What started as an effort to help someone find relief from Parkinson's disease has become a specialty for San Antonio chef Edward Villarreal.
Since first cooking with cannabis five years ago to develop a pain remedy, Villarreal has expanded his experiments while also hosting an online video series called Homegrown Chef, where he cooks a signature dish with a guest culinarian and discusses their journey.
By day, he cooks high-end fare at The Palm downtown, but at night, he works on new ways to expand his culinary cannabis repertoire. We caught up with him for a few lessons that may resonate with those looking to sate their sativa craving.
Tell me about your journey as a chef. What inspired you to follow that path?
I started washing dishes in 1997 at Grey Moss Inn. From there, I was recruited for another dishwashing job at Oak Hills Country Club, where I was given an opportunity to cook. I can remember a huge party that we were hosting in one of the ballrooms. There was talking and drinking going on everywhere. But the moment the food was served the room went quiet — all that could be heard was the low mmms of the guests, and the clinking of the forks and knives. I found that amazing, how food could bring a bustling crowd to a hush. That's when I knew that I wanted to be a chef and do this for people with my own food.
When did you start infusing food with cannabis?
I started infusing foods about five years ago, when I got the idea I could help a friend deal with the pains of Parkinson's disease. The very first thing I infused for him was honey. My friend, who's in his 70s, was really pleased. He said it helped with the pain, that the honey helped him more than any medication he had ever been on. That comment let me know I was on to something. From there I started helping veterans with PTSD and other friends with ailments like arthritis, muscular dystrophy and insomnia. It's a whole new experience when someone says, "Your honey helps me feel like a person. Thank you so much for helping me live again." The fulfillment and reward are 10 times as grand — and on a whole different level.
Eventually, [local video producer] Kimberly Suta and I co-founded Homegrown Chef, an online video series that features chefs from all around San Antonio. After gaining more knowledge of infused foods, we came up with the idea to throw "underground" dinners with foods infused with cannabis. After the first dinner was a success, I knew this was a great idea. We traveled all the way to Colorado and filmed Cooked With Cannabis. After seeing the success that people were having in Colorado with cannabis, I knew I wanted to eventually be a part of this industry.
What are your top three rules in the kitchen when cooking with cannabis?
1) Low and slow all day. When cooking with cannabis everything must be temperature controlled.
2) Know your dosage! I can't stress this enough. People who claim to know — and don't — give people bad experiences. Too much of anything is a bad thing.
3) Know your strain, and really research what you are using. Is it an indica strain, sativa, hybrid, and if so, which is its dominant side?
What were challenges you faced when you first started cooking with cannabis?
I didn't know those three rules. I'd over-decarboxylate (the process that activates the psychoactive compounds in the cannabis plant), and I would waste product because I didn't know how to treat it properly. I'd just cook things too hard and make them ineffective. There were many learning curves, that's for sure.
Out of the infused dishes you've developed so far, what's been your favorite?
Gorgonzola cheesecake with pecans candied in canna sugar, topped with a canna butter sugar cookie crumble and drizzled with indica honey. The savory, sweet and citrus notes I was able to pull from the cannabis strain at the time went so wonderfully together.
How do you turn people on to your cannabis-infused food?
When people ask me about the infusions — and are curious first timers — I usually suggest infused honey. Everyone likes honey, and even more so when it takes away your pains and aches. People are always so gracious about the relaxing, anti-stress properties.
Chef Edward's Simple Infused Butter
1 pound butter | 7 grams cannabis
Preheat oven to 240 degrees. Break up cannabis, leaving in stems and making sure it's still chunky, not reduced to shake. Place a foil liner on a baking sheet, and spread cannabis chunks across the surface.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Pull from the oven and place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Add one pound of butter and dry-roasted cannabis from the freezer to a 32-ounce mason jar.
Boil about 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Once at a rolling boil, turn the heat down to a simmer. Place the jar, uncovered, in the pot and allow to simmer for about two hours
Strain out the cannabis and chill your butter in desired container. Chill completely and use as you would normal butter.
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