Chef Holden is a renowned chef who has worked at some of California’s top restaurants. Over his 15-year long career, he has perfected his craft at places like Town Hall, Craft Steakhouse, Maude, and Soho House.
In 2016, Chef Holden opened Altered Plates, a custom culinary cannabis experience designed to pair cannabis flavors with flavors in food.
We had the pleasure of learning more about Chef Holden’s journey to the cannabis world.
How did you get into cooking?
I have been cooking since the summer of my second year of college. My first job was as an apprentice at a sushi bar. I would go to the fish market at 5 am, clean and butcher fish, clean and butcher meat, wash dishes, bus tables, take out the trash, sweep, mop – everything but make sushi. Then I went back to college and got an entry level job in a kitchen, found my way into pastry, and found it a great fit.
When did cooking with cannabis first came into the picture?
I have been mixing cannabis and hospitality since I was in high school, when I started cooking for my friends when we could smoke. When I started cooking professionally, I started paying attention to how restaurants use their bar and wine programs to pair with the food and lubricate and heighten the dining experience. As a cannabis user, the natural progression in my mind was to relate this to cannabis. After opening two restaurants in two years, and then spending another two years running a high volume private members club, I was excited for a change of pace and to follow my passion and get back to my garden. Chefs crave creativity and new ingredients and flavors.
Are your family and friends aware of your involvement in the industry?
First of all, my parents have been incredibly supportive, and my sister is my business partner, so you could say it’s actually the family business! I have been cultivating outdoor organic cannabis for the last seven years, as a medical patient, and as a caregiver for my in-laws, as well as my own father, who recently recovered from back surgery medicating only with cannabis. Attitudes about cannabis are shifting quickly.
“Cannabis is still the next frontier, and cannabis in the kitchen still has a taboo. There’s a lot of educating to do, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Who are your favorite chefs?
My favorite chef is Alice Waters. Her impact supporting small farms and heirloom produce is a major part of who I am as a chef. I’ve never worked at restaurant that didn’t get produce from farmer’s markets, and that is where I start for every dinner or event I do.
What are your favorite cooking ingredients?
Cannabis, duh. But seriously, experimenting with cannabis as an ingredient is something that I focus a lot on in the kitchen and in my garden. Cannabis is a vegetable, and I love playing with it as a vegetable outside of its psycho-activity.
And your signature dish?
I used to bake naturally leavened bread and I have always been a bit of a fermentation enthusiast, so I would say anything fermented or pickled or aged.
What changes do you see in the industry?
I worry about the race to the bottom that is coming up in the next few years, as our industry struggles to find the true cost of a unit of cannabis. I hope that the farmers that have kept fine heirloom genetics available continue to do so, as the market begins to see the importance of these cultivators and the focus turns from quantity to quality.
I think the cannabis industry will continue to find ways to reach all consumers, through education and a variety of products. There are still a lot of cannabis consumers who are uninformed about the many ways you can incorporate cannabis into your life, and with education, the stigma will continue to deplete. I look forward to increased normalization, which will help more people medicate using cannabis too.
Any words of wisdom to budding chefs out there?
Have fun with it, and don’t shy away from the plant. Being a cultivator, I have a unique experience with cannabis in my cooking. I get to play around with the plant in different stages and have even done some cool stuff with males.