Cannabis advocate Payton Curry has been singing the herb's medicinal praises for a long while, and when Arizona legalized in 2010, he got serious about cooking with it, namely with the birth of Flourish Cannabis, a locally-sourced edibles company. The result is not only a product that takes on both medicinal and recreational properties, but one that's also healthy.
In addition to managing pain and other medical magic, Curry is a big believer in cannabis as a recreational alternative to alcohol. The chef spoke with MERRY JANE about how green helped him move past a dismal, booze-soaked rut, a forthcoming vegetarian dining series in San Francisco, and Arizona's cannabis community.
Green Caprese Salad
710 vinaigrette ingredients:
3 tablespoons medicated honey
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup olive oil
710 vinaigrette instructions:
Place honey in a nug jar and add balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Screw on the lid and shake away your day until emulsified.
6 oz. 710 vinaigrette
3 pounds heirloom tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
6 torn basil leaves
1/2 point burrata
2 oz. pickled red onions
1 ripe avocado
Cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Toss with, garlic, salt, pepper, and the 710 vin. Set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature. Rip up some basil and start plating this green take on an old-style caprese recipe.
MERRY JANE: You've been selling edibles since you were a teen. How did you come to evolve that to what Flourish Cannabis is today?
Payton Curry: I was having the time of my life during the summers of my late teens and early 20s. I led the line at a high-end French restaurant called the Chardonnay, which happened to be across from the opiate capital of the world—the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.
When the collegiate school year began, I found myself feeding cannabis cuisine to the football and rugby teams at the [Winona State University] and also throwing dinner parties as often as possible, where cannabis and psychedelics were on the la carte menu, always farm fresh. This is where we discovered some positive influences between cannabis consumption and lactic acid. We saw flushing of the muscles after a strenuous workout with the consumption of cannabis.
While hosting these athletes in our home night after night, we found that not only were they relaxed after practice, they were less sore the following day [and] evening. Which meant they were full strength the next day. [This discovery] was so crucial that it was silenced for over 10 years.
The evolution of my professional journey started in February of 2003 when I moved from Minnesota to Hyde Park, New York for culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America. I had been applying for the CIA acceptance for some time; I was willing to relocate my life for more experience in vegetable cookery, [but] timing is everything.
On the second day of orientation, I was introduced to the woman that wrote my definition of love; Shantal would change my human experience for the better, forever. She later would pull open my dresser drawer in my dorm room to discover some of my anti-depressants in the form of fungus. She didn't want to be a part of me if I was working in the "undefined market" because of this very reason "You are helping so many with cannabis RSO therapy that if you get caught up, who will be there for them, who will be there for me?" So naturally, I drifted off of the undefined market as a producer, and went strictly R & D, research and development.
I started learning that cannabis could help children, especially those suffering from seizures. I gave a TED talk, entitled Weediatrics: Pediatrics and Weed. ... Obviously you can't have kids smoking weed to get the medicine. And so many of the existing edibles were filled with sugar and processed food. The dosing is unreliable. As a chef, and someone steeped in the science of cannabis, I knew I could do better so I started Flourish.
You said before cannabis helped you kick a destructive relationship with alcohol. Tell me a little about that.
I want to tell the world about it. When [I] consumed alcohol, it made me to feel so depressed that I feel like drop of rain falling in the middle of a dark ocean. "On alcohol," I'm sloshing around like the rest of them, until I land at the bottom. I look at it like this: That drop of rain could have landed on a seed in fertile soil, hydrated it, and worked with it to grow up standing strong.
Instead, I was self-medicating my depression through the endless supply of legal alcohol, and hadn't I retired at the top (0.440 BA, not batting average may I add) the buffet of over-the-counter alcohol would have taken my life to the bottom. I started to make it strain on my mental wellness.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is nontoxic. And the cannabis plant itself is full of phytonutrients and essential oils (terpenes). These helped me rid myself of the toxicity of alcohol by stabilizing my endocrine system during life-threatening withdrawal from alcohol.
When I was arrested for a DUI, on a Sunday at 2 p.m., I was rushed to the hospital because of my blood alcohol content. The start of my treatment was [doctors saying]: "Here are some opiates and we are going to pump your stomach." Opiates make me very very sick, so when given them, I wouldn't need my stomach pumped.
My DUI and attitude got me sent to the jail cell in Cottonwood, Arizona, sans opiates, and I began having seizures from alcohol withdrawal. It was then and there, on that jail cell floor, where I had another epiphany. Much like the one with the athletes and cannabis assisting in the flushing of the lactic acid. ... I turned down 48 hours of opiates in that jail cell, I turned up my full spectrum cannabinoid intake from then, on.
How can cannabis be a healthy alternative to alcohol? How do you see it ever replacing booze more common social situations? And how has legalization made way for this kind of mainstreamification process?
Cannabis is the nontoxic aid to your social anxiety and the cure for social awkwardness. In my experience I find that it is called "a joint" because you share the connection with the spirit. Whereas alcohol is "on the rocks" because it is short for rock bottom for some, as alcohol is a heavy depressant. Cannabinoids give me the mental reassurance to accept a new form of social engagement—one without toxic results. The solution for my depression, according to traditional (Mid-)Western medicine was SSRI menus and heroin-based medications. I didn't want that.
We've been programmed that social events like weddings should end in a drunken wild party. We've been programmed to think that hangovers are socially acceptable. This is cultural as well as physiological. When we change what we consume to take the edge off, we change the culture. I think that scares some people. It certainly scares the industry that profits from it currently.
This brings me right to the part of the question "how has legalization made way for this kind of "mainstreamification" of cannabis. Frankly, it's already mainstream. People are already treating themselves, and have been for years, it's just been hidden. Which means most of America thinks of it as an intoxicant, rather than a medicine.
What legalization allows us to do is end the number of children serving life sentences on deadly toxic prescriptions, where they could be offered monitored clinical trials focused around non-toxic cannabinoid therapy. A neutral is that In the business world, legalization of cannabis has brought a whole new type of investor to the table, the Republican religious "nonconsuming" type. #BlazeJesus. A positive is that we have the future ahead of us, which you will see read about.
What is the cannabis community like in Arizona? How does it compare to other places where you've cooked?
The cannabis community here is one of the strongest I have ever been in. The Phoenician has risen out of the hashes. It's very collaborative, very communal. When patients are in need, we provide rise up and provide. We have recently started "pot-pp" nights at independently-owned restaurants—we go in and do infused social gatherings for patients. We will pair with an organic cannabis farmer and show parents how to make their own [Rick Simpson Oil] at home, safely and accurately. We think that with cannabis, we can be more bottom-up, and allow patients to create their own medicine, instead of having to rely on Big Pharma or the alcohol multinationals. Obviously, this scares some people.
What's next for Flourish?
This week, we are launching our Cannavore vegetarian dinner series in San Francisco—a pot pop-up. We're starting off tonight with a demonstration of cannabis-based cuisine. No psychoactive, but plenty of CBD and THC-A. We will be juicing lbs and lbs of material in the kitchen with fresh turmeric, ph balanced water, and time. People are afraid of cannabis, and don't understand that the plant has value beyond the bud. We want the time to show the world that it is scientifically impossible to get you stoned, or in a psychological term, you CANNOT achieve psychosis through consumption of cannabis juice.
"Prove it," well, Flourish is going to. A few years ago we invited C4 Labs to join us at ABC studios here in Phoenix for a local news broadcast. We wanted to show that there was no psychoactive THC in raw cannabis juice. What we found was that cannabis juice provides more nutrient density by volume than any kale juice. But Scripps, which owns ABC, pulled the plug by stating, "We will not promote the manipulation of a Schedule I drug on our platform." It's been an uphill battle.
This year, we've launched our edibles in San Francisco, getting three profiles in the San Francisco Chronicle. We're also looking to expand to Las Vegas. But to do any of this, we need to end the fear and stigma about cannabis.