Written by Christine Harootunian
Photography by Kevin Ellison
The path to the Garden Remedies edibles production kitchen was not a direct one for master Chef Chris Kittredge and sous Chef Mike Villaronga. Both had their start in naval prep kitchens on land and at sea, including aboard submarines. Apparently there is a high demand for sweets by those who serve, and both men developed their initial confectionary skills while in the service.
Following their respective service commitments, each Chef continued working in various culinary jobs but found them unsatisfying and ultimately chose instead to enhance their skills by attending Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was there that they met and bonded over their mutual history in the service, their love of cooking and cannabis. They would often talk at length, as they rode the ‘T’ into Cambridge for class, about their dream job: Weed Chef.
Enter the plant production facility for Garden Remedies, located in central Massachusetts. All aspects of cannabis production take place there, including the making of their handmade edibles. Approximately 20 strains are cultivated at one time, under the most watchful eyes of lead growers, including Sean O’Laughlin.
Despite his youth, Sean has been a serious student of the cannabis plant for over 20 years. He keeps meticulously detailed notes on every aspect of each batch of product. His compassion is long-standing, having served as a personal caregiver while the opioid crisis continues to take friends and loved ones. He is driven to provide the best medicinal products for patients as a result. The passion to make the best products and to help those who are suffering emanates from virtually every staff member at Garden Remedies.
It appears that Garden Remedies is poised to continue to offer quality products to medical cannabis patients in Massachusetts, as well as meeting the future demands of the growing number of patients in the state. The electrical and water systems are designed to manage much larger demand than current operations, while space for future grow rooms has been allocated. Huge tanks holding reverse osmosis water are supplemented by an evaporation recapture system. Grower O’Laughlin says that by recapturing most of the plant evaporation, the facility only uses a net volume of about 50 gallons a day, despite applying hundreds in the daily cycle.
The passion for producing the quality medicinal products that help more than 40,000 medical patients in Massachusetts, begins at the door of the facility. Following the verification of credentials by security, visitors are escorted to the change room, where they must put on a blue jumpsuit and booties over their daywear, in an effort to protect the vulnerable plants located in various grow rooms. Employees must adhere to a strict decontamination procedure with every entry into the growing facility. This includes showering, the use of inhouse scrubs and a period of time in an enclosed ventilation system that blows anything else that might be in hair and other parts of the body into a filter. There are no compromises from the get-go. Maintaining sterility is such a priority that employees are provided with a catered lunch every day so they don’t leave the facility and subsequently have to go through the decontamination process all over again.
Back in the kitchen, gummies are on the menu today. Chris (aka Chef Red Beard) greets me enthusiastically as I enter, a special beard net covering most of his face. Sous Chef Mike (aka Chef Bleu) is stirring a huge pot of syrup, medicine and watermelon flavor over heat in preparation for the addition of gelatin that will make everything turn gummy. Chris gives me a tour of the well-appointed kitchen, pointing out the various quality-control methods in place and the specialty equipment needed to dispense perfectly sized coins of chocolate or gummies into molds, or to mix the imported cocoa to make chocolate.
Every edible product that is sold at the Green Remedies dispensary is formulated, developed and tested here. Each recipe is developed by Chris and Mike, and every batch is made by hand. Before a new edible product is introduced at the dispensary, an uninfused version is tested multiple times for consistency and flavor. Once they’re satisfied with the product, the medicine—pure extract—can be added, and the item tested for medicinal content.
Edibles on the menu at the dispensary have included: medical sugar, medicated honey, dark and milk chocolate coins, fruit gummies, hard candies, caramel chews, chocolate chip cookies and barbecue sauce (yes, barbecue sauce). “We search for the best ingredients for everything that we make,” said Chris, pointing out the large bags of fine Callebaut Dutch cocoa. The pure dark or milk chocolate is tempered with sugar and milk or cream inhouse to make the chocolate coins and chocolate chips for the cookies. The honey comes in from a Cape Cod apiary, while the caramels are made from caramelized sugar on site. There are no shortcuts in this kitchen, and their quality speaks for itself: other dispensaries in Massachusetts purchase their products to sell at their own locations.
When asked whether they felt bored or underutilized by the limited range of edibles currently being produced, now that they have their dream job, they both shook their heads without hesitation, saying that every day is a new challenge to make the best products. Their products are in demand and appreciated by the patients who visit Green Remedies dispensary. New products are under development every day, too. While these Chefs could find themselves in even greater demand with the imminent move toward adult recreational use in Massachusetts, they already have their dream job.
To learn more about Garden Remedies, visit them online at GardenRemedies.org or on social media at instagram.com/gardenremedies.