The Safer at Home order prevents Denver chef Harold Sims from demonstrating his skills in a restaurant these days, but you can get a taste of them on TV, where he just won $10,000 on Cooked With Cannabis.
Sims had been working largely as a personal chef cooking dinners in private homes when Netflix contacted him last year to see if he was interested in competing on a new show based on cannabis-infused cooking challenges. Although his episode was shot last June, Sims had to wait almost a year before he could tell his friends that he won the second round of Cooked With Cannabis, which just aired at the end of April.
Hosted by singer Kelis (whose milkshake brought all the boys to the yard in 2004) and chef Leather Storrs, each Cooked With Cannabis episode pits three chefs against each other, bringing in additional celebrity judges to test out the contestants' appetizers, main courses and desserts infused with CBD and THC.
On his episode, Sims, whose family has roots in Cameroon, was excited to showcase his culture's underrated flavor, which he describes as an inspiration to Southern food.
"My family is from the South — North Carolina and Texas — but we did a lot of digging into two or three generations ago, and we found a lot of our family from both sides came from Cameroon," Sims explains. "You start off becoming a generalist, and then you become a specialist. My food was good, but it had no soul to it. I had to home in on what my thing was, [and] it became apparent to me how close African was to Southern food."
For the show, Sims whipped up a West African surf and turf (infused brown ghee on ribeye, charred octopus, charred vegetables with "black" barbecue sauce and chickpea akara), North African lamb (infused avocado oil on lamb rubbed in harissa chili paste with creamed collards and goat-cheese yogurt, Yemenite zhug sauce and a citrus-flower mixture) and pâte à choux, made to look like eggs from the African izulu bird, with a passion fruit purée and infused heavy cream and coconut milk.
Storrs enjoyed the lamb so much that he took an extra shank to his hosting chair, unashamedly chowing down while transitioning to the dessert round. After Sims's izulu eggs wowed their tastebuds one more time, Kelis and Storrs awarded Sims the victory, as well as $10,000.
"Harold opened my brain up to food I probably wouldn't order and flavors I probably wouldn't expect. The cannabis was an aid to that," Storrs said on the show.
Denver's food scene is nothing to scoff at, but Rocky Mountain chefs are still trying to make a mark on the national map. Although not necessarily a specific cultural cuisine, cannabis-infused food is an opportunity for Colorado chefs to capitalize on the state's history with the plant, Sims says. (Scott Durrah, another local chef, won a similar cannabis-infused cooking competition on the VICELAND show Bong Appétit in 2019.)
"You have different regional cuisines based on where you are, whether it's barbecue or burgers. When it coms to Denver, it's sort of a hodgepodge. I know we have green chile, but no one is coming from Japan to try green chile," he adds. "It's all about the pivot. It's all about finding what you can use to the best of your abilities. ... I like to use as much plant matter as possible when I cook [with cannabis]. I try to avoid using extractions; it's like making your own sauce versus buying from the store."
Plus, as Sims points out, "the market is sort of flooded with the same cooking competition shows."
While Colorado marijuana laws currently ban the sale of cannabis-infused food outside of a dispensary, Sims is spinning out private dinners and meals through his personal chef service, Harold for Hire. And yes, cannabis-infused dining options are available.
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