Manny Mendoza is a Latinx chef using his platform to educate, feed, and stand up for his community during an unprecedented time.
There are not a lot of half Mexican and Salvadoran business owners in America. That number is even smaller in Chicago and basically non-existent in the cannabis industry. Enter Manny Mendoza.
The ‘Cooked with Cannabis’ winner has been making a name in the culinary field long before his victory on Netflix. From San Diego to Chicago, his culinary cannabis company Herbal Notes, has hosted private events for years introducing patrons to the endless possibilities of food, weed, and culture.
Earlier this year you won an episode of “Cooked with Cannabis” on Netflix. How was that experience? Has the business grown any since your big victory?
That was definitely one of the most surreal moments of my life. It was very emotional for me for a few reasons, but a significant moment was before I had completed the show. I visited the Crenshaw neighborhood, the Marathon Clothing store, and the grave of the late Nipsey Hussle.
This was a few months after his passing in 2019, so the synchronicity and timing of the show and everything had such a profound effect on me from then on after. Leading up to the final cooking of the show I was so energized, inspired, and motivated that I felt like I couldn’t lose. Me winning definitely helped the business, but more importantly it helped me grow into a more focused man and chef.
Herbal Notes has been around for a few years, holding some awesome events in Chicago. What impact has the legalization of recreational cannabis use in Illinois had on your business?
Although the legalization of cannabis in Illinois has finally come, the COVID-19 pandemic gave us mixed effects. It has hurt some small businesses and benefitted many larger cannabis companies.
The demand for Herbal Notes services, however, especially post-Netflix, has certainly increased because of the rising popularity of weed-themed events and because we can serve food in the comfort and safety of your own home.
All things considered, we have been blessed to still be able to do what we love.
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The Black and Brown communities were hit hard by COVID-19 in Chicago, how has it been navigating the pandemic for you and your team?
This pandemic has revealed a greater need for us to re-shift our focus back to the communities we ultimately wish to serve and to encourage our guests to strive for an industry that is equitable and just for those same communities.
We have taken a break from public events, but we are by no means even close to stopping. We made the decision to make more time for community survival by addressing immediate disparities such as Covid-19/HIV testing, food & grocery support, voter & census registration, and cannabis equity work.
Herbal Notes is known for bringing people together for small events, what does that look like in the future?
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A recipe for the revolution… And in homage to all women, our creator, for giving us life to live and food to eat. I give thanks to the generations of women of color for being the true architects of agriculture and cuisine that fueled civilizations. For it is without them, we would cease to exist. A recipe to remind us that women, especially Latina women, have the right to family, the freedom to seek the best life for their children and are NOT to be exploited by any male system or situation. Even female cannabis plants provide the world with medicine. – Quesadilla de la milpa Huitlacoche, mushroom, squash blossom, garden sofrito, & verdolagas on home grown cannabis tortilla hecho a mano – Honored to be apart of the @mujeresypac summer fundraiser and to have been able to grow/create a dish for the cause! We helped raise $10,000! Thank you to everyone who helped support this amazing local organization @mujereslatinasenaccion Supporting women, especially women of color means supporting the revolution! ✊?✊?✊?✊? #dearmama #respecthecreator #fuckice #fuckgoya
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I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that this pandemic and current social climate has forced us to rethink more deeply & creatively how we want to conceptualize events that reflect our communities and create further opportunity in our industry for other Black, Brown and Indigenous entrepreneurs.
Chicago is also a hotbed for peaceful protests and social movement. The Black Lives Matters movement has swelled, but is it important for a Latinx person to speak out during these times?
Put very simply—absolutely. This can be answered in a full dissertation, but it is imperative for the Millennial and Gen Z Latinxs to absorb and internalize their whole history and ancestry in the Americas.
Colonialism and the enslavement of Black, mestizo, and indigenous peoples has been a tragic theme on the histories of North, Central, and all of Latin America. The diasporas of the marginalized and the oppressed have been uniquely intertwined since colonizers landed, including the fight against police brutality, systemic racism, and white-male patriarchy is one that we share in common.
We, as a generation, must respect life of every skin color and social status, and be willing and strong enough to be able to reflect and educate ourselves, each other, and our elders.
It must be a contract with oneself that we will not move forward one more inch in a system that prioritizes property & money over the lives of the poor, those seeking asylum and refuge, or our Black and indigenous brothers and sisters.
Herbal Notes has a footprint in San Diego and Chicago. And I read you went to culinary school in New York. What’s your favorite food city in America? Does any city have the best infused food?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. My favorite food city overall would be Chicago for so many reasons, not just that I’m biased. It’s just such a cultural giant with so many different global perspectives infused into our cuisines. I’d like to make a shout out to the countless immigrants who’ve come to America to seek a better future for their children, but also to actually give this place some flavor.
New York City and San Francisco are very close behind though because of their proximities to the ocean (better seafood) and more farms (quality produce). As far as infused food, I’m going to flex and say whatever city I’m in has the best infused food LOL. But I’ll give an honorable mention to LA, SF, Portland, and Denver for having a vibrant and rich history enjoying good food and good herb.
What’s your favorite dish to cook? Are you working on something new you can share with us?
My favorite dish is the Salvadoran-style pupusa with curtido (spicy-vinegared slaw), fried plantains, and some other fixings. I am working on a delivery-only food concept that is not necessarily infused, but rather an homage to my Central American heritage.
I have tested it out at the beginning of the pandemic and it actually fared very well! Many people fell in love with the food! Be on the lookout for the plug.
What does equity look like for Latinx entrepreneurs and businesses in cannabis? Does it start in the justice system or is it something that could be done by the states to give more opportunities?
I would like to say firstly, that I don’t think Illinois got it right. We are currently experiencing the passive white supremacy of neoliberal capitalism invading and dominating the cannabis space.
The same people who ten years ago did not care about releasing people from prison or any type of cannabis equity or racial justice are the same people in position to make the most money, to have the most market share, and to profit the most. They are continuously consolidating their lobbying power to stay in power and using their privileges to avoid any accountability.
Illinois marijuana laws
True equity starts in many areas at the same time. It must start by releasing all non-violent cannabis offenders immediately. It must start within our own Latinx communities by separating the stigma from reality and respecting the cannabis plant as something that has medicinal with financial value, which can then be used to create more opportunities and incentives that benefit community wealth building for ourselves.
Meanwhile, it also must start with the state to create policies with consultation from real community members led by data and science, designed to identify and address inequality. True cannabis justice starts by fixing this current broken system to offer equal access to both tools and opportunities.
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Can you see a future with infused restaurants across America? Every city has bars, do you think cannabis will be normalized on that level?
I can imagine, but it will take a long while before we get there. It will get normalized when the federal government de-schedules it. My true hope is that we don’t normalize neoliberal cannabis operators that only use their generational wealth to monopolize the entire [cannabis] industry, food service and retail alike—exploiting the same plant that was illegal for Black and Brown folks.
I don’t want to go to a pretentious weed restaurant owned by rich white people in suits that never even smoked a Backwoods in their lives.
Do you have a strain you like to cook with more than others? Is food your favorite way to enjoy cannabis?
Some of my favorite strains are Blueberry Clementine, Forbidden Fruit, Death Star, Lemon Skunk, Apple Fritter, and the classic Tangie. All lovely to cook with, especially since the terpenes are very prominent. And no, food is not my favorite way to enjoy cannabis!
I love smoking it the most, but I love dabbing wax, too. I really only enjoy micro-dosed edibles, sometimes heavier doses, but only under certain environmental conditions. The mood has to be right!
I have a lot of friends that want to start making edibles and other infused foods. Do you have any advice for beginners that want to cook with cannabis? Any dos and don’ts?
Do attempt safely prepared and accurately dosed cannabis products. Don’t get people sick because of a lack of attention to detail. It’s a craft, not a hustle.