Melissa Parks has experimented in the kitchen since she was a kid baking holiday cookies. After training at Le Cordon Bleu and Johnson & Wales University, she worked everywhere from research and development at General Mills to fine dining restaurants to top athletes’ kitchens. Her current career as a cannabis chef has led to a cookbook, Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Cannabis, and her kitchen at Vert edibles, where she produces infused teacakes. In flavors such as chocolate mint and key lime, they look like they should be served on fine china at a high-end high tea, and are so tasty it’s hard to eat just one.
She got involved in cannabis cookery in Colorado. … I was approached by girlfriends of mine who had illnesses ranging from breast cancer to lymphomas. They had tasted my desserts and asked me to do a medicated version. I don’t smoke, [and] I was like, “Am I going to get arrested?“ I knew nothing about it. I Googled edible companies in Colorado, found an address and walked in there with 12 unmedicated versions of cookies, cupcakes, tortes. I said, “I wanna work. I wanna learn.” They brought me in and—no joke— three weeks later they fired their head chef and gave me six months to revamp their entire product line.
It’s a challenging ingredient to work with, but a rewarding one. … One thing about working with cannabis is that it’s a beast in and of its own—the way that it’s absorbed into a dough, the way that it emulsifies into mixtures. If you blend it too much, does the dough become crumbly or dry? What is a safe temperature that’s not going to burn off your THC? All of those things are such fun for me, but when I first started, I wanted to put my head though a brick wall: Why is this cake recipe that has worked for the last 10 years not working with this?
The cookies are individually dosed, they’re small, but they offer flavor profiles that really go with the oils. Each one already has therapeutic spices and herbs without the cannabis—cinnamon or key lime juice or blueberries. The therapeutic mint can be soothing, it can be uplifting, it can help with stomach issues. I wanted to find a way to bring together health, cannabis and something that’s fun to eat. I’m a chef first and always: If it doesn’t taste good, if it doesn’t look good, it’s not leaving my kitchen.
Vert’s kitchen is part of the Grove complex, where a seed can go from a tiny speck in the soil to a delicately frosted pastry without leaving
the building. … Going from the seed downstairs to the plant downstairs to the oil refining up here to what we produce here in the kitchen—there are no boundaries. I can go downstairs and talk to the growers. I can go next door and work hand in hand with the guy who produces the oil. We’re very focused on the therapeutic nature of cannabis—we want to make it approachable.