By David Burton
Somewhere in Los Angeles is a bakery, the location of which we can’t say because it’s a closely guarded secret, the size and architecture and dimensions of which we don’t know because we’ve never seen it.
The bakery is called Atomic Gourmet Edibles and, according to those who have been inside, it’s a very well-kept facility—as clean and sanitary as you’d expect from an enterprise that makes food for consumption by a lot of people. We have no reason to doubt otherwise, because Atomic Gourmet Edibles is licensed by the state Department of Health Services and certified by ServSafe, a food safety training program administered by the National Restaurant Association.
Los Angeles is fat with bakeries, but what makes this particular bakery unique isn’t that it specializes in cannabis-enhanced edibles, although it does. Plenty of companies in this world capital of medical marijuana do that. What makes Atomic Gourmet stand out from the others is that it takes the gourmet part of its name seriously—it’s one of the few companies in the U.S. that specializes in high-quality, expertly prepared edibles.
Ask Atomic Gourmet Edibles’ general manager, Paul Garcia, what the company is all about, and he’ll start by telling you what it’s not.
“With edible companies,” he says, “you have a lot of home cookin‘—mom-and-pop organizations working out of their homes that should be going through various steps to ensure the quality and safety of their products, but seem to be missing a number of critical steps.
“Our company was started by three Le Cordon Bleu chefs who realized that there was a need to set standards in this industry,” he continues. “We really raised the bar. Our food has to be potent and it has to be good to eat. We’re in complete and total compliance with state Health & Safety codes. Our food is freshness-dated, and the nutritional facts are always listed.”
Le Cordon Bleu is an internationally respected hospitality-education institution with a primary focus on the culinary arts. Chefs trained at any of Cordon Bleu’s 29 schools are widely considered among the best of the best in the restaurant industry. Vince, Atomic Gourmet’s founder and executive chef, wouldn’t give his last name—again, that need for secrecy—but he was quite open about how he came to be a part of L.A.’s medical-cannabis industry.
“I’ve been a [medical-marijuana] patient for fibromyalgia for two years now, and one of the things I noticed was there’s just been a decline in the quality of edibles out there,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of the edibles out there are cakes or brownies basically from boxes. When a patient tastes our product, they know it’s fresh. They don’t taste the overpowering taste of cannabis. They get the pain relief they need, but don’t have to choke down something disgusting.”
Disgusting would be the last word to come to mind when tasting an Atomic Gourmet product. These aren’t your garden-variety, stale pot cookies or flavorless lollipops. Patients can choose from rich red velvet cakes, lush cream cheese cakes and other mouth-watering sweets. The company has become particularly noted for its savories: mac & cheese, pizza, even lasagnas are on the menu. Patients with “novelty” tastes can also request these items through their collective—Atomic Gourmet will make them to order.
“That’s one of the benefits of having Cordon Bleu chefs,” Garcia, 33, says. “We can make just about anything.”
It’s difficult to say how ubiquitous the edibles trade is in Los Angeles—most of the bakeries fly under the radar of prying government eyes, and public attention has been devoted almost exclusively to dispensaries and growers. But the edibles trade is large enough that L.A. city officials have specifically targeted it for destruction. A clause in a proposed ordinance under consideration by the City Council would ban dispensaries from selling cannabis-enhanced foods, tinctures and other products.
Vince and Garcia say they’re not worried, though, because they follow the state’s medical-cannabis laws to the letter. Atomic Gourmet Edibles is a nonprofit organization—every one of its 15 employees is a member of the same collective where their products are sold. The bakery obtains the shake and kief it uses from collective members and then donates the baked goods back to the collective.
“We probably go through 5 pounds of trim a week,” Vince says. “We don’t keep any more than we need on a weekly basis. We’re here for the patients, not for personal gain. There are some shady edible companies out there and I don’t want to be compared to them. Some are asking $10 a product, and mine go for maybe a $3 donation. It costs me almost more than that to make them.”
Marina Drabkin, owner of the San Bernardino Patients Association in Chino, says she turns to Atomic Gourmet for all her collective’s edible products, which, she adds, represent about 20 percent of all the medicines chosen by her members. The members’ needs vary widely, she says, depending on taste and dietary requirements. A member who can’t tolerate peanuts might request a product made with hazelnut-based Nutella, for example.
“One of the state’s compliance issues is that bakeries obtain their raw materials from other association members, so it becomes a closed circle—that’s important to us,” says Drabkin. “We ask our members what kinds of edibles they want, if they like chocolaty stuff or other types of treats. Based on their responses, the chefs prepare the desserts that other members would be interested in trying.”
Vince says that providing members with the right edible medicine is Atomic Gourmet’s primary mission.
“There are a lot of collectives out there not up to par to my standards, so I don’t even approach them,” he says. “I’m not one of the ones in this for a quick dollar—it’s a lot more of a long-term thing for me. We want to make this a statement, as it were. We’re about doing it right.”