A Flame Under That Pot: Will Cannabis Hit Fine Dining Next?
Chef Tony Efstratiadis has crossed many borders during his years spent in American kitchens, from his teen days exploring marijuana infused foods to his cross-cultural offerings at his Ashland Mexican restaurant, Plancha. And with a penchant for heat, he doesn’t plan on stopping, now that the pot’s hit boiling.
“My friends and I would make brownies, cookies, whatever we thought would get us high,” Efstratiadis shares about his experiments as a youth. “It wasn’t so much culinary driven as wanting to make sure we were getting our money’s worth, since we were young and broke.”
Growing up in Whittier, California, he made regular trips across the border to Tijuana with his mother, spending the day immersed in the Mexican culture and its foods. “My best friend was Hispanic and I’d head to his house after school. His grandmother and mother would be in the kitchen preparing dinner, making the tortillas, the salsas. It was all very intriguing to me to see them nonchalantly throw together a meal for like, 20 people. It was fantastic! The flavors were phenomenal.”
After moving to Texas as a teenager, he began working in a French fine-dining restaurant and watched the Hispanic chef take his break from cooking and deftly throw together a quick Mexican entrée. “Kitchen staff is predominantly South American, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban. And although we’d be cooking Italian, Asian, French, American, in the back we’re eating Mexican food.”
The camaraderie deepened his appreciation of the Hispanic culture and helped him create his first ideas for a Mexican restaurant in Louisville Kentucky called Wild Rita’s. “I was part owner in several restaurants and one of them became the Mexican concept for Rita’s, really my first venture, which I developed from the ground up.”
That same year Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, stimulating ideas for cannabis infused foods once again, only from a culinary standpoint, and he began dabbling with different combinations in his spare time. After moving his family to Ashland in 2015 he opened Plancha Modern Mexican and Tequila.
“It helps that my restaurant is small,” he says of the modest, but bustling, venue. “I only feed 40 people and I just have a stand-up cooler. So every recipe I’ve created yields a small amount so I’m making stuff fresh almost every day. You see much more vibrant colors on the plate, and you taste the freshness in the product.”
Why call it ‘modern’?
“Heaping refried beans and rice on a plate with guacamole and sour cream is more driven for the American palate,” he says. “You don’t see that in Mexico. Plancha’s still Mexican at heart, but I’ve homed in on my favorite recipes that I felt could be made better, and added more techniques and increased the flavor profiles to mirror more of what the Mexican culture brings, which is fresh, sharp, spicy, tart, really integrating all of their flavors.”
Gun-shy tequila tasters may take another look, considering the thirty or so brands available. “I think people still associate it with that drunken fiasco in their 20’s where just the smell of it gives them a bad memory,” he laughs “The tequila craze hasn’t really hit southern Oregon yet.”
In 2017, ready to share his vision for marijuana infused foods, Efstratiadis held a special one-time dinner event spotlighting his own and locally offered recipes, including crumpets with cannabis infused hollandaise sauce, braised short rib with black cherry-cannabis compote and baked cod with cannabis pesto.
“It was the most extensive effort I’ve given to the venture,” he says. “From the response, it was a major success. I believe in the near future you’ll see restaurants offering infused food to the public.”
11:30 am – 3 pm and 4 – 8 pm (9 pm on weekends), Tuesday – Sunday
165 E. Main Street, Ashland