you tell us a bit about it?

The web series is not a cooking show, not a gardening show. It's more about what hospitality in cannabis truly looks like. And how the principles associated with the slow food movement and and small farmers movement will fit in with the cannabis conversation.

Right now 'Altered Plates' is still in development, but we'll let you know when it goes on air. 


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