Food for Recreation and Medication
Cooking with cannabis is one 2018 food trend that Cocina del Corazón hopes is here to stay.
The salsa contains cannabis distillates.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
For Jazmin Peña and Enrique Soriano of Cocina del Corazón Catering, salsa isn’t just a source of spice — it’s also a form of medication.
The couple, who both grew up in Fruitvale, opened Cocina del Corazón in 2016. But Soriano’s experience with food goes way back. He’s been working at his parents’ food truck, Tacos Los Michoacanos, since he was a teenager. He attended culinary school and went on to cook in San Francisco restaurants Nopa and Nopalito. He also catered weddings and quinceañeras for clients of his mother’s bridal shop.
Cocina del Corazón offers taco bars for private parties and also does occasional pop-ups. Its tacos and quesadillas come in varieties, like carnitas, carne asada, chicken, and soyrizo and potato, and its colorful spreads typically include a variety of salsas, pickled vegetables, and fresh garnishes. They describe their culinary style as Mexo-California cuisine.
As Soriano explained, it’s “a combination of Mexican food, with the California ideology of farm-to-table. Fresh, organic. We like to take a natural, holistic approach to food and how we operate as well, [like] the way we compost. … We try to have a minimal carbon footprint as possible.”
Peña added that they also use compostable plates, silverware, and cups, and compost their food waste. “You can honestly say we’re a green business, besides the cannabis factor,” Peña laughed.
With the legalization of recreational cannabis in California on Jan. 1, 2018, Cocina del Corazón quietly began offering medicated tacos to clients at private events after overhearing some of their regular clients discussing marijuana. “We got a little brave and went, ‘You know, by the way, if you guys are ever interested, we do a medicated taco bar,’ and they all lit up. They’re like, ‘can we do this, like, tomorrow?’” Peña recalled.
Their tacos are medicated using an optional, mildly spicy salsa made using cannabis. Soriano said the garlic and spices in the salsa mask the cannabis taste. It’s a healthier alternative to the often sugary edibles available at dispensaries.
“[Most edibles are] so saturated with sweets and sugars and food that is so heavily processed,” Soriano said. “There’s ... people who have ailments that can’t have sugar. I wanted to have it be the alternative of a savory edible that’s not gonna cause you more ailments.”
Their salsa is made with cannabis distillates, which allow them to control the concentration of THC, the psychoactive molecule in weed. Soriano said a tablespoon of salsa contains 7 to 10 milligrams of THC, and they administer it to guests in individual doses like any other medication: “We always make sure that we always keep our salsas in separate containers, and we always supervise it. My partner, she’s always at the table, and making sure adults-only, and that they all know how much is going into it. And we recommend how much to put at first. We always tell our guests, ‘Take it easy. Give it some time. Don’t rush it.’”
Photo by lance yamamoto
Jazmin Peña and Enrique Soriano of Cocina del Corazón.
But at first, they were nervous about how their clients might react to a medicated taco bar. “Me and my girlfriend are firm believers [in] lifting the veil in our community, especially our Latino community,” Soriano said. “[There’s] such a stigma of cannabis. … You’re looked at like a drug user, somebody that’s on the wrong path. … We want to show that people who consume cannabis still can have proper businesses, too. Help contribute to society in a positive way.”
Peña and Soriano are passionate about destigmatizing cannabis because of its potential benefits. Prior to opening Cocina del Corazón, Peña worked at a medical marijuana clinic, where she witnessed patients benefiting from the medication. “Some people suffer from PTSD, some people suffer from chronic pain like I do, and not everyone is looking to smoke cannabis,” Peña said. They added that cannabis can also help with sleep problems, anxiety, seizures, lupus, low appetite, or simply relaxation.
Their clients’ reactions have mostly been positive so far. At one of their medicated taco bars, they were heartened to see a family enjoying cannabis together across generations without stigma.
“It was really great to see our vision coming true: an awesome, hardworking great family, and yeah, they also partake in cannabis,” Peña said. “It was really fun to just see the stigma not be a stigma.”
Peña and Soriano want to get more involved in the cannabis industry in Oakland, which Peña described as “the mecca of cannabis right now.”
“We’re a young Chicano couple from Oakland,” she said. “For us, it’s a little bit scary to see the trends in cannabis where it’s becoming big money, big investors coming into Oakland to take advantage of what’s called the ‘green rush.’ So for us, we want to make sure that we are setting ourselves up to be big players in Oakland, because this is our hometown.”
They said current laws regarding cannabis and food are a bit of a gray area, and they want to be involved in helping write legislation so they can eventually open a sit-down, medicated Mexican restaurant in Oakland that’s open to the public. They’ve already got relevant experience after serving a six-course medicated Valentine’s Day dinner, which included huaraches, ceviche tikin xic, and mole poblano. Soriano said he’d also like to sell his salsa at local dispensaries.
They’re also involved in the broader community and serve food to over a hundred veterans every month through the Weed for Warriors Project. The project advocates for veterans’ access to medical marijuana, which often isn’t covered by insurance. Though the food they serve to veterans isn’t medicated, it’s an important source of nutrition and community-building.
In November, they even served a “Vetsgiving” Thanksgiving dinner. “We never set a limit, so people are welcome to come and eat twice, three times, take whatever’s left over home. … It’s really sad to overhear that a lot of them didn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner. … This once-a-month outing is either the only outing they have all month or the only really quality food they’ve had in a while,” Peña said.
In a way, it’s an embodiment of Cocina del Corazón’s beliefs about the healing powers of food and cannabis. “We’re firm believers in cannabis as medication, and we also know that a lot of people find food to be healing, and food to be the way they also choose to medicate,” Peña said. “For us, it was almost like a mission statement where we were looking to feed people good food, feed people organic food, and be able to feed people what they consider their own medication.”