Manny Mendoza talks about tradition, group and “cooked with hashish”.
Manny Mendoza is a Latinx chef who uses his platform to educate, nurture and stand up for his community in an unprecedented time.
America doesn’t have many half-Mexican and Salvadoran entrepreneurs. That number is even lower in Chicago and basically nonexistent in the cannabis industry. Enter Manny Mendoza.
The winner of “Cooked with Cannabis” made a name for himself in the culinary field long before his win on Netflix. From San Diego to Chicago, his cannabis culinary company, Herbal Notes, has hosted private events for years where customers learn about the endless possibilities of food, weeds, and culture.
Earlier this year you won an episode of “Cooked with Cannabis” on Netflix. How was that experience? Has business grown since your big win?
That was definitely one of the most surreal moments of my life. It was very emotional for me for a couple of reasons, but a significant moment came before I finished the show. I visited the Crenshaw neighborhood, the marathon clothing store, and the grave of the late Nipsey Hussle.
This was a few months after his death in 2019, so the synchronicity and timing of the show and everything from then on had such a profound impact on me. Before the final cooking of the show, I was so energetic, inspired, and motivated that I felt like I couldn’t lose. My profit has definitely helped the business, but more importantly, it has helped me develop into a more focused man and chef.
Herbal Notes has been around for a few years and there are some great events happening in Chicago. How did Illinois cannabis legalization affect your business?
Although the legalization of cannabis in Illinois is finally complete, the COVID-19 pandemic is having mixed effects. It hurt some small businesses and helped many larger cannabis companies.
However, the demand for Herbal Notes services, especially Netflix, has certainly increased as weed-themed events grow in popularity and we can serve food conveniently and safely at home.
All in all, we have been blessed to still be able to do what we love.
The 5 best dishes and strains on Netflix ‘Cooked with Cannabis’
The Black and Brown community in Chicago has been hard hit by COVID-19. How did you and your team cope with the pandemic?
This pandemic has demonstrated the need to re-focus on the communities we ultimately want to serve and encourage our guests to strive for an industry that is fair and only for the same communities.
We’ve been taking a break from public events, but we’re still far from stopping. We made a decision to gain more time for community survival by addressing immediate disparities such as Covid-19 / HIV testing, food and grocery support, voter registration and census, and cannabis justice work.
Herbal Notes is known for bringing people together for small events. How does it look in the future?
See this post on Instagram
A recipe for the revolution … And as a tribute to all women, our creators, who give us life to live and food to eat. I thank the generations of women in color for being the true architects of agriculture and cuisine that fueled civilizations. Because without it we would cease to exist. A recipe that reminds us that women, especially Latina women, have the right to a family, the freedom to seek the best life for their children, and NOT to be exploited by a male system or situation. Even female cannabis plants provide the world with medicine. – Quesadilla de la milpa Huitlacoche, mushrooms, pumpkin blossom, garden fritrito and verdolagas on local cannabis tortilla hecho a mano! We raised $ 10,000! Thank you to everyone who supported this amazing local organization @mujereslatinasenaccion Supporting women, especially women of color, means supporting the revolution! ✊🏿✊🏽✊🏼✊🏾 #Dearmama #Respecthecreator #Fuckice #Fuckgoya
A post shared by Manny Mendoza (@ lil_manofrom18th) on Jul 25, 2020 at 5:08 pm PDT
I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that this pandemic and the current social climate have forced us to rethink more deeply and creatively how we want to conceive events that reflect our communities and create more opportunities in our industry for other blacks , brown and indigenous entrepreneurs.
Chicago is also a hotbed for peaceful protest and social movement. The Black Lives Matters movement has grown, but is it important for a Latinx person to speak up during these times?
Quite simply, absolutely. This can be answered in a full dissertation, but it is imperative that the Latinx Millennial and Gen Z absorb and internalize their entire history and ancestry in America.
Colonialism and the enslavement of blacks, mestizos and indigenous peoples has been a tragic theme in the history of North, Central and all of Latin America. The diasporas of the marginalized and oppressed have been uniquely intertwined since the colonial rulers landed, including the fight against police brutality, systemic racism and the white male patriarchy that we have in common.
We as a generation must respect life of every skin color and social status, and be ready and strong enough to reflect and educate ourselves, one another and our elders.
It has to be a contract with ourselves that we don’t move an inch in a system that prioritizes property and money over the lives of the poor, those seeking refuge, or our black and indigenous brothers and sisters.
Herbal Notes is represented in San Diego and Chicago. And I read that you went to cookery school in New York. What’s your favorite city in America? Does a city have the best food?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. My favorite city overall would be Chicago for so many reasons, not just that I’m biased. It’s just such a cultural giant with so many different global perspectives pouring into our kitchen. I would like to say greetings to the countless immigrants who have come to America, in search of a better future for their children, but also to actually give this place some flavor.
However, New York City and San Francisco are very close because of their proximity to the ocean (better seafood) and more farms (quality products). As for infused food, I’ll bow down and say that every city I am in has the best infused food. LOL. But I’m going to give LA, SF, Portland, and Denver Honorable Mention for their vibrant and rich history and for enjoying great food and herbs.
What is your favorite dish to cook with? Are you working on something new to share with us?
My favorite dish is the Salvadoran-style pupusa with curtido (coleslaw with spicy vinegar), fried plantains and a few other ingredients. I’m working on a delivery-only food concept that isn’t necessarily infused, but rather pays tribute to my Central American heritage.
I tested it at the beginning of the pandemic and it actually went very well! Lots of people fell in love with the food! Look out for the connector.
What is equity for Latinx entrepreneurs and companies in cannabis? Does it start in the judicial system or could it be done by states to give more options?
First of all, I want to say that I don’t think Illinois got it right. We are currently experiencing the passive white supremacy of neoliberal capitalism, which is invading and dominating the cannabis space.
The same people who didn’t care ten years ago about getting people out of jail or getting any kind of cannabis justice or racial justice are the same people who are able to make the most money, have the most market share, and the most to benefit. They are continually consolidating their lobbying power to stay in power and using their privileges to avoid any accountability.
Illinois Marijuana Laws
Real justice begins in many areas at the same time. First of all, all non-violent cannabis offenders must be released immediately. It has to start within our own Latinx communities by separating the stigma from reality and viewing the cannabis plant as something that has medicinal value that can then be used to create more opportunities and incentives for wealth creation benefit the community for ourselves.
In the meantime, it must also begin with the state, through consultation with real community members, led by data and science, to develop strategies to identify and eliminate inequalities. True cannabis justice begins with fixing this currently broken system for equal access to tools and opportunity.
You can help free America’s cannabis prisoners. Here is how
Can you see a future with restaurants across America? Every city has bars. Do you think cannabis is normalized at this level?
I can imagine, but it will be a long time before we get there. It will normalize when the federal government plans to do so. My real hope is that we will not normalize neoliberal cannabis operators who are only using their generational wealth to monopolize the whole thing [cannabis] Industry, gastronomy and retail use the same plant that was illegal for blacks and browns.
I don’t want to go to a pretentious weed restaurant that belongs to rich whites in suits who have never smoked backwoods in their lives.
Do you have a strain that you like to cook with more than others? Is food your favorite way to enjoy cannabis?
Some of my favorite strains are Blueberry Clementine, Forbidden Fruit, Death Star, Lemon Skunk, Apple Fritter, and the classic Tangie. All nice for cooking, especially since the terpenes are very prominent. And no, eating is not my favorite way to enjoy cannabis!
I love smoking the most, but I also love dabbing wax. I really only enjoy microdosed foods, sometimes heavier doses, but only under certain environmental conditions. The mood has to be right!
I have a lot of friends who want to start making groceries and other infused foods. Do you have any advice for beginners looking to cook with cannabis? Any dos and don’ts?
Your best bet is to do your research and learn about food pharmacology, cannabis decarboxylation, extraction techniques and infusions, and definitely learn the proper food handling practices.
Try safely prepared and precisely dosed cannabis products. Don’t make people sick because they lack attention to detail. It’s a craft, not a rush.
Follow Manny on Instagram @ lil_manofrom18 and follow Herbal Notes @herbalnotes.
Ryan is a St. Louis based content creator, copywriter, and entrepreneur who lives in Chicago. He is a basketball fanatic, hip hop enthusiast, and indica lover who enjoys watching TV shows and classic movies.
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