Harold Sims had to wait almost a year to tell his friends that he'd won an episode of Cooked With Cannabis , a new Netflix show that pits three cannabis-friendly chefs against each other in a kitchen competition. Sims, who graduated from the Denver branch of Johnson & Wales University, took home $10,000 after creating infused dishes like West African surf and turf, North African lamb, and pâte à choux made to look like eggs from the African izulu bird.
The former college athlete and U.S. Army veteran hung around town after school to become a personal chef, occasionally serving up private dinners with dishes infused with cannabis; he never shied away from the plant's flavors, leaves or physical properties, and took inspiration from the cuisine of Cameroon, the home of his ancestors. We caught up with Sims after his winning episode ran on Netflix to learn more about his inspirations, recommended cannabis cooking techniques, and how he plans to use his new fame to push his business, Harold for Hire.
Westword: You ran track and field in college and served in the military. What led you to become a chef, and a cannabis-friendly chef at that?
Harold Sims: I'm the oldest brother, and both of my parents remarried, so I have eight brothers and sisters. Every summer when we were traveling, I was always the one cooking for the family. I always wanted to find different recipes, but cooking for that many people at once wasn't easy. I went to college for track, and I was about to graduate, but I was deciding between the Army and culinary school. I went to the Army, because I was young enough to keep running and jumping, and I could go back to culinary school later. So that's what I did.
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You have different regional cuisines based on where you are, whether it's barbecue or burgers. When it comes 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. It's a little harder to define here. Cannabis, for me, is just one more way for us to home in on who we are.
I saw that you used ghee and spice rubs as infusion techniques in the show. What are some other infusion methods that at-home cooks can use outside of cannabutter?
With cannabis, the issue has become that we've made it too foreign or special. We act as if the cannabis is separate from everything else in the recipe. We add it in later and worry about having too much or too little, which is fair. But we could make it more universal and less intimidating if we introduced it to people in the same way as a spice and used it from a scientific standpoint.
If people know why something is going on, they can form patterns for themselves. If you're trying to cook with 2 milligrams of THC, there are so many steps before you get to those 2 milligrams in terms of figuring out if those 2 milligrams are even right for you. We just need to confront it with people in a way that shows them it's an ingredient like anything else, [one] that burns and responds to certain temperatures. I infused it into heavy cream, citrus oil, spice rubs, ghee butter and some other things on the show.
Do you feel like the art form of cooking with cannabis appeals more to food lovers or to cannabis users? If both, which sense do you think it appeals to more?
It kind of appeals more to the cannabis side. I think the market is sort of flooded with the same cooking-competition shows. If you ask someone to describe a show and they can name five or six similar ones, it might be time to change a little. Is it Chopped? Cutthroat Kitchen? MasterChef? It's very easy to get lost in those kinds of shows. On the other end, if you only focus on cannabis, you end up with a lot of high people saying nothing of importance.
The marriage of the two is where people get interested. When weed was first legalized, people were just all over it. But now we're in this spot where people know weed is here, but what do they do with it now? Can they cook with it? Blend it? Put it in a Magical Butter [infusion machine]? The application of it in a real food function is what gets people's attention the most.
I personally like to add cannabis oil to my coffee, with a lot of CBD and low THC. I hear it's a lot like the [high from] strains jazz players used to smoke, which was more in-the-moment.
How is a cannabis-infusing chef supposed to market himself? You can't just open a restaurant or sell fresh-made edibles at dispensaries.
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It's all about the pivot. It's all about finding what you can use to the best of your abilities. My focus is on finding people who want to have controlled cannabis events, and by being a chef first. I know how to cook a lot of things, so let's talk about what you want to do with that, because I have this notch in my belt, and that is cannabis. It's a lot easier for a non-vegan chef to make vegan food than the other way around. It's also easier to market myself as a general chef who can use cannabis than the other way around.
Most edibles try to hide or disassociate themselves from cannabis flavors, but chefs on the show embrace the skunky, earthy flavors of cannabis. How hard is it to incorporate those flavors into dishes?
It's more difficult than most. The part that makes it extremely nuanced is the fact that when cannabis comes down to a molecular level in food, it will still react like boiling water, scalding milk or anything else that burns or curdles. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble; you can't just drop them in water. There's always that extra step that comes in, because you don't need to activate salt or pepper or other spices. Even when enhancing flavors with certain spices, you're not trying to activate chemicals. Cannabis has a bell curve of heat, where the THC starts to degrade once it gets too hot, and that ruins everything you worked for. It can't be too hot or cold, so it's a lot like milk or oil, or anything that has so many ways to be destroyed or degraded.
I would love to see a cannabis cooking chart that shows the degradation of cannabis and connected temperatures along with it. If we learn to treat cannabis as something that can be isolated and added to other things, then it can be used anywhere.