Randal Dario Mendoza Brooks is a private chef based in Venice Beach, California, whose love of food began when he was a young kid living in New Jersey. He grew up in a family of amateur and professional cooks, and helping out in his uncle’s seafood restaurant spurred his passion for being in the kitchen.
“I loved the pace of the kitchen, all the different tastes and textures, and the possibility of making something with your hands right in front of you. Cooking with my family showed me how much food made people happy. That’s a big part of showing love,” Brooks says.
This love led him to the French Culinary Institute in New York, where he studied and graduated, immediately beginning his career working in various restaurants throughout the city. “I worked under a lot of really incredible chefs who taught me not only cooking skills but about personality and how that can translate to a plate,” Brooks says. “I began to see my own style forming, which I would describe as seasonal avant-garde. I love bright colors and playing with texture, but I was still cooking other peoples’ food.”
During this time, Brooks was struggling with bipolar disorder and the medication the doctors prescribed. It was interfering with his ability to feel creative in the kitchen, and ultimately it left him hospitalized. “I didn’t feel like myself in the kitchen; all my creativity was gone,” he says. “I gained a lot of weight and just felt like absolute crap.” Brooks started reading about other possible treatment options, including cannabis.
It turns out 2.3 million Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Brooks turned to cannabis when he made the decision to get off bipolar medication. “I was desperate to get off of the medication. I started smoking weed every day. It gave me my mojo back. I felt great for the first time in a long time,” Brooks says. “My head was spinning with ideas about food, and I was genuinely excited to get back in the kitchen. I realized that cannabis was really integral to my health and happiness, and I started thinking about how many other people like me could be helped by the same medicine.”
During that time, he was invited to do a pop-up at a friend’s restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. It was such a success, he started doing more underground pop-ups, developing his own style, each time coming more and more into his own as a chef. He invested in and opened his own midtown Manhattan restaurant, Venisalvi (now closed). “I finally had the freedom to express my creativity and make food that really represented me. And man, it felt good. But if my cooking was really going to represent me, my heritage, and my personality, I felt as though it needed to include cannabis.”
The journey he was on was one of conviction, and the decision to cook with cannabis wouldn’t be possible if he stayed in New York where cannabis is still illegal. “Cannabis had changed my entire outlook, improved my way of life, and greatly affected my personality. It was an integral part of my personal journey, and I truly believed it could improve the lives of so many others like me. I was such a strong advocate for cannabis that I knew no matter how much creative freedom I had in the kitchen, without it, I’d be missing a key ingredient. I also knew that I would never be able to pull off infused cuisine if I stayed there, so in November of 2018, I packed up my life and moved to Los Angeles.”
Here in Southern California, Brooks’s culinary career has taken flight with innovative and experimental cuisine. “The first thing I ever infused were bulgogi beef tacos. I think fatty proteins like lamb and duck also pair really well with cannabis oil,” says Brooks, whose menu has evolved to include infused salad and crudo vinaigrettes. “Anything that cooks in oil or butter can be infused, so the possibilities are pretty much endless,” he says.
“I moved to California to pursue cannabis cooking in an environment where I didn’t have to hide. I’ve done 13 dinners since then, and each one is different. For private dinners, it all depends on the client, their guests, and any requests or dietary restrictions they may have. We work together to plan a menu within their budget. When it’s a dinner that I’m hosting, every menu is different. I try to stick to what’s seasonal and really just enjoy cooking things that I like to eat. That’s what makes it fun.”
Brooks and his team—many of whom have struggled with mental health issues and were helped by cannabis—work together to provide multicourse events. His company OCD (Obsessive Cooking Disorder) was named as a way to take the stigma away from mental health issues and normalize the use of cannabis.
“The goal is to have an infused restaurant not too far down the line, but for now I’m just out here doing what I do—cooking my food and spreading the word that cannabis is truly the best medicine.”
Pumpkin Ale Braised Short Ribs
With Mushrooms and Polenta / Serves 2–4
Courtesy of @ocdla__
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups flour, divided
Salt and pepper
2½–3 pounds short ribs
16 ounces pumpkin ale
12 ounces sliced mushrooms
15 ounces beef consommé
Polenta prepared to package instructions
- Heat oven to 275°F
- In a Dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter into 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Add 1 1/2 cups flour to a bowl and generously add salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
- Coat ribs in 1/4 cup flour. Brown in Dutch oven in batches, 2–3 minutes each side.
- Deglaze pan by pouring beer into pan and scraping up brown bits.
- Return meat to pan, cover, and transfer to oven for 3–4 hours.
- Remove meat from pan and shred from bones. Set aside.
- In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt remaining butter and olive oil.
- Add mushrooms and stir to coat. Let sit a few minutes, then stir periodically until tender.
- Sprinkle mushrooms with remaining ¼ cup flour. Stir for about one minute.
- Add consommé. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened.
- Add meat and any cooking liquid back into pan and cook until heated through.
- Serve over polenta and garnish with parsley.
Blueberry Kush Ice Cream
Blueberry ice cream with infused whipped cream (also called Bhang) / Recipe by Chef Randal Brooks
Photo by @LynneMitchell Twenty20.com
For the whipped cream
2 cups water
3 cups whole milk or
1/2 ounce cannabis buds (broken up, but not ground)
For the ice cream
2 cups infused whipped cream
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1–2 tablespoons tapioca flour for texture (optional)
4 ounces blueberries
¼ cup sugar
1½ cups dark chocolate chips (optional)
For the whipped cream
- In a saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat.
- In a heat-resistant bowl, add cannabis and cover with hot water. Let sit for seven minutes.
- Add milk/cream. Use a blunt object like a wooden spoon or pestle to grind the leaves into the milk.
- Strain through a cheesecloth to remove the plant matter.
- Pour strained liquid into a bowl. Whip until you can pull the mixer out and stiff peaks form. Set aside.
For the ice cream
- In a large bowl, whisk together condensed milk and vanilla. (For a thicker ice cream, add tapioca flour.)
- Using a spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the condensed milk. Do this slowly in order to keep both mixtures light and aerated.
- In a small saucepan on low heat, cook down blueberries with the sugar until your blueberries burst open. Cool them down on a sheet tray for 10 minutes.
- Fold in chocolate chips and any other added ingredients, then transfer the mixture to an insulated tub or paper container and freeze for four to six hours.