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It’s an understatement to say Matthew Stockard, a.k.a. Chef Matt, was prepared when California legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016. By then the world-traveled chef had been experimenting with cannabis in the privacy of his home kitchen for more than 20 years.
“I’ve been making a cannabis barbecue sauce for friends since 1994 or ’95,” he says, recalling that back in those pre-sinsemilla days, he routinely sifted lots of seeds from crumbled buds before cooking with them.
Stockard grew up in Long Beach, Calif., but went to Oklahoma for college and in 1998 opened his first restaurant during freshman year. It was called the Langston Lounge, and it launched Stockard’s career as Chef Matt. He returned home to Long Beach to open The Beach Cafe, and he kept it open while demand for his talents led him to travel the globe and master various cuisines. When he returned he sold the café to concentrate on catering and stints as a personal chef.
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Life as a chef was good for Stockard, but prohibition limited his cannabis cooking to a passionate hobby. That changed in 2014, and it was not in his plans. At the time he was preparing to leave for a lucrative job running an upscale restaurant at a hotel in Dubai when a friend and fan of his cooking (particularly the infused barbecue sauce) gave him a call. His friend had moved to the hills to grow pot professionally. “He asked what was next for me,” says Stockard, who told him about Dubai. “He remembered the barbecue sauce and asked if I’d ever considered cooking with cannabis. I told him yes, and he showed up at my front door a couple of weeks later with two bags of bud and trim.”
With an ample supply of the raw ingredient, Stockard began experimentally infusing any ingredient that seemed infusible — olive oil, peanut butter, vegetable oils, jellies, soy sauce, and, of course, barbecue sauce — and cooking with them in all his favorite dishes. Somewhere in the process, he canceled the Dubai gig. “I gave up a nice salary and a chance to go work overseas again,” Stockard says.
Cooking up a storm, he developed a long list of recipes with precisely measured doses of THC and CBD. By Stockard’s estimate, he has spent $15,000 standardizing the recipes to have consistent dosing and use only the whole plant, a much more demanding process than if made with isolates. In 2015 he quietly launched Ganja Eats to cater private parties with his new cannabis cuisine derived from organically grown California marijuana strains.
Ganja Eats took a quantum leap when California voters legalized adult use marijuana in 2016. “While everybody was doing Rice Krispie treats and brownies,” Stockard says, “I was infusing steak and chicken, working more on the savory side. I was killing it with ribs, mac and cheese, stir-fry. The phone still rings off the hook. I turn down as much business as I accept.”
Because Stockard has developed his recipes to professional food preparation standards, a person feasting at a Ganja Eats gathering can expect to imbibe around 25 milligrams of THC (as a reference, California limits a packaged, single-serving edible to 10 milligrams of THC), so they know what to expect. “I take dosing very seriously,” he says. “I believe there’s a difference between 25 milligrams of flower and 25 milligrams of distillate. I prefer introducing people to the flower high. It’s more natural and body-relaxing versus the shock of distillate.”
The focus, he says, is wellness and pleasure, not escapist intoxication. “My coffee creamer is for people who want to start their day with cannabis, not drink their coffee and their day is over.”
After learning that many of his customers wanted just the medicinal benefits, Chef Matt unveiled CBDaily Eats in 2017, a CBD-only version of his Ganja Eats cuisine for private groups. He has since begun online sales of hemp-infused oils, sauces, and honey, and calculates that 75 percent of his sales are “white label” products sold by others.
Looking ahead, if Stockard can get the necessary licenses, he’s planning a parallel line of Ganja Eats foods with measured doses of THC; he’s also exploring how to license his own name for sale in other states as they legalize. “I know my website says ‘cannabis chef,’ ” he’s quick to note, “but I am a chef first. A chef who cooks with cannabis and CBD.”