Tyler Cooke has (almost) always lived in Northern California. His address may have changed over the years — Santa Rosa, Chico, Oakland — but his passion for the culinary arts has ensured there was never a reason to stray too far. Except for a fruitful period in the Southern Hemisphere.
Long before Cooke was inventing new cannabis-infused treats for Oakland’s NUG, he was running his own restaurants in the Bay Area. Then came the market crash of 2008, which left him searching for a new gig. He found it in New Zealand, where for two years he helped local eateries channel the best aspects of American restaurants in a series of rescues and rebuilds. Homesick, Cooke returned to California and found work with a catering company that serviced technology companies.
“We were doing about 27,000 meals a week,” he recalls. “We had an amazing team. I got going with that, and then, unfortunately, I got cancer.”
During Cooke’s initial battle, he relied on a traditional array of treatments.
“I had chemo and radiation and all that stuff — plus all of the pharmaceuticals that they give you to go along with it,” Cooke says. “It was a pretty rough time.”
When Cooke incredibly found himself once more facing cancer not long after his first illness, he decided to experiment with cannabis. Though he says he harbored “no ill will” toward pot, it had never before been something he’d seriously considered using. As Cooke explains, his situation inspired him to reconsider.
“When your life is on the line,” he notes, “you’ll pretty much try anything. I would dare to say that cannabis saved my life.”
Following his recovery, a fortuitous phone call from a friend brought Cooke to NUG, and the company let him experiment as he pleased. The results? Lots and lots of chocolate bars, with plans for a medicated twist on the Otter Pop.
What started as a 90-day contract quickly morphed into a second career, and Cooke likens his profession to a certain reclusive confectioner.
“I get to play Willy Wonka for half of the day,” he says. “It’s the best part about my job. I literally get to make up stuff to eat. Someday, I want to be known as the godfather of edibles.”
Beyond the joy his work brings him, however, Cooke remains focused on medicinal users — the subsect of cannabis consumers who have likely incurred the greatest cost as a result of legalization.
“I just feel really bad for these people who were left out,” he explains. “We’ve shot ourselves in the foot because these are people that need medicine. They’re going to go get it. If they can’t buy it legally, where are they going to go buy it? No wonder the black market is doing so well.”
If it seems strange that medicinal cannabis users have been ostracized, take a few crucial points into account. With the price of cannabis skyrocketing thanks to compounding taxes, the cost of legal cannabis may be prohibitive. In addition, brick-and-mortar dispensaries only exist in about 30 percent of California. If you don’t live in one of those areas and don’t have access to delivery, there really isn’t a plausible way to buy your pot on the level.
On top of this — and central to Cooke’s concern — are regulations limiting the overall potency and dose per serving of all cannabis edibles. By capping everything at 100 milligrams of total THC and 10 milligrams per piece, some patients who rely on edibles must now eat an exponentially larger amount of their preferred product to get its desired dose.
“When I was pretty sick,” Cooke says, “I could have used a 50- or 100-milligram dose. I couldn’t eat very much, so I needed as much medicine as I could get in the smallest volume possible. Now, to do that, I would have to eat half of one of my own chocolate bars. I don’t know if I could’ve done that back when I was sick. Certainly not every day — and especially not after radiation.”
All Cooke can do for now is wait. He’s got plenty of culinary experiments to keep him busy, and should California loosen its restrictions on edibles, he’ll be ready.
“I have a lot of things prepared for if and when we are allowed to get into that market again,” Cooke confirms. “We’re going to be right there. My ultimate goal is to see a kid at Kaiser eating something that I made and seeing them get better. I want to see a little kid that starts off with tubes everywhere and walks out of there and has the rest of their life ahead of them. I want to know that something I made helped them get there. That’s what drives me, every day.”
Want to try your hand at baking your own cannabis treats? Check out these recipes below.
CBD MATCHA MOUSSE from NUG
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total Time 2 hours and 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
What you need:
1 cup Heavy Cream
2 NUG CBD/THC Matcha bars
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Glasses to put mousse in. (Clear coffee mugs or martini glasses work great!)
Coarsely chop 1 ½ of your NUG CBD/THC Matcha bars saving the last half for later. Add half cup Heavy cream to double boiler with the chopped Matcha. Over medium-low heat, slowly stir until all chocolate is fully incorporated. Remove it from the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cool to the touch.
In a large bowl, combine the remaining heavy cream and vanilla extract and beat until stiff peaks form. Combine half of the whipped cream with the melted Matcha chocolate, and then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spoon into 4 individual small glasses, cover, and let them set in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Put a dollop of whipped cream on top of mousse and sprinkle with remaining chopped matcha chocolate. Enjoy!
VEGAN DARK CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO MILKSHAKE from NUG
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 milkshakes
What you need
1 NUG Dark Chocolate bar (10 mg THC)
4 cups nondairy vegan ice cream (coconut-based vanilla works best)
1 cup of vegan milk. Tyler recommends like almond milk but soy, rice or any that you like will work
1 cup Espresso (hot)
Cherries for garnish (optional)
Spoon to stir
Start by chopping or simply breaking apart the cannabis-infused Dark Chocolate from NUG. Then pour the hot espresso into the saucepan. Add the chopped chocolate, over medium-low heat slowly stir until chocolate is melted and mixed with espresso.
Place ice cream in blender. Pour 1 cup of vegan milk over ice cream in blender then add warm chocolate espresso mixture. Blend to desired consistency. Pour into glasses and enjoy!