Cannabis Chef Brian Merel

Cannabis Cuisine: Interview with Chef Brian Merel

Back in the prohibition days, which is to say about ten years ago, edible cannabis was basically limited to homemade pot brownies.

But if you walk into any current dispensary today, the shelves are stocked with every type of edible and drinkable concoction one could think of. These edible goodies have been created by top chefs and confectionary companies such as Mindy’s, Bubby’s, and Wana’s. 

One thing is clear: cannabis connoisseurs love their edibles. So it comes as no surprise that acclaimed chefs have started infusing cannabis into their culinary creations. 

Cannabis Cooks

A step beyond the sugary treats are cannabis themed multi-course course meals that would rival any four star restaurant – the only catch being that these foodie items are infused with THC.

While cannabis themed restaurants are starting to pop up in legal adult use states, many are also turning to private chefs who specialize in cannabis themed dinner parties. With cannabis cuisine becoming more and more popular, we thought it would be interesting to speak to a chef who has specialized in cannabis infusion.

Chef Brian Merel

We were able to sit down with Chef Brian Merel at his newest restaurant, Papa Willy’s BBQ in Highwood, Illinois. Chef Brian has a colorful and expansive background in the food industry for over fifteen years, owning and operating his own restaurants, as well as being an in-demand private chef.

Notably, Chef Brian was a contestant on FOX’s “Hell’s Kitchen”, season ten, where he formed a passionate and loyal following.  Prior to coming back home to Chicago and opening up his newest concept, Brian worked in Ashand, Oregon, specializing in cannabis infused cuisine.

Cannabis Chef Brian Merel


Grow America Builders: Thanks for taking the time Chef. How did you get into cooking with cannabis?

Chef Brian Merel: People used to ask me all the time to infuse things with cannabis. They want, I make.

GAB: Makes sense. Who is a typical clientele?

Chef Brian: All humans of every kind. No typical clients at all. What I’ve learned is that Cannabis reaches all ages, genders and economic classes. 

GAB: What was your procedure when infusing an item with cannabis?

Chef Brian:  Make sure I have the correct calculations, first and foremost. Without knowing EXACTLY what you’re using, you’re cooking blind…with your clients as the test subjects. I’d rather them happy, as opposed to completely tweaked. 

GAB: Are there any tips or tricks specific to cooking with cannabis to ensure that the clientele is happy as opposed to ‘completely tweaked’ as you say?

Chef Brian:  Math. Math. Math. Science. Science. Science. 

GAB: Now you sound like one of our architects. Explain how math and science helps you cook with cannabis?

Chef Brian: It’s all about being certain of the product you’re using first and foremost. If an oil is 87% THC, I need to be certain it’s actually 87% THC. If it’s not, things go south.

Once you decide on the dish, you figure out where in the method of production that makes the most sense to incorporate the oil. In this case, it would most likely be in the remoloude that I use to flavor and assist in binding the crab cake. Then I’ll decide what dosage I want each crab cake to hold, then I’ll weigh all the ingredients, carefully check my math…weigh it all again and go on with my procedure.

If I want them all to be 7 grams of THC, I’ll have to run the numbers based on the THC percentage in the oil, the number of crab cakes in my recipe, total weight of the product and divide accordingly. Math. 

GAB: Yep, that’s a lot of math alright. What’s the most consistent way to infuse cannabis into food to make sure that the math is as accurate as possible? I’ve always heard you don’t actually infuse the food itself but in the butter or oil, correct?

Chef Brian: Absolutely. Oil and butter. I like oil but butter works as well just fine. 

GAB: Is there a difference between cooking with an item infused with cannabis and without?

Chef Brian: Of course. It’s method. When to add the cannabis is vital. It’s oil or fat based when it’s infused so you must be careful and thoughtful. 

Chef Brian Merel Cooking

GAB: What was your favorite item to infuse with cannabis?

Chef Brian: My southern jumbo lump crab cake.

GAB: Sounds delicious. Why was that your favorite? 

Chef Brian. Because crab cakes rule, and making them psychoactive is just a cool thing in and of itself. 

GAB: Do you think that cannabis infused dining is a just a fad since everyone is so excited about cannabis becoming legal, or do you see it as a lasting concept?

Chef Brian: We haven’t even scratched the surface. Within a few years, there will be cannabis restaurants all over the place. 


We conducted the interview over a few ‘bags’ of ribs at Papa Willy’s BBQ, and they were incredible. Although not cannabis infused (yet) if any of our readers are in the Chicago area, head to Chef Brian’s Papa Willy’s BBQ at 148 Green Bay, Highwood and try some delicious ribs.