All photos courtesy of Liv Vasquez
It seems like everywhere you look these days, CBD is being sold as a quick-fix miraculous cure-all. In hip neighborhoods across the country you can find lattes, cocktails, ice cream, pet treats, and anything else that can accommodate a few drops of cannabidiol tincture. But without mandated testing and consumer education, the efficacy of the increasingly-trendy, over-the-counter hemp-derived products is still cloudy. Chef Liv Vasquez wants to change that.
Raised in the American South before settling in Portland (after stints in LA and NYC), Chef Vasquez graduated from culinary school before the age of 20, and hasn’t stopped hustling since. From cooking on the line and opening restaurants on both coasts, including two restaurants of her own in New York City, to stage managing world famous rock stars and stand-up comedians and budtending in the Beaver State’s emerging legal weed industry, Vasquez is a master of many skills.
Photo by Ali Limon Photography (courtesy of Liv Vasquez)
After discovering cannabis through restaurant co-workers and using the all-natural plant to replace prescription painkillers after an injury, Vasquez has made weed a central focus of her career. She eventually left the restaurant world behind altogether to kick off Livvie Smalls, her private infused dining and cannabis education event company.
In addition to exclusive, cannabis-soaked dinners across the West Coast, Vasquez has turned her focus to hemp-derived CBD and spreading the word about how to use the cannabinoid. This month, Vasquez will travel back to the Big Apple to host a holiday CBD market and seminar, offering East Coasters a comprehensive guide to what CBD can help with, and spotlight which brands are selling legit products — as compared to snake oil disguised as medical marijuana.
MERRY JANE talked to Chef Vasquez to find out more about her culinary journey, her long history with cannabis, and her upcoming NYC CBD extravaganza. Chef Vasquez also shared her paleo-friendly recipe for infused Winter Spice Pancakes, using a cannabis ghee to replace traditional butter. All in all, it will get you ready for those cold winter mornings around the corner.
Chef Liv Vasquez’ Winter Spice Banana Paleo Pancakes
Makes 4 medium sized pancakes
2 Banana (mashed)
⅛ tsp (pinch) Cinnamon
2 tbsp Paleo Maple Syrup
2 tbsp Cannabis-Infused Ghee (equaling 20mgs)
⅛ tsp (pinch) each of Ginger, Clove, Cardamom and Cinnamon
Heat pan on medium heat.
Combine egg, banana and cinnamon, whisking them with a fork until combined. (It is OK to have some lumps).
Once your pan is hot, spray it with the cooking spray, then pour pancake batter in 2-3 tbsps at a time. Once bubbles start to form on top you can flip. (At this point, you can add optional CBD chocolate chunks or pecans).
The banana will caramelize and smell amazing. Once both sides are cooked, remove from the pan and top with your warm cannabis-infused Winter Spice Ghee Syrup and enjoy!
Photo by Ali Limon Photography (courtesy of Liv Vasquez)
MERRY JANE: How did cannabis first find a place in your life?
Chef Liv Vasquez: I became a chef when I was 18 and I was also in a minor car accident at the same age. I was pretty straight-laced prior to my accident; I didn’t drink and I hadn’t tried cannabis. But when doctors gave me painkillers, I hated the way that they made me feel. I was so out of it, my liver hurt, and I wasn’t my usual funny self. So I just stopped taking them and dealt with the pain.
A lot of the chefs that I worked with smoked cannabis to help with sleep or anxiety during busy shifts that get your adrenaline going and make it hard to wind down, so it was always around. My mom was actually the one who suggested that I tried cannabis for my pain. She hated seeing me struggle with the pain and the plant medicine had helped her. So I decided to give it a try and it truly changed my life. I could keep my personality, work, deal with pain, and not have the strain on my liver and kidneys, and it was a plant? It was just the right thing for me.
You’ve been cooking your whole life, working at traditional restaurants. But you’ve also stage managed comedy clubs, rock star tours, and everything in between. I’ve even heard that you’ve worked as a budtender before. How did cannabis make its way into your culinary work?
Haha well there was a progression in my career and in my interest in cannabis, but plant medicine and my interest in cooking has definitely stayed consistent. I started using cannabis around 18, soon after graduating culinary school. It really helped me manage pain and stress while I worked opening almost 20 restaurants in less than 5 years. After I closed my second restaurant in New York, I began stage managing for music and comedy at venues in New York and Los Angeles. Turns out comedians and musicians loved weed, too! So I would get to try new strains and talk a little more openly about cannabis even though it wasn’t legal. There wasn’t really a stigma around it in those social circles, so I stayed in them for a while.
Eventually, friends, touring musicians, and comedians that I knew would ask me to make specialty edibles for them, and that was when I started learning more about infusion and absorption. After moving to Oregon, where recreational cannabis laws had passed, I worked in a dispensary for three years and made a kind of college program for myself. I was in charge of staff training and education at that dispensary, so I had to learn a lot about strain lineage, terpenes, cannabis products, and how they each affect the endocannabinoid system.
I love making cannabis comprehensive and I love being in the kitchen, so I decided to start throwing these educational dining experiences, where I use food to educate about cannabis and cannabis absorption. So I began creating these pop-up experiences where I build a restaurant for eight hours in a greenhouse in Oregon, or on a rooftop garden in LA, to educate about the endocannabinoid system and cannabis as an industry.
Was it hard to make the transition from opening restaurants and working in other people’s kitchens to creating a space for yourself in the world of private cooking and events?
To be honest, after I put on my first cannabis event, it felt like everything I had done before that was just preparing me for this. I am a great chef, I can throw a fun party, and I can take education out of a class room and make it fun. That all comes together for my demos and events. There have been a lot of obstacles with laws changing every day, state to state, and just starting a new career in a new industry with no start-up capital. But everyone in my life has told me, “You have found your calling!” so I know that it was the right move to make.
Can you tell me more about your connection to Oregon and the city’s cannabis and culinary scenes?
Around 7 years ago, I moved to Oregon with plans to write a cookbook/party host guide. Oregon has amazing locally grown food, inventive chefs, incredible cocktail bars, and some of the best vineyards/wineries in the US. I wanted to be closer to all of that to work on recipes for this project and submerge myself in the food and beverage culture here… and then cannabis was legalized.
That kind of changed my mission, and the book was put on a back burner. I soon realized that I wanted to learn more about the cultivation and science of cannabis and submerge myself in the cannabis culture. And now, with the laws working in my favor, I could do that. I started working in a medical dispensary in April 2015, and on October 1st, 2015, recreational cannabis sales began. I quickly realized that Oregon has some of the best cannabis in the country, as well as the best food and drinks. So it seemed like the perfect place for me to be. Recently, I have gotten some exciting job offers in other states, but with the incredible cannabis and cannabis science here, I just can’t see myself leaving Oregon anytime soon.
This month, you’re hosting a holiday CBD market in New York with a cooking demonstration and education about cannabidiol. Can you tell me more about the event and your goals with CBD in NYC?
Yes! The White Label CBD Market will be held in New York City on December 8th and 9th, and I am so excited. I get messages every day from people who want to try CBD, but don’t know what to buy or where they can get it. So I have curated a two-day shopping experience where New Yorkers can meet some of my favorite hemp growers and check out the CBD products that I recommend and use. I have asked every brand that will be stocked questions like:
“Where do you source your CBD from?”
“Do they test for heavy metals in the groundwater?”
“In what state is your lab testing done? What other phytocannabinoids is your product tested for?”
“What is your employment turnover rate/ How are your employees treated?”
These are the types of questions that are important to me as a consumer, and a lot of CBD brands are not transparent when it comes to this type of information because they don’t have to be. CBD has become the new Avocado Toast; it’s everywhere you look. But not all CBD and CBD brands are the same, and not everyone knows to — or has the time to — ask these types of questions. So I wanted to create a worry-free shopping experience for people all across America who are looking for a great CBD experience.
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