A large stainless steel table stands in the middle of a brightly lit room with dry ingredients on metal shelving along one wall. Three people in black chef coats work attentively, shuttling sheet trays in and out of double-decker commercial ovens and dicing ingredients on plastic cutting boards. One stands, head down, in front of a refrigerated sandwich prep table, assembling a plate of food using ingredients stored neatly in clear plastic containers.
In most ways, this is just like any other commercial restaurant kitchen.
Except for one thing: These chefs are cooking with cannabis.
They make food with commonplace ingredients like canned tomato sauce and shredded cheese. But here, chefs also use oils and butters infused with THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. In other words, it’s the compound that causes the high associated with marijuana. CBD, on the other hand, does not.
’All you taste is the flavors of the food'
The kitchen, which opened in fall 2018, is located inside Mint Dispensary in Guadalupe, near Tempe. With approximately 12,000 square feet of space, it’s one of the largest dispensaries in the country. In addition to selling cannabis products including marijuana flower and concentrate, customers can purchase medicated food from the Mint Dispensary kitchen.
The company says the kitchen menu provides a healthier option for patients who may not be able to smoke and don’t want to eat traditional edibles, which typically take the form of candy or baked goods and contain high levels of sugar.
Christopher Valle is one of three chefs at the cannabis kitchen.
„I come from a medical background and I always wanted to help people,” he says. „I feel like this is even better for them than pharmaceuticals.”
„All you taste is the flavors of the food you’re eating.”
The first cannabis kitchen in Arizona
The kitchen, which is located inside the dispensary, functions like a takeout restaurant. It’s the first of its kind in Arizona and one of the first to open in the country.
While other commercial kitchens are licensed to infuse foods with THC to make packaged edibles, Mint Dispensary’s kitchen is the only one in the state that’s able to infuse ready-to-eat food like a restaurant. Of the nearly 122,000 pounds of total marijuana products sold at Arizona dispensaries in 2018, almost 5,000 pounds were marijuana edibles, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Customers must hold a medicinal cannabis card to enter and to purchase any food, which is not intended to be eaten on site.
Raul Molina, Mint Dispensary owner, says the kitchen is just one way the company hopes to bring cannabis into more people’s lives.
„I really don’t like to bring cheerleaders in,” he says. „And by that I mean people who already love marijuana. I like to bring in the mother who maybe lost her son to heroin and thinks it’s because he started with marijuana.”
To that end, the dispensary also has a small space dedicated to educational opportunities around medical marijuana. There’s even a „show-grow” room where customers can see plants being grown through a window in the dispensary showroom.
When the plants currently living under special grow-lights in the temperature-controlled room begin producing flowers, Mint Dispensary will be one of the first dispensaries to sell product that was grown on site.
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What’s on the menu?
Krystian Johnson, another one of Mint’s chefs, brings previous restaurant experience to the role.
„I love to cook with infused food and the best place to do it legally is here,” she says as she mixes a bowl full of Mexican-inspired street corn with a spatula.
Mint’s kitchen customers can order from a small menu that includes hot options such as a burger, cheese fries, hot wings, pizza and hatch chile-spiked macaroni and cheese. All the menu items are vegetarian. (The burger and hot wings are made with plant-based products.)
Customers can then choose to have their food made with anywhere from 25 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams of THC. Pricing varies according to the amount of THC added to the dish; a pizza dosed with 25 milligrams of THC, for example, costs $12.50, while the same pizza dosed with 1,000 milligrams of THC costs $75.
Baked goods also are available including desserts like cupcakes, cookies, brownies, muffins and a housemade Pop-Tart.
For special events, the chefs always create special menus. For Cinco de Mayo, for example, the menu included street corn and tacos.
Currently sales from the kitchen make up about 10% of the total sales at the dispensary. But Molina says he expects this part of the business to „grow by leaps and bounds.” And there’s been positive feedback from customers.
„Everything 'out there' and crazy is what sells the most,” Molina says. „For the Super Bowl we couldn’t keep up with orders for pizza and wings.”
An alternative for non-smoking patients
For customers, the kitchen menu offers a new vehicle for consuming cannabis. And food made fresh to order, Molina says, removes many of the side effects that can prevent people from experiencing the benefits the drug can bring.
„There’s plenty of people what would prefer to have it this way because they can’t smoke,” Molina says.
In addition to those who can’t or choose not to smoke, the kitchen menu features food that’s made to order unlike edibles, which are made to be shelf-stable and often contain preservatives. In comparison, the pastries baked by the Mint kitchen chefs have to be incinerated if they’re not sold within five days of being baked.
Other customers are drawn to the kitchen menu because they’re looking for edibles that aren’t sugary foods or dessert. For these customers, the menu’s savory options including chicken wraps and cannabis-infused calzones mean food can double as medicine.
„Once again, these people are patients,” Molina says.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at laurensaria, on Twitter at lhsaria and on Facebook at facebook.com/lsaria.
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