“Walking into a dispensary and looking at the wall is like my greatest hits album.”
Cannabis Cup-winning flavorist Oren Cohen’s unique work wasn’t even a thing a decade ago. Finding his own career path, one that enables him to utilize inherent gifts of taste and smell in a creative setting, has been unlikely and is empowered by an independent spirit. Although you most likely never heard of the alchemist otherwise known as FLAV before, you have most likely experienced “this best kept secret” through the vast array of products that he has formulated and produced, including body lotions, shaving cream, hair products, personal lubricants, flavored lube, candles, home and room fragrance, perfume, beverages, food, candy, confection, e-cigarettes and vape, and since 2015, cannabis products.
Cohen left his Los Angeles-area home when he was sixteen to attend culinary school in the Bay Area. His flavor and olfaction talents were instantly identified by his instructors.
“When we had an intro to wine class, I had a deeper, objective understanding than everyone around as far as what was going on in the wine and I didn’t know what to do with this information. Needless to say, I was 16 years-old at the time and I blew the teacher away. She told me that never in her life, in 30 years of wine, has she had a student who could smell what I could smell and that I needed to do something with my nose. But I was stumped; I didn’t know what to do with it. I had to figure it out for myself. Nobody in the perfume industry is going to show you their secrets. Nobody who is a flavorist is going to show you their secrets. But culinary school provided the inkling that there was something special there. It was quite easy for me, second nature, but I didn’t know what to do with this gift until the perfect storm occurred with the industry that I’m in right now,” said Cohen, a trained chef who cooked at fine restaurants in San Francisco and LA.
The other formative aspect about culinary school was Cohen’s introduction to Oakland’s punk rock scene.
“That whole scene left an indelible mark upon me and that’s how I have handled business since then. I’ve always bootstrapped stuff; I’ve always done it myself. I’ve always been very averse to hype and to bullshit and to things that are shiny and glossy without any real substance. I think that ethos definitely came from the DIY punk scene of the early 90s,” explained Cohen.
A self-taught flavorist and fragrance expert, Cohen has a strong foundation in industrial chemistry related to formulating personal care products, cosmetic products and body products that spills into pharmaceutical products.
“Anywhere there’s a need to make something taste exceptional or smell exceptional, and smell and taste compelling to the consumer, that is my wheelhouse. That is the broadest and encompassing definition of what I do. My passion is for creating things that are not just whimsical, but that have utility and can be enjoyed by other people. I find it immensely gratifying to create something and have other people consume it. It’s an incredibly beautiful and heartfelt exchange, and I can’t think of a better validation for your art than to have people take their hard-earned money, buy your product, enjoy it and buy it again,” said Cohen, who works with clients from conception and ideation through to bringing the products to market, including passion projects and product development.
“Clients come to me to help them hone their focus and look to me to give them my input as to what the market and the industry wants. My goal with everybody I work with is to create a product that will sell and be compelling to the consumer. I work with whatever my clients’ constraints or requirements are. I work within that box and try to create the best version of what they’re looking for,” said Cohen who bases his EL Products in the Los Angeles area.
Transitioning from the e-liquid space to cannabis, Cohen uses botanical- and cannabis-derived terpenes to craft edible, smokable and vapeable products as well as topicals and tinctures with purposes from therapeutic to recreational.
“I work in the nutraceutical space as well as CBD. I work with everything from Delta 9, THC, CBD to CBN to nutraceutical to non-cannabis actives to vitamins – anywhere there’s a need to make something appealing or palatable to the consumer be it smell or taste. Or if you want a topical to have certain terpenes that aid in certain effects or anti-inflammatory or things like that, that’s my wheelhouse as well.”
A mixologist, Cohen’s describes his approach as 95% art and five-percent science. He works quickly, usually formulating flavors and scents in less than a minute, never going back to reformulate, confident that his first version is the best version. Cohen says the science is there to keep him “out of trouble.”
“If science can produce something better than my nose, show me. I’d love to see it and I’d love to be a part of it, adapt it into my repertoire. Everybody that I know that hangs their hat on science makes absolute garbage. A lot of people will replace the art with science. I don’t use any junk science. I use science to fortify the art. That’s all it’s there for. I use my nose and I create things that most other people would agree are a beautiful and aromatically enticing caricature of nature,” said Cohen, an artist who believes that he takes a vastly different approach than others in his field.
“My indelible mark is my approach, my interpretation of nature. You’re not recreating nature. You’re creating something new. You’re creating a beautiful interpretation of what nature could be. How you go about doing that and where you derive your inspiration from, if it is an inspired process, is what makes the difference.”
Cohen describes his methods of creation as intuitive, empathic and almost spiritual, venturing into higher states of consciousness.
“I slip in and out all the time between different realities. When I get into a relaxed state of conscious is when I do my best work. The truth is that I see things with my third eye when I go to smell it. I can see the layers. I use my ability as an empath to lead a little bit, to go into that space. I can see the aroma; I can see the gradients. I see the layers when I put myself into it – the same way that I see energy.”
Having created his niche as a sommelier in the exponentially growing cannabis sector, Cohen believes his extra-ordinary skillset makes his future full of possibilities.
“There’s no limit. I’d like to translate these skills to the liquor industry, to the beverage industry, to combining the cannabis industry with these other industries. My natural abilities are indeed a gift, but it is about harnessing the gift. That gift is me living my highest self. Finding an industry where I could integrate my highest self into my work every day and be creative and access passion, spirit and creation, and somehow be structured enough to make a living and make it repeatable, that is what I’m grateful for. I don’t necessarily think that my passion is 100% relegated to cannabis, but I think that as an industry where creativity, passion and excellence are not only needed, but are appreciated and required, it’s a wonderful home for me. It’s a great place to hang my hat and learn every day and grow every day that I work. This is the culmination of everything that I have wanted my work to be but could never figure out how to manifest.”
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