Aurora Leveroni—better known as "Nonna Marijuana"—has two passions in life: cooking Italian food and taking care of her family. So when her daughter Valerie discovered that using marijuana helped relieve her previously debilitating epileptic seizures, Nonna fully supported her daughter's new medical regimen, and became a dedicated advocate for making the plant available to others who could benefit from using it medicinally.
Nonna even agreed to put her decades of experience as a top-flight home cook to work by making a series of how-to YouTube videos, walking patients through infusing medical cannabis into food.
So what does she think of starring in the first episode of Bong Appetit, a new MUNCHIES show focused on cannabis and cuisine? We sat down with Nonna to discuss her thoughts on being filmed, her advice on cooking with marijuana, and her secrets to longevity.
MUNCHIES: When did you first become interested in cooking with marijuana? Aurora Leveroni: I had about 75 years of experience in the kitchen before I ever decided to experiment with what I call "nature's medicinal leaf." I only started cooking with medical marijuana five years ago. Now I use marijuana as an ingredient in order to help those who are ill and need it to heal themselves, like my daughter Valerie, who uses medical marijuana to control her grand mal seizures.
What was the first cannabis-infused food you ever prepared? And how did it turn out? I was approached by my daughter and her friend Suzanne to make a YouTube video about cooking with marijuana. With their help and guidance regarding how to make marijuana-infused butter, I was able to cook a delectable chicken cacciatore with onions, cremini mushrooms, black and green olives, and a dash of wine. Now I call the recipe "chicken pot-cciatore" and it's my signature infused dish.
How would you describe the flavor of marijuana, and what have you learned about making that flavor work in your cooking? Actually, I can't offer you any information regarding the flavor of marijuana, as I don't eat it. I only cook with it, so I rely on taste-testers.
To make the infusion, you can use butter, olive oil, or coconut oil (though some patients are allergic to coconut oil, so you must ask). Also, be very careful regarding the amount of marijuana you cook with as it's a powerful medicinal product. Always start out by using just a little bit and then upping the dosage little by little until you find what's right for a particular patient.
Have you ever gotten high on your own supply? No, it's not for me. I only enjoy cooking with it.
Why did you decide to make a YouTube video? I knew that with my 80 years of Italian cooking experience and expertise, I could help others incorporate the healing benefits of marijuana into good, nourishing staple foods that I love to prepare with or without marijuana.
How did you enjoy filming an episode of Bong Appetite, including all of the preparation that went into it? I had so much fun working with Matt, the host, who is not only an excellent chef, but also a very sweet and respectful young man. He's in his late 30s, and I will be 92 this Christmas Day, so I think I intimidated him a little… we oldies have the propensity to do that, don't you know? Anyway, I totally loved getting to boss a real chef around in the kitchen, and working with such a young, talented film crew made me forget just how old I really am.
Do you have any secrets for health and longevity? YES! My generation was fortunate enough to live most of our lives without ever eating foods infused with all kinds of artificial ingredients, preservatives, and other junk. Hence our diets were pure. Then the government decided that our bodies should be protected by preservatives in our food—an idiotic idea. Those of us still around now—in our late 80s and 90s—know we were the lucky ones who ate foods that were as nature intended, instead of letting preservatives destroy our bodies' natural immune systems.
What should people know about preparing medical marijuana-infused foods for the first time, including how to get the best health benefits and not eat too much? The amount of medical marijuana one should use is dependent upon the condition of the individual. They must use common sense by starting with a small dosage and slowly increasing until it reaches the right dosage for them.
What do you think of WAMM and Valerie's work in the medical marijuana movement? WAMM is a miraculous and extremely well-respected organization, which was founded by my daughter Valerie and her then-husband Michael. By focusing on the needs of patients and caregivers, WAMM provides hope and builds community while offering a safe, organic supply of medical marijuana to patients with a doctor's recommendation for the treatment of terminal and chronic illness.
Valerie's father and I have always supported WAMM. And as for my daughter—well, she is and has always been a remarkable young woman. From the time she was a child, Valerie was compassionate and caring. If there was someone who was hungry or in pain or in need, you can be sure that she would bring them to our home, which was always open to strangers—although to her, no one was a stranger. Her father and I were always so proud of this small, young woman whose heart was bigger than her body. And that includes the way she's helped lead the fight around the world for medical marijuana.
Thanks for speaking with me, Aurora.