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Maverick Kelly: Celebrity Chef With a Cannabis Twist

Maverick Kelly didn’t intend on becoming a chef.

Maverick Kelly

She never went to culinary school. At her early restaurant gigs, she worked as a server. And her first job out of college was in sales.

Nevertheless, making delicious food is a thread tightly woven throughout her life story. Before long, people began to take notice.

Today, she’s known as Chef Maverick, and she’s accomplished a lot in the culinary world. She launched a line of gourmet sauces and snacks, authored an original recipe book, and appeared as a finalist on the Food Network’s Chopped 420.

Her prowess in the kitchen even lands her coveted catering opportunities at exclusive events, like GLAAD’s annual holiday cocktail party, Tidings, in Los Angeles.

Although she says cooking came naturally, the road to her success is paved with its share of challenges and good old-fashioned grit. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and allergies to gluten, soy, and dairy, the odds were seemingly stacked against her.

However, constraint breeds creativity for people like Chef Maverick.

Leafwell sat down with the celebrity chef to learn more about her rise to culinary stardom, cannabis’s role in her career and health, and what it’s like to be on a reality TV cooking competition.

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Chef Maverick’s Early Cooking Experiences

Some of Chef Maverick’s fondest childhood memories took place in kitchens. There, she’d inquisitively watch as her mom, grandma, or aunt turned heaps of ingredients into delicious meals.

They were as much learning experiences as they were bonding ones, she fondly recalled.

Chef Maverick’s recipe

“Those were good moments for me,” she said. “You know, food always brings people together. So those are moments that I cherished as a young person.”

Fast-forward to middle school, Chef Maverick earned a reputation among her basketball teammates as the go-to person for making food after practice. She’d whip up dishes like spaghetti, peach cobbler, and other cheap yet flavorful meals.

However, her culinary creativity really shined in college, where she constructed a makeshift kitchen from the limited resources in a two-bed dorm: a mini fridge, microwave, electric griddle skillet, electric kettle, and an ironing board.

She’d host late-night fish fries, breakfast nights, taco nights, and more, using the ironing board as a countertop to balance the various appliances.

“People would come from down the hallway, knocking on the door saying, ‘I smell something good. What’s that?'” she said. “My teammates still talk about it like, ‘Do you remember when we used to have fish fries?'”

Later, when Chef Maverick was just 21, her mom was incarcerated, and she gained custody of her two younger sisters. In addition to balancing life as a full-time student, she became responsible for keeping her sisters fed.

At that point in her life, she’d juggle server gigs at restaurants like IHOP, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, and Red Lobster, intently studying the menus and trying to recreate the dishes at home for her sisters.

Those jobs, she said, helped hone her culinary skills — something she still only considered a hobby at the time.

She graduated with a degree in computer science, and her first job out of college was in the corporate world, doing sales. It wasn’t until years later, by sheer coincidence, that her professional path would pivot to the culinary arts.

Adding Chef to the Resume

A Renaissance woman, Chef Maverick excelled at athletics (playing college basketball for tens of thousands of people), computer science, corporate sales, and cooking.

Chef Maverick’s cooking

As if that weren’t enough, she also worked in celebrity styling and modeling. Little did she know, her culinary career would unexpectedly take off after showing someone the modeling photos on her phone.

Chef Maverick regularly went above and beyond when she’d plate her sisters’ meals. To her, cooking is as much about presentation as it is about flavor.

“People eat with their eyes first,” she said.

While swiping through her modeling photos with someone on a fateful day in Los Angeles, she swiped past a few pictures of her food.

“They were like, ‘What is this? This food looks crazy.'” Chef Maverick recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, this is just something I do.'”

The next day, she got a call about a gig working as a private chef for eight people. Seizing the opportunity to combine her passions while supporting herself, she focused on working as a private chef full-time.

She utilized her background in computer science to build her website, design her logos, and market herself. Before long, she started working with Wolfgang Puck Catering, making food for 1,000 people daily, five days a week at Netflix’s corporate office.

As her skills and experience grew, so did her drive to create her own lane in the culinary world: dietarily friendly dishes infused with cannabis.

Her Diagnoses and How Cannabis Helps

Chef Maverick’s “Sauced Up! 420 Recipes Featuring Mav Sauce”

In the preface to her cookbook, Sauced Up!, Chef Maverick recounts the day she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and allergies to gluten, soy, and dairy.

“I was told that if I changed my diet, it would all go away,” she wrote. “I was ordered to modify my diet, cutting out all gluten, soy, meat, and dairy in addition to non-organic foods.”

News like that would discourage most people from working in the culinary field. For Chef Maverick, it represented an opportunity.

She had been using cannabis medicinally for anxiety, depression, and stress since she had worked in the corporate world. What she didn’t realize was it was also helping her with the pain and inflammation associated with her other conditions.

“Like, with Crohn’s, it’s hard for me to eat sometimes — I don’t have an appetite at all,” she said. “That’s one of the things that helps me eat and have an appetite.”

Cannabis would also alleviate her stomach spasms, reducing the sharp pains that would otherwise leave her curled up in agony.

But Chef Maverick experienced a similar problem with dispensary products as the meals she’d encounter at restaurants: a lack of dietarily inclusive options. She didn’t know if the edibles at her dispensary were vegan, gluten-free, or made with organic ingredients. And she couldn’t take that risk.

“I think that’s where the cannabis journey and infused food came into play,” she said.

So, Chef Maverick set out to redefine what cannabis edibles were. They didn’t have to be gummies, candies, or sweets. They could be gourmet entrees, appetizers, and condiments — and inclusive for people with food intolerances.

Thus, Sauced Up! was born, featuring 14 gourmet recipes with optional cannabis infusions.

Competing on Chopped 420

Before she published her cookbook, Chef Maverick’s reputation as a 420-friendly chef attracted the attention of producers at the Food Network.

The cable channel was filming a competitive cooking show on cannabis-infused foods. The show, aptly titled Chopped 420, aired on April 20, 2021.

Chef Maverick’s recipe

“They found me on Instagram and said, ‘Hey, would you be into doing this?'” Chef Maverick said. “I was like, ‘Well, to be honest, I don’t really do shows like that.'”

Because of her background as an athlete, she’s highly competitive — and, in her own words, “not a good loser.” And to lose a competition on national TV would be embarrassing.

“I was like, I’m not trying to embarrass myself because I really will get so mad,” she said.

But she eventually changed her mind and competed in Episode 5. In the interest of not revealing any spoilers for those who haven’t seen the show, you’ll have to watch it to find out what happens. But Chef Maverick had a few takeaways to share from her experience.

“It’s definitely not staged or scripted,” she said. “They throw you in there, and it’s like, ‘Go!’ It was mad intense.’

Final Thoughts

Chef Maverick’s motto is “Life means nothing unless you die a legend,” and she’s intent on creating legendary products and recipes that can genuinely help people.

Having persevered through life with strict dietary restrictions, she painstakingly crafted the recipes in her cookbook with dietary inclusivity in mind — without sacrificing the satisfaction and enjoyment of rich, bold flavors.

Chef Maverick’s recipe

“Because when I say I make vegan food … people anticipate it to be bland trash,” she said. “And from my experience going to restaurants and trying other folks’ products, they’re not wrong to think that way.”

But with the benefit of eating so-called “regular food” for most of her life, Chef Maverick knows what recipes are supposed to taste like, “And so I’m not going to make vegan food that doesn’t taste comparable to that,” she said.

At the end of our interview, Chef Maverick had the following words of wisdom to share:

“At the end of the day, it’s really how you get up every day and push through no matter what’s going on. Don’t let anybody, any ailments, any issues, or anything stop you from attaining any dream or goal in your life.”

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