Photos by Colin Quirt.
On Gabriel Reeves’ brawny left calf, just above the pink sock emblazoned with a pot leaf, is a tattoo of Ferdinand the Bull. Sitting in a room just off the lobby at Elemental Wellness, a medical marijuana collective in San Jose where Reeves teaches a weekly “Cooking with Cannabis” class, the chef talks about how he identifies with Ferdinand, the bull who would rather smell flowers than fight.
For those who aren’t familiar, ultimately the moral of the story is to always be yourself. Reeves, who has a bushy red beard, ink twisting up both arms and today wears a double-breasted chef’s coat, has embraced this concept as he makes a name for himself in cannabis culinary circles.
“I used to hide it,” the 31-year-old says about his hemp habit. Before coming to work at the wellness center, Reeves spent almost a decade in mainstream restaurants, including a stint in Google’s famously epicurean kitchen. Though he had been baking pot brownies for even longer, it wasn’t until the California native was diagnosed with testicular cancer several years ago and experienced firsthand the medicinal impact of marijuana that he reevaluated his career path. Reeves now dedicates his time to teaching others how to treat their ailments through what he calls the science of consumption. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Reeves says. “I’m helping people feel better. If that means I smell like kush, so what? I’m happy now.”
It’s sunny and warm, and Elemental Wellness is bustling. Grey-haired women, a middle-aged man wearing a puffy blue vest and loafers and stereotypical 20-something stoners filter in to fill their prescriptions. Just about every 10 minutes one of those patients gets a glimpse of Reeves through the glass window and pops in for a handshake or hug. “You have get to know each person, because you have to find what works for them,” Reeves says.
Reeves starts each dish by infusing the processed bud, usually in the form of hash, into a base such as oil or cream. Each marijuana strain has a different effect, due to different combinations of cannabinoids, THC (the psychoactive component), terpenes and other compounds. Some are calming, others are energizing. Unlike other chefs, Reeves not only pairs flavors but also healing properties. To treat inflammation, he may make a curry with turmeric, or a lavender tea to ease stress.
Because of possible negative side effects of smoking, Reeves sees edibles as the way of the future. But right now it is still the Wild West in the medical marijuana industry. That’s mostly because there aren’t any dosage regulations. Reeves is a vocal proponent of lab-testing every batch of cannabis for potency and labeling every edible in milligrams. One of the reasons he started teaching classes was so he could offer people standardized recipes. If someone wants to bake cookies, they’ll know exactly how many cups of flour to use per milligram of hash and exactly what dosage they are ingesting with each bite.
Paula Walter, founder of Kind Medicine Cannabis Products, sees Reeves becoming the Rachael Ray of the medical marijuana community. “He’s into quick foods,” Walter says. “He can make something simple into a gourmet meal.”
Walter has watched Reeves evolve over the past several years. She says what has always differentiated him is the way he is able to connect with people. “He’s the man you want talking to your grandma who just found out she has cancer and doesn’t know what to do,” Walter says.
Reeves also envisions hosting his own television show on a cooking with cannabis channel. But, he says, that’s after publishing a cookbook, which is in the works, and creating a line of edibles, as well as opening a restaurant alongside his personal farm. “We’re just at the beginning,” Reeves says. “You can’t just eat at one restaurant. You can’t just have one outlet. My goal is to make cannabis boutique and gourmet and accessible.”