CA: Chef Finds A Higher Calling With Cannabis


Flourish, Payton Curry’s edibles company, is only a few years old. But the restaurateur and cannabis chef says he has been cooking with marijuana almost as long as he has worked in professional kitchens: two decades.

The 39-year-old Curry points to his cargo pants, uneven where they brush his shoes, and says that he sold edibles out of these very pockets as a 19-year-old. A doppelganger for the 16th century German painter Albrecht Durer, he has blond hair that alternately ripples and gushes past his face and blue eyes that skewer his interlocutors on the point of their earnestness.

From the time Curry started working in kitchens at 14, the trajectory of his culinary career was directed toward the Michelin-star realms. The Minnesota native moved to Hyde Park, N.Y., to attend the Culinary Institute of America, but his most formative training took place in Northern California. He cooked under Todd Humphries at Martini House in St. Helena and interned at the French Laundry in Yountville. He moved to San Francisco to help Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani open Ame, then moved to Quince to cook under Michael Tusk.

Pot, not to mention other substances, coursed through the restaurant world with the fluidity of suburban teens through a shopping mall. It was never hard for the young cook to get his hands on pot, or even to connect with cannabis farmers.

Curry says that early on, he and his fellow cooks began soliciting the trim (the discarded leaves, not the potent and lucrative buds) from pot farmers. They’d use butane — crude, toxic, dangerous — to extract the oil to use and sell. “Once the farmers realized that we were taking their bones and making chicken stock, then selling soup, they’re making some money to pay the rent that they weren’t making before,” he says. “To be honest, whether I was at Martini House or Quince, the soup pays the rent.”

Like many aspiring chefs, though, the Bay Area was only Curry’s finishing school. In 2006, at the age of 28, he and his girlfriend (now wife) moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., to open high-end restaurants Digestif and Caffe Boa. The couple could finally afford a house, with a garden, and start planning a family. Making extracts and oils became more of a hobby.

Despite the four stars the Arizona Republic awarded him at Digestif, Curry now says he was depressed and “drinking my face off.” It took a DUI — the police measured his blood alcohol level at four times the legal limit — to rattle him away from booze and catalyze what he calls his “rebirth” through pot.

“There I was in Coconino County jail, in a pink jumpsuit with the DTs, detoxing off one of the most poisonous materials we’ll put in our body,” Curry says, referring to alcohol. For two days. “They wanted to fill me with Western medicine to get me to stop vomiting and convulsing. They wouldn’t let me leave until I blew a .00” on the Breathalyzer.

Even after he got home, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking and his stomach felt as if it were trapped in the cone of a volcano. Then he put a few drops of cannabis oil that he’d made for other patients into his cheek, and within a few hours, he says, he was able to keep food down. “I found a way to metabolize cannabis in a way that made it safe for me to be out in public,” he says.

It took two more years, he says, as well as a series of shaman-guided sessions with microdoses of psychedelics, for him to find his mindfulness again. With this new mindfulness was the realization that he needed to step away from fine dining. In 2012, Curry opened the Brat Haus, a German restaurant informed by his California training (butchery program, house-fermented kraut, slow-rise pretzels).

After Arizona legalized medical marijuana in 2010, his cannabis rebirth also drove him to apply the cannabis cooking skills he’d been mastering since his teenage years to treat others.

For the past three years, he has taught workshops and families to make salves, tinctures, infused nut butters and deep-green, nonpsychoactive cannabis juice. “I got them to see (cannabis) as a fruit-bearing vegetable, with flowers and seeds instead of a tomato or eggplant,” he says.

When he talks about Flourish, which secured its permits to produce edibles in Arizona in July 2016, Curry returns again and again, like a preacher or a politician, to phrases and images to emphasize his message. The message: Each of us needs to find our own dosage. The message: Pot is a plant as much as it is a medicine. The message: “Through socialization of cannabis we can all flourish,” he likes to say. His brand’s name is the message, distilled.

Four months ago, Flourish expanded to the Bay Area. A team of cooks now works out of the kitchen laboratories at BAS, Bao Le’s Berkeley lab. BAS uses CO2 extraction — a process common in all-purpose flavorings because it avoids chemical solvents — and cannabis grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to produce the cannabis extracts Curry incorporates into his edibles.

BAS smells as if it has been misted with citrus and fir essential oils. Inside the kitchen laboratory, where a worker measures out graham cracker-dough squares as if every millimeter counts, which it does, the aroma of browned butter joins the mix.

The herbaceous flavor in Flourish’s treats is evident but clean, bolstered by other real ingredients: good chocolate, butter, brown sugar. “Ninety percent of edibles are topically sprayed on,” Curry says. Many edibles companies, he argues, buy cheap commercial foods and then dose them with cannabis oil. “We incorporate everything through homogenous batters. All of the edibles are made from scratch.”

Yet the market still dictates the form his edibles take: populist and extremely potent. Jars of caramel that you can dip a spoon (a tiny spoon) into. Cherry pastilles. Brownies, cookies and s’mores. Most have names like Honey in the Dank and Grin Mints, an affinity for puns that seems to come effortlessly to the stoned.

Four months after arriving in Berkeley, Flourish has placed products in eight Bay Area dispensaries (full list at FlourishCannabis | Baking Things Happen), and Curry plans to host a series of cooking classes in San Francisco Aug. 15-17 (check the company’s website for details).

Curry is already looking toward expanding to more states, and introducing cannabis juice to a wider audience. Still, he says that Northern California values are at the heart of everything he does: finding the best plants to make the best concentrates he can cook with. “That’s what St. Helena taught me,” he says.

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Full Article: Chef finds a higher calling with cannabis – San Francisco Chronicle
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