It started just two years ago with a cupcake and a domain name.
Jeff, raised as an Orthodox Jew in the Fairfax/West Hollywood area, was reeling from a crippling lawsuit he lost to his ex-wife. He had his own marketing firm working with underwear companies, and was spending his down time cooking with cannabis as a hobby. After a few years of recipe testing and with the help of a whole lot of chutzpah, Jeff bought a URL, wooed a Daily Beast writer with his Mocha Java Canna-Cupcake, and JeffThe420Chef was born.
“Within a year I had a four-page article in Newsweek,” Jeff says. “I had a video with Elite Daily that got 3.5 million views on Facebook. I had a cookbook deal with HarperCollins.”
In the years that followed, Jeff, now 54, has built a diverse and wide-reaching brand. In addition to his beautifully shot cookbook, which is sold everywhere from Barnes & Noble to Urban Outfitters, he has launched a podcast and a web series. He also hosts cannabis cooking classes and works as a private chef.
He's been called “the Julia Child of Weed.”
While his cookbook, The 420 Gourmet: The Elevated Art of Cannabis Cuisine, is full of cheeky names like Canna-Ghanoush (baba ghanoush with cannabis) and Potzo Ball Soup (matzoh ball soup with cannabis), Jeff started experimenting with edibles for a very heartfelt reason.
His friend’s mother was sick.
She had received a medical recommendation to try marijuana but couldn’t smoke, so Jeff tried to make her homemade cannabis-infused goods, mostly cookies and brownies at first.
“They were terrible. They tasted horrible,” Jeff says. “She challenged me over time to figure out how to take out the taste, to stop just making cookies and brownies, because she was getting sick of them, and to figure out how to dose properly.”
So Jeff became a mad marijuana scientist, researching and experimenting with pot to try to obtain the purest, cleanest form in order to make cannabis oils and butters devoid of that notorious dank taste. He tried soaking his weed in distilled water, blanching it, and even started started learning about how it works on a molecular level.
“Like any ingredient, you need to clean it before you cook with it,”Jeff says. “I realized that a lot of what you’re tasting are the impurities that you don’t necessarily want in your edibles, like chlorophyll, like heavy metals, like any residue from fertilizer.”
Now, it’s impossible to tell his “virgin” dishes from those made with cannabis, Jeff says, but figuring out how to remove the taste was just half the battle. He then wanted to be able to accurately quantify dosage, so consumers could avoid that “call an ambulance” feeling of overdoing it.
Using a lab to help him test his products along the way, Jeff came up with a formula to determine how potent any homemade canna-butter or oil is, as well as how strong a serving of the final food product will be. In addition to cooking (for free) for severely ill patients using cannabis to treat cancer or manage pain, Jeff also works as a chef-for-hire, cooking dinner for a couple’s private date or feeding an entire dinner party.
He’s also started cooking the traditional, elaborate, Friday-night Jewish meal of Shabbat dinner - but with a twist. Known as Pot Shabbat or "Shapot," Jeff serves up Jewish classics such as challah and gefilte fish but dosed with cannabis. Also on the table may be Canna-Spiked Eggplant and Couscous, Canna-Lamb Tagine or even a canna-cocktail.
While this may seem like a recipe for sleepy dinner guests or a room full of stoned meltdowns, Jeff says he’s methodical and measured in his doses, provides plenty of “virgin” food options, and limits outside factors, such as alcohol consumption or weed-smoking during the meal. He utilizes layered microdosing, often starting guests with a higher dose of cannabis (around 5 mg) and then feeding them foods with just one milligram, a half milligram or no cannabis at all.
“It’s much more elevated (no pun intended, but yeah, it is very intended) than cannabis used to be,” Jeff says with a laugh.
His next Pot Shabbat is scheduled for March 10, the night before the Jewish holiday Purim, and it’s open to medical-card carriers who sign up in advance for the event at the KTown Collective on Melrose Avenue. Like any chef worth his salt, Jeff has his go-to locations where he procures his product, and KTown Collective is one of his preferred dispensaries. It’s also where he’ll be selling his Canna-baby Love Bites — cannabis-infused brownies and chocolate cheesecake cookies — on Feb. 11, in advance of Valentine’s Day.
Part of Jeff’s methodical and calculated approach to cooking with cannabis is knowing his products inside and out, and maintaining an overall focus on the wellness and healing properties of the plant, he says. For example, he knows which marijuana strains have aphrodisiac effects, and which ones work as appetite suppressants, which he often features in healthy recipes, such as in the dressing of his salmon and walnut Beauty Salad.
With marijuana legalization now passed in California, Jeff shows no signs of slowing. Although he has four specialty cookbooks on deck, a continually growing clientele as a private chef and the Cannabis Cooking Channel slated for launch in April, he continues to emphasize the essential healing powers of marijuana.
“This is not a drug so to speak, this is not the ‘weed’ Nancy [Reagan] said 'Just say no' to,” Jeff says. “This is medicine that’s helping so many people, and we need to get more people out there that are touting the medicinal effects of this.”
JeffThe420Chef's Recipe for Potzo Ball Soup:
PREP TIME: 40 minutes
COOK TIME: 1 hr. 30 mins.
APPROXIMATE THC PER SERVING:
*10%: 3.8 mg
15%: 5.7 mg
30%: 7.6 mg
FOR THE BROTH:
10 cups water
1 whole chicken, cut into eighths
1 beef bone (optional, for a heartier soup)
1 cup carrots, in rounds (reserve 1/2 cup)
1 cup celery, sliced (reserve 1/2 cup)
1 celery root, whole or halved to fit in pot
1/2 cup parsnip, cubed (reserve 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup turnip, in rounds (reserve 1/4 cup)
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
4 sprigs fresh dill (reserve 1 sprig)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
3 to 5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
FOR THE POTZO BALLS:
1 cup matzo meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon canna-olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons light olive oil
4 tablespoons seltzer or soda water
1. Fill a large soup pot with 10 cups water
2. Place the chicken, beef bone (if using), carrots, celery, celery root, parsnip, turnip, onion, and dill in a soup sock or wrap and tie in cheesecloth. Add bay leaf, turmeric, peppercorns, cloves, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
3. Remove the chicken and set aside
4. Remove the vegetables and discard
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MAKE THE POTZO BALLS:
5. In a medium bowl, mix together the matzo meal, baking powder, salt, and pepper
6. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, canna-olive oil mixture, and seltzer or soda water
7. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well
8. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes
9. Bring the soup to a boil. Using an ice cream scoop for uniformity, drop matzo balls into the simmering soup. Add the reserved vegetables, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes
10. Shred the chicken and place it in serving bowls. Add the broth and potzo balls and serve immediately.
*Approximate dose per serving is based on infusing 5 grams of cured/dried/decarbed cannabis into 5 ounces of oil
To keep up with JeffThe420Chef, visit his website at JeffThe420Chef.com
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Jeff is currently Orthodox Jewish.