The cannabis economy is growing and Niagara County Community College has answered the call to educate those who wish to enter the field. The college began offering a cannabis-focused curriculum through its Horticulture program in 2019. Now, they plan to grow their cannabis-infused lesson plans to its accomplished culinary arts program.
During a May 2020 curriculum meeting at NCCC, Chef Nathan Koscielski, a certified culinary instructor and associate professor at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute stated, “Many states are legalizing cannabis for recreational use. I want the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and NCCC to be the gold standard when it comes to professional culinary cannabis education. I understand that this is a controversial topic and there are stigmas, but I am approaching this from an educational perspective with a focus on safety as more chefs and culinarians enter this growing space.”
His research, education, and presentation were widely accepted and by January, students were enrolled in the college’s first-ever culinary cannabis class.
Speaking of firsts, Koscielski was part of the inaugural Specialization Certificate in Culinary Cannabis and Edibles from the American Culinary Federation, making him one of the first 50 chefs in the U.S. to receive accreditation in culinary cannabis. Niagara County Community College is the only SUNY school to offer a culinary-centric cannabis course. The premiere class is already a big hit; he proudly shares that class attendance has been at 100% since the beginning of the semester. His students are passionate, they share lively discussions, and are proud to be student pioneers of this fast-growing industry, state and nationwide.
The chef’s vision for cannabis-based cooking courses at NFCI are as vast as the cannabis industry is endless. “I cannot think of a single ingredient that could be used for savory and sweet dishes, beverages, and even retail,” explained Koscielski. “There are so many different strains, each one with its unique flavor profile. The health benefits are bountiful, and fluctuate depending on the variation. Cannabis is changing the food service industry. Those who have a growth mindset and can see it as an ingredient are going to thrive.”
The Culinary Cannabis and Edibles course does not yet include hands-on culinary training or sampling as New York state has not passed legalization or regulation of recreational marijuana. Rather, this course focuses on educating student chefs about proper handling of THC-based ingredients as well as non-THC ingredients, such as hemp and CBD (cannabinoids). The course covers terpenes, the primary reason cannabis strains smell and taste the way they do. Students learn how to determine which cannabis to choose based on the type of sweet or savory dish they would prepare. For example, Super Citrus Haze is tart, perfect for paring with a light sugary dessert while a Sweet Pink Kush strain would complement seafood. A distinctive Sour Diesel cannabis will shine through even when paired with bold ingredients like rosemary and a variety of rich game meats.
The world is just at the dawning of cannabis opportunities on a grand scale. Chef Koscielski shares, “NCCC is at the forefront of it all. The future of our cannabis curriculum could attract students from across the nation.” He explains, “I would love for our students to stay in the Western New York region after they graduate, but some do move to other places. I want them to take this type of education with them if they decide to cook in states where recreational marijuana is legal.” He concluded, “The benefits of cannabis are undeniable when it comes to its medicinal properties and the effect on the economy.” This ingredient could play a major role not only in the lives of NCCC students’ but could also across our region in the horticulture, health, and culinary fields as well.