Chef Milz might've been a rapper in her youth, but her attitude is 100-percent punk rock. She rocks a mean mohawk, designed her all-black chef uniforms and found her culinary calling by elevating Cup O' Noodles into fine dining. She even kicked ass on both Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen. It seems Milz was destined for DIY greatness.
Raised on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the Los Angeles-based chef runs several businesses, including Rock Star Chefz, Red Eye Edibles and a Vegas food truck serving Colombian-style hot dogs with infused sauces. She does meal prep for several high-profile clients, and her culinary cannabis events are famous for feeling more like parties than dinners. In terms of gastronomic style, most cannabis cooks focus on baked goods and comfort food, but Milz has more in common with chefs like Leonor Espinosa and Mitsuharu Tsumura who revolutionized South American cuisine. Though her approach embraces global gastronomy, the chef born Millie Fernandez specializes in Asian-twisted Colombian.
PRØHBTD met with chef Milz at a Little Tokyo tea shop in DTLA to discuss infused spirits, cannabis syringes, human sushi displays and everything else she does that makes prohibitionists cringe.
You have a product that looks like a syringe. Is this available at parties or dispensaries?
It's only available per order. Private events as well. Not in dispensaries. I like my products to be fresh, and this is a Jello- and alcohol-based shooter. Let's say you want to celebrate a birthday. We'll have a couple of girls dressed in nurse outfits with the piña colada, the lemon and the lime CBD and THC syringes. It's a cool way of incorporating what Rock Star Chefz is: good food with a Hollywood flair for presentation.
Do you have products in stores or is everything completely fresh?
Everything is completely fresh. Everything can be transformed for a store, eventually, if the right opportunity comes and I can keep the product fresh. I would like to get it into stores, but at the same time, I do like the exclusivity of it now, and Rock Star Chefz is about exclusive experiences.
You also do a lot of alcohol infusions.
Yes! Your favorite bottle. Favorite strain. Three weeks later, delivered to your house.
What's the strangest mix anyone ever ordered?
You heard of a whiskey called Pappy Van Winkle? It's a very exclusive, very rare whiskey. I have a very high-profile client and that is his favorite whiskey—[we infused] Northern Lights, which is a classic strain. I did a collaboration of the two, and I wish I could have tried it, but I had to deliver the bottle complete.
What about custom orders and meal plans delivered to homes?
Yes! Let's say you want a week of meal prep, I can head out to your house on Monday, prepare your meals and snacks for the week, divided into CBD, THC and non-medicated. Fifty percent of my clients are non-medicated clients.
What percentage want THC and what percentage only want CBD?
The majority of clients want a dose of THC, just enough to function properly throughout the day. Maybe one, two or three milligrams. Matter of fact, none of my [dishes] have a high percentage. You're never gonna find a product with 25 milligrams, 50 milligrams. It's an experience that takes you to an elevation where you can safely hit at home as well.
Privately, in the comfort of their homes and for their daily meal preps, it's a majority of CBD patients. CBD provides the medical benefits of the marijuana plant without the psychoactive parts, and we all know that CBD balances out the THC experience. So if you have two milligrams of THC in a meal and two or three milligrams of CBD, you're going to have a nice balance in your body.
Do you ever use cannabis purely as flavoring?
Yes. Flavor. Or decoratively. It's amazing [when you] put a beautiful bud in a fancy plated dish. It looks amazing. I'm high on using the actual leaf as a decorative, but it's becoming harder to acquire and to keep fresh when I do get them. Again, I'm big on organic, locally sourced products, so within my little home collection of cilantro, parsley and basil, I want to start growing my own plants so I can source from there. I can use it as a decorative item and give it slightly more flavor. I'll even use terpenes as a decorative center with fresh flowers and dry ice. It just provides smell. Even if I do a smoked salmon, I can enclose it and do that smoke with the terpene combinations.
What would be an example of food presentation that seems to have the most impact?
I'd definitely say the human sushi displays are, to this day, impacting. You have half of the invitees say, "Oh my god, how cool, let me eat a piece of sushi," and the other half is like, "Why are they displaying food on a human body? How disgusting." There are strong emotions tied to the presentation, but at the end of the day, it's Hollywood. It's flared up. It doesn't lose the essence of what food is.
When you tackle Colombian food with infusions, do you American-ize them, or do you go for the traditional recipes you grew up on in Baranquilla?
I don't want to lose the authenticity of it. As my career grows as a chef, I definitely want to highlight Colombian cuisine because anyone who has been to Colombia knows the food is amazing. The way they tackle other types of cuisine—Mediterranean, Chinese, Japanese—is amazing. The flavor… you can taste it. So it's definitely important to keep the authenticity while fusing it with Asian cuisine, which is one of my favorites.
What Colombian staples have you had the most success infusing with cannabis?
There's a dish where you fry swordfish and marinade it in vinegar with sliced potatoes and onions. Big hit. I've actually presented it for a couple of competitions, and they're fascinated by the recipe. The ceviche style. I do a medicated shrimp cocktail that I grew up eating, you know, driving to Cartagena.
What about a breakfast dish like bandeja paisa?
Bandeja paisa? I have definitely infused bandeja paisa, from preparing the chorizo fresh and infusing it with fresh herbs, to frying the chicharon and the platano. My rice… when I do it infused, I prepare it with CBD water as well as a THC oil, and I'll saute garlic and a little onion. The ratio of rice water is based on the CBD, which is important for [achieving] the [consistent] dosage for diners.
I know this wasn't a coastal dish, but what about ajiaco?
Ajiaco is an amazing soup from Bogota. From the cachacos, you know? And I represent all of my beautiful country's food, not just from Barranquilla, which is mainly seafood. When I come back from Colombia, I come with a big supply of guascas, which is the secret herb for a good ajiaco. They look at me at the airport like, "Where are you taking all this guascas?"
What about infused arequipe?
Infused? Ooh, that's interesting. You know, I do arequipe, but I haven't infused it yet. When you're infusing marijuana products, it has to stay at an X amount of temperature. For arequipe, you also have to boil condensed milk to an X amount of temperature so it turns into dulce de leche. So, if I roughly calculate the temperatures in my head, I don't think it would [work]. But now that you're bringing up the challenge, I would definitely say some wax. Of course, you can always go for a tincture, but I think tinctures are for lazy people. It takes away the creativity of what you're doing and preparing.
Right now I'm testing a lot of powdered flower—fresh marijuana—to do fresh breads, croissants. It's been a challenge because I've never been a baker. I'm more of a savory type, but I'm loving the challenge. Colombian bread is a big thing… a café con leche in the morning with a bread. There's no donuts. [You get] the bread with the little raisins or the arepita with the butter or with cheese and guava paste. I'm thinking a cannabis bakery would be amazing.
Colombia is famous for coffee. Anything interesting you've done with it?
Besides your average Keurig cups with marijuana that I prepare for clients, I do something that's very popular in my pop-ups and events: I always close events with a affogato shot. I prepare it with fresh Colombian coffee, and it's all completely medicated. It's mainly high CBD and low THC, and it definitely balances out the diner after they've had 10, 15 different dishes with a majority THC base.
You curate the dinners with soundtracks. Do you typically play rap and R&B?
Reggaeton as well. I originally wanted to be a rapper, and in my teen years, I pursued it. I was a little bit crazy back then. It was nothing that I took serious, and it kind of [fizzled] from there. I love music, I love fashion, but the culinary [arts] is really what tickled me.
In college, I was well known for making something out of nothing. We'd be high and kicking it, so I'm like, "I'll cook something." My friends would be like, "There's nothing." There's a can of tuna, some pasta, just random stuff, and I would make something out of nothing just like my grandma used to do when I watched her growing up. Cup-O-Noodles: six packs for a dollar. Anybody who's lived on the college budget has bought a Cup-O-Noodle, and I can make it in 40, 50 different ways. That became my staple.
Obviously you can't name names, but would any of your high-profile clients be a big surprise? Like are you infusing meals for a CNN host or someone like that?
I haven't had one that crazy. I did have a big director, and even I was impressed. When I landed the gig, he didn't know what I specialize in. He has a love for martinis, and I make a crazy good dirty martini. He likes it with a little bit of citrus, so I told him that I could add a special flare of citrus to it. Lemon Haze came up, and next thing you know, I'm medicating his martini. It was pretty cool.
So 10 percent of your proceeds go to foster home charities, correct?
Yeah. The project got suspended for a little bit [in] 2017. It was becoming hard for me to flow with all the opportunities that were coming in, but it's definitely in talks to resume. We want to organize at least one event a month provided to foster kids. It's actually been my biggest accomplishment until now.
Do the organizations know about your cannabis side?
It's hard for me to keep it separated, but it has not come up yet. It's very delicate because, of course, [I'm not going] to start introducing cannabis to kids. They're growing and have a lot of confusion in their lives, and they haven't had stability. It would be ridiculous to introduce other items that have nothing to do with motivating them in life. The work we're doing with the kids is teaching them how to eat healthy, how to eat on a budget and motivating them. I'm trying to tell them that, no matter what circumstance life presents you, you can overcome and be whatever you want to be.
Growing up, you experienced tough times and lived in foster homes yourself. How do you prefer people describe that time in your life?
It's mixed feelings. If somebody is curious about your past, I feel it's important that, one, you're sincere, and two, it helps somebody else overcome any circumstance they're in. At the beginning I was very open about it. As my career's been growing, I've become more private about it. I don't want it to be as highlighted, I would say.
Maybe highlight it when talking to kids but not to the general public.
Yes. I want to be known for my cuisine, for my creativity, for my entrepreneurship and for my brand. I don't want to be known as "the kid that grew up in foster homes and she's doing alright now."
Do you ever have people say they don't want help, even charitable help, from anyone associated with cannabis?
Of course! I had a high-profile client, a rapper, who's a very intelligent guy. He's a poet more than a rapper, and I assumed he was pro-marijuana. He loved my food, but when it came up that I specialize in cannabis cuisine, he didn't want me as a chef any longer.
I have other chef friends who specialize in marijuana, and they have basketball and football player clients. It all depends on the person and how they were raised, so I never take it personally. Before I would try to introduce more marijuana, doors were shut. Now my door is being knocked on right and left like crazy. You just have to trust the process and give it time and respect. Everybody has their right to proceed as they want.
When you appeared on the cooking shows, did you bring up cannabis?
When I did Cutthroat Kitchen in 2013, the producers asked me what I specialized in, and I said marijuana cuisine. "What? How cool. Let's sit down." I turn [the episode] on and they ask, "What do you specialize in?" and the episode shows me saying, "Latin/Asian food." We spent two hours talking about cannabis cuisine and how cool they thought it was, but when the show aired on TV, they took it all out. It's been that way until this year. I saw—I think it was on Cutthroat Kitchen—a chef who specializes in marijuana cuisine. So for me, it's super cool to see the evolution. It's becoming more commercialized little by little. But to this day, it's still not something that everybody's going to be completely open about.
What will take up the majority of your focus in 2018?
The majority of focus is commercializing the brand more without losing the integrity of what Rock Star Chefz is. I don't want to lose the underground style and the rawness of the concept. And I definitely want to go into TV, but I'm just waiting for the right opportunity. I'm getting a lot of reality [TV] requests, and that's not what I do. I want to do culinary, like an old school Emeril show modernized for Millennials. I'd like viewers to be able to send in questions live, and I can answer them immediately, but still with the classicality of teaching people how to cook. I'd want to keep it simple, but with the Rock Star flair, like the human sushi displays. Culinary is changing a lot—it's becoming a lot more travel, trying different food—yet we're forgetting the simplicity of teaching a cool, homemade recipe and how to flare it up for friends. Rock Star Chefz is always going to be that hyped-up scene with the music, good food, good cocktails… for all the sinners!
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.