Chef Manny Mendoza is the Chef of Herbal Notes, a series of pop-up culinary cannabis dinner parties and brunches in San Diego and Chicago that focus on cannabis education through the application of CBD into the dining experience. We recently talked with Mendoza about cooking with cannabis, the food scene in San Diego, and why sustainability is so important when it comes to the culture of cannabis.
How long have you been involved in the food industry and what brought you to the San Diego food scene?
I have been in the food industry for almost a decade now working in restaurants in Chicago, New York, and San Diego. I went to the Culinary Institute of America for my education. Essentially my entire adult life has been spent cooking for people. What brought me to San Diego was an opportunity to become closer to some of my most intrinsic passions: sustainable agriculture and locally-grown cannabis. The first job I had in San Diego was making cold-pressed organic juices where we sourced the majority of our produce from local organic farms. When I wasn’t making juice, I was enrolled in a sustainable farming program at Wild Willow Farm in San Ysidro. There I learned all about the philosophy and the intricacies of regenerative agriculture and what accessibility to real, organic, low-cost food means to the surrounding communities and its culture. This also played a vital role in developing my philosophy about cannabis as a plant that connects people to our environment. My most important contribution in my opinion to the San Diego food scene is the advocacy of culinary cannabis and normalizing it at the dinner table. To do that, I collaborated with an amazingly talented creative design studio called Field Guide to create a supper club, called Herbal Notes, which help brings my vision of communal dining with healing plants and herbs to life.
What does sustainability mean to you when dealing with cannabis?
Sustainability with cannabis is actually a pretty loaded topic. When talking about hemp in particular, it’s actually one of the most efficient and sustainable super-crops on the planet. From requiring less land space, to being a natural pesticide, to soil remediation and regeneration, to its absorption of CO2 during its entire life cycle, make it a carbon-negative wonder crop. Hemp actually requires half as much water and land as cotton does to thrive. So in the traditional sense relating to the environment, cannabis is extremely sustainable and life-giving. In a more conceptual approach to sustainability, I’m an enormous advocate for cannabis equity and reparation as a means of sustaining communities, especially those of color, and their respective cultures. I’m from the South Side of Chicago – I’ve seen it all when it comes to who’s been the most affected by cannabis enforcement. The war on drugs has done almost irreparable damage to those marginalized communities around the country, however I feel a major solution of providing healing and forms of reparation is through fair legislature and equity in the cannabis industry. What sustainability in cannabis truly means to me is using this super crop/food/medicine to regenerate the economy of underserved communities, but to provide health and wellness to them as well.
When it comes to sustainable cannabis in San Diego how do you take advantage of what the natural surroundings have to offer?
Southern California is one of the best places in the world when it comes to cannabis, so it’s not difficult to take advantage. It just requires effort to connect yourself to local growers and cannabis communities of the region. It’s also incredibly easy to go to a dispensary now or get cannabis delivered to you. Obtaining it has become easy, but understanding its place in society and economy is still controversial. Some of my favorite cultivars are the ones that utilize aquaculture to grow commercial cannabis. That is a prime example of sustainable cannabis that recycles back into itself.
How do you plan to help reduce waste within the food industry as a chef?
My personal plan is to embrace closed loop, open sourced strategies that not only make restaurants, but our communities, more efficient and healthier by developing and sharing the most innovative methods for sustainable food production, energy conservation, and material reuse. Waste is an opportunity! From creating combustible energy for cooking, food waste for composting, utilizing aquaculture and solar power to grow plants, etc. Essentially reducing carbon footprints as much as possible. There are so many ways, it just requires the chef and team to re-wire their mindset into one that is creative when it comes to natural, reusable energy. Waste is a natural resource that has already been extracted and there’s plenty of it – all it requires is innovation. It’s imperative as chefs to think about being disruptive and creative when it comes to old, traditional means of handling waste. I plan to model my future businesses and general lifestyle to coincide with a circular economy where conventional waste streams from one process and is repurposed as inputs for another, creating a circular, closed-loop model. It’s a robust concept that requires chefs and staff to step up and evolve because we only have one planet and we have to fight for it. There are so many underserved communities around the country especially in non-agricultural urban areas where there is no access to wholesome, organic, sustainable produce; basically food deserts. We should NOT be wasting anything – food, water, oxygen, time, energy. There is a Green Revolution going on and chefs have the opportunity to become true thought leaders that create dope shit that feeds people tasty food, while serving communities, and helping the only planet we have.