Traditional media outlets focus on profit and partisanship, so their news stories are usually negative. The Commoner aims to build a more compassionate world, so we have decided to highlight everyday people and their positive impact in their communities. Dawaun Davis is highlighting these stories through his Baltimore’s Best and Brightest series. The series will focus on people that are making a positive social, economic, or political impact in his hometown of Baltimore. First up on the interview list is Jason, a self-made local chef at The Herbal Cuisine.
Dawaun: How is it going today? I just wanted to talk to you about a series at The Commoner called Baltimore’s Best and Brightest. I wanted you to be the first person to kick off the series. So, can you tell us a little about yourself? Tell us your name? How did it start for you?
Chef Kief: Nice talking to you today. My name is Jason, but my friends call me Byrd. More recently, people call me Chef Kief of The Herbal Cuisine. Growing up in Baltimore, I had the normal inner-city kid upbringing. Black people in Baltimore have the gift and the curse of having to understand the streets. However, I was blessed to have a mom who worked to provide the best life for our family. We were able to afford computers in the early 90s. Her example and my gift for school allowed me to talk to all kinds of people, which I did not realize would benefit me later in life.
Dawaun: You mentioned growing up, and I wanted to talk more about it. How was your life as a young Black person in Baltimore?
Chef Kief: My mom made sure our upbringing was great. She worked to provide for us, so I developed a hard-working mentality. I always had a business owner’s mind frame. I watched my family and some of the neighborhood’s older guys, and I realized that Black people were groomed to be workers. I was a somewhat privileged kid from the hood because my mother worked hard, but my family and the brothers in our hood set of a switch in my head that told me, “you will be your own boss.”
Dawaun: How was your educational experience?
Chef Kief: School was a breeze for me. I really did not have any problems at school. I always wanted to be the best student in my class. My academic career was superb, and I graduated with honors from Walbrook. Graduating proved to me that I could achieve anything. We were told what we could not do our whole lives, so I saw graduating as a chance to prove the people who say that wrong. I think that our most significant opposition is ourselves and the lack of belief. If we stand together as Foundational Black Americans, then there is nothing we cannot do. We need to set the plan, execute the plan, and there will be nothing to stop us.
Yet, college life was never an option for me because the skills I wanted to learn didn’t come from getting a degree. I did not want to sit in a college and listen to people read books to me that I could read myself. I am not knocking anyone for going to college, but it is just not for me. As I get older, I do realize that learning never stops, so I will probably take some business management classes in the future.
Dawaun: Where did your love for marijuana and cooking come from?
Chef Kief: My older brother was a fantastic chef and our relationship growing up was always close, so I learned how to cook at an early age. I had always been artistic too, so once I found the kitchen, it was a ‘eureka” moment for me. I was grilling in the kitchen at fourteen years old, and I would be a chef at our cookouts. I smoked and grilled thanksgiving turkeys and dinners for my girlfriend too.
My infatuation with cannabis first started as a cultural thing because our hip hop icons smoked it. As I got older, I started using it recreationally. At some point, I learned that cannabis croppers in Canada had created a product that had about 98% or 99% CBD (Cannabidiol. The medical components in marijuana). These farmers partnered with a family in America whose child was having seizures every day. Long story short, the farmers worked with the family to use CBD to save the kid’s life. The story inspired me, and it made me realize that marijuana could be used to help people.
I realized that these guys were sitting on a gold mine. Thousands of Black people had gone to jail for selling marijuana, including many people we knew. Yet, legalization meant white people were making billions of the product. I realized I could jump into this billion-dollar industry and make money for my own community. I decided to merge my two loves together and start my own cooking with marijuana business.
Dawaun: So, taking your two loves is how you brought us T.H.C (The Herbal Cuisine)?
Chef Kief: My love for cooking and my passion for wanting to own my own business was the key. The story of that family using CBD was what inspired the benefits of marijuana in a medical sense. I started T.H.C with the goal of combining the good qualities of marijuana with high-quality ingredients to make amazing food. I infuse everything from sugar and the flour we use. We have beehives that produce honey, which we infuse with the highest quality marijuana. Everything is made from scratch in that sense. I don’t see myself as a guy that makes edibles because we are a restaurant. I want to be known as the chef that makes terrific meals with marijuana. I focus on the “three Ps” of presentation, palate, and potency. I always want our customers to be satisfied with the dining experience.
Dawaun: So what’s the future for T.H.C?
Chef Kief: I am always thinking about the next step for my business. We are now working on converting my garage into a production studio that will double as a kitchen for my upcoming youtube channel. It will be a fully functioning pub with barstools, a kitchen, and a bar. We are planning on launching around Halloween. We are also working on our own brand of frozen foods, condiments, and anything else that sells in stores. I want to dominate the whole food world. It is to the moon from here.
Dawaun Davis is an activist and political writer from Baltimore, MD. Davis is a proud Foundational Black American, and he hopes to use his growing platform to help young Black people with their struggles.