College grad is on a business journey to promote cannabis culture

An unorthodox entrepreneur did most of her studies at Algonquin College to prepare for a business career in a very competitive market: cannabis
Photo: Brahim Ait Ouzineb
Barbra Dean poses at the National Arts Centre this winter. The owner of Incredible Edible Chef knows she is entering a highly competitive market.

Barbra Dean is a cannabis chef and her dish ideas are unique. The entrepreneur launched her own company, Incredible Edible Chef, back in 2020 after two diplomas from Algonquin College.

Dean received a diploma of culinary and catering management with honors in 2012. In 2020, she went back to Algonquin College to get her diploma in education, business entrepreneurship and Innovation.

She now co-produces events and features in specialized magazines like The Fat Nugs Magazine. She also shares her know-how in food chemistry and recipes on the website and her social media. But the heart of her business is not about profit or competition, but about educating and breaking the consumption stigma around cannabis.

Back in her teenage life and with limited resources, she struggled with depression and anxiety.

Cannabis saved her life.

Now, after getting her certificate in technical writing from Algonquin College in 2023 she just started a job as a proposal writer at S.i. Systems.

Dean grew up in Smith Falls, a town with a cannabis tourism strategy. Canopy Growth’s acquisition of the abandoned Hershey’s site brought life back to the community.

Canada passed the Cannabis Act in 2018 and StatsCan estimates that the industry is worth $10.8 billion in 2023.

The picture is not so rosy for cannabis entrepreneurs, however. The heavy taxation, the bureaucratic labyrinth, the different licenses and the competition can discourage entrepreneurs.

“A lot of people who are passionate about music usually end up in food, in the kitchens and vice versa,” Wes Wilkinson, a culinary program professor at Algonquin College, told her.
“It’s not just about infusing your food with cannabis, but the science that’s behind it," Dean said. "It is taking the terpene from your cannabis flower and pairing it with the perfect dish." Photo credit: Robert Firlotte

But Dean always had an entrepreneurial spirit in her. She did paper routes, babysitting and always created new products. “As a 90s girl,” as Dean calls herself, she even dreamt of starting her own t-shirt company.

In college, her friend spoke to her about his father who was a chef. Like her, he loved hospitality and serving people. He advised her to enroll in culinary studies. In 2014, she got her graduate certificate in food and nutrition management from Algonquin College.

Just like cannabis, cooking brought the anxious Dean relief and a sense of belonging.

While attending culinary arts, she remembers wearing a punk rock vest that led to a conversation about the band Joy Division with Wes Wilkinson, a culinary program professor at Algonquin College.

“A lot of people who are passionate about music usually end up in food, in the kitchens and vice versa,” Wilkinson told her.

Armed with degrees in culinary and business entrepreneurship innovation, she pursued her dream to start a cannabis business and named it Incredible Edible Chef.

For Dean, cannabis culture connects so her recipes are a way to link her to as many people as possible.

“It’s not just about infusing your food with cannabis, but the science that’s behind it. It is taking the terpene from your cannabis flower and pairing it with the perfect dish,” she said.

Dean knows extensively about strains (cannabis variations) and terpenes (aromatic compounds found in plants).

“Commitment,” said Richard Andrew Kaulbars, an entertainer/comedian who collaborated with Dean in the burlesque scene. “That’s the word for Barbra. Commitment, but not the gritty, tough kind. The kind where you know the project will get done and she’ll be a pleasure to work with in the process.”

The food nutrition management course allowed Dean to take her recipes to a new level. In her dishes, she recreates products in many other ways. She made cranberry coconut granola, cookies and parfaits.

Yet Barbra Dean has to bootstrap her way through the business.

“There’s a lot of different parts and things you need to consider,” said Dean. “When it comes to formulating the idea, getting it all together is not just as easy as renting a space and starting a business.”

The capital, efforts, marketing and the absence of loans are big barriers. Dean envisions the cannabis culture as small enterprises and people helping one another rather than one big overseer.

For now, Dean secures as much capital as possible and waits for players, who are in it for money, to fizzle out.

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