"Black chefs cooking with cannabis, then, are more than just vanguards: Their work represents a reclaimed self-determinism of medicinal cooking.
“It’s an easily accessible medication that I think every community should take advantage of, especially the black community,“ Maryland chef Gwenelle Parks says, citing black communities’ historic distrust of medical institutions. “We’ve been [self-medicating with cannabis] for a long time... but if you actually need it as medicine, there’s different ways to go about it.” For Parks, cooking with cannabis was a natural extension of her Virgin Islander family’s herbalist traditions. “No matter what it is, I try to put [Caribbean flavors and herbs] in there and make it a medicinal meal,” she says, citing lemon balm as one ingredient she likes to use in dishes for its calming effect. However, growing up in Baltimore County with a forensic scientist and a correctional officer for parents, cannabis was naturally taboo. It wasn’t until adulthood, after Parks tried cannabis casually at parties, that she started to learn about the racist history of its prohibition and its potential as a medicinal herb. “I sat back and I realized when I was doing it recreationally, I was actually medicating,” she says.
Parks and her husband, Will, who is white, already owned condiment company Saucier Willy when they started shopping their cannabis-infused simple syrup to dispensaries in their area in 2017. (Under Maryland law, cannabis foods are still illegal, while items like tinctures and drinks are not.) The owner of one dispensary asked the professional chefs if they would teach a cannabis cooking class to his patients. Since then, the two have been providing the lessons to interested self-healers in classes across Maryland. There, by law, only the Parkses can touch and ingest their cannabis, but that doesn’t prevent them from imparting their knowledge along with non-medicated samples and detailed, take-home instructions. They also provide free recipes on the Saucier Willy website. “For [me and Will], it’s just imperative to bring the knowledge that you can do this yourself,” says Parks. “You don’t have to go to the store and spend $25 for 100 milligrams of something.”
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