For years, cannabis consumers have been portrayed as lazy stoners in the eyes of mainstream America. Meanwhile, activists have been working hard to legalize, destigmatize and normalize its use.
Lives are being enhanced thanks to this miracle plant, and every day, we learn something new about its incredible capabilities because of pioneers like Jason Pinsky, the world’s first credited cannabis producer responsible for everything weed on VICELAND’s hit culinary show, Bong Appétit.
Finally, there’s a mainstream television show that paints cannabis enthusiasts in a positive light. Others are taking notice of what Pinsky and the rest of the VICELAND team are cooking up, too.
In March, Bong Appétit was nominated for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award (the James Beard Awards are known as “the Oscars of food”). Then, last week in New York City, Clover Leaf University and the Cannabis Business Awards honored Pinsky with a rooftop roast and award, crowning him “King of Mainstream Marijuana.”
Inspired by everything the VICELAND crew has done to elevate the cannabis conversation, High Times and Magical Butter recently chatted with Pinsky to learn more about the path that lead him to Bong Appétit.
High Times: You’re making serious waves in the industry with your fresh take on infusing cannabis into cuisine. When did you first get involved in the culinary arts?
Jason Pinsky: When I was born, my dad showed up in the delivery room with Chinese food from a place called Doriental on the east side of Manhattan. True story. It was the first solid food I ever actually tasted. First was mother’s milk, which has a huge dose of endocannabinoids, passed from mother to child in that first dose of milk as an infant. Right after mother’s milk was egg rolls and spare ribs, so if you want to know when I first got the bug for the culinary thing. It was pretty much at birth.
Fast forward to 2006 and Williamsburg. It was kind of a new neighborhood at the time. I moved there four years earlier, and we knew there was a need for basic food groups in the ‘hood. I wanted a place around the corner where I could get a good bacon egg and cheese. That didn’t exist. We wanted a good pizza place. That didn’t exist. A BBQ place…
HT: So, you opened Fette Sau BBQ. How did you get involved in that delicious endeavor?
JP: One of my two partners, and the brain behind our restaurant Fette Sau BBQ, Joe Carroll, came to me with the idea of putting together a BBQ place. While I was helpful in getting it off the ground, the day-to-day of that place has been and continues to be run by our management team, so I’m not in there all the time. But, it did kind of put me into an interesting position because we crushed it.
We’ve been Zagat rated #1 for BBQ in New York City for the last 10 years in a row. We’ve been named on many Top 5 and Top 10 lists. Now, it’s almost like a tourist destination because it’s been featured on so many different TV programs and guides.
HT: When did weed begin to enter the scene?
JP: Fette Sau opened up a lot of doors to me from a culinary perspective. It gave me more access to the industry, even though it wasn’t my daily bread and butter. I became synonymous with Joe in terms of Fette Sau being our spot, leading me to participate in these underground weed dinners in New York over the last couple of years. They were put together by my friend Hawaii Mike and his wife Steph. Their company is called Chef for Higher, and the party is called Dinner is Dope. It was a friends and family dinner-party type event, but some of the guests we invited were friends I knew from VICE. So all of a sudden, I became known in the mix of this food and weed thing, which led to me getting this gig as the cannabis producer for Bong Appétit.
HT: Was that your first foray into the cannabis industry?
JP: No, I got into weed way before I got into food. I got the Bong Appétit gig through Abdullah [Abdullah Saeed, producer and host of Bong Appetit]. He and I met when we were both judging the High Times Cannabis Cup in 2015. We met in Cali, through David Bienenstock, who was the original weed producer for the Bong Appétit web series.
My legacy in New York goes back to a couple of legendary varieties of cannabis. Sour Diesel and Chemdog are the crews I used to run with in the early and mid ‘90s. I was never a grower. I made my living in the tech industry, but my passions were music, live music production and weed. Music and weed to some degree are synonymous. During the day, I had a software company and that’s how I made my living. At night, I would go record shows at different clubs and venues. Through the music scene, with roots back to Grateful Dead and Phish tours, I had access to growers, and I was lucky enough to get small quantities of high-end bud in the ‘90s. My policy was I got more than I needed for myself, but not much more, and I had a little extra to hook up my friends.
It wasn’t like I sold weed in a delivery service or in a public way. My friends would come by, and if you’re lucky, I’d have an extra quarter ounce or eighth of the best weed you’d ever seen. These days we’re spoiled. But back in the ‘90s, there was still Mexican weed with seeds and “the kind.” With kind bud, you had a lot of seeds that were coming over from Amsterdam in the late ‘80s. I was just in a good position, mostly through relationships I made going out and seeing live music, to have a little extra weed.
HT: When did you start working in the live music scene?
JP: It started as a passion. I was a taper at Phish shows. I moved into the city, and I had all my taping gear. I’d go see music a couple nights a week at the Wetlands and a few other venues that would allow taping. Someone was always taping at the Wetlands, but you go to three, four, six, 10 other venues and people weren’t taping this stuff. I was like, “My God, this is a crime. This music is happening, and no one is fucking recording it.” I had the gear to set up mics and a digital recorder, and so I just went for it.
HT: What bands did you start working with regularly?
JP: I started working with Groove Collective in the early ‘90s (‘93, ‘94). That lead to a gig with Medeski Martin & Wood. With both bands, I approached them and asked if I could start their archive like Dick was doing with the Dead. My friend Kevin got picked up to do the archive for Phish, so that became a role all of a sudden, a band needing someone to tape every show and maintain the archive with music. There were a lot of guys recording shows, but there weren’t a lot of us who had professional careers doing tech support and information technology, being a part of the ‘90s tech industry boom.
Now, it’s food and weed. In the ‘90s, it was music and tech, and that’s how I was known. My roots with Phish go back to helping out the Trey Band with tech support stuff on the road. Then, Phish hired me to do a few of the music festivals like Coventry and It to set up. They had the House of Live Phish where you could make your own custom CDs, so I managed and set up that whole thing.
HT: That sounds like a dream job. How was that experience?
JP: At the turn of the century, there were only two bands that traveled with an IT guy on the road, Dave Matthews and Phish. I was the dude for Phish. I did the same thing at Bonnaroo and went to Tokyo with Lettuce and recorded their Live in Tokyo album. Then, I produced and released it. Around that time, I had spine surgery, and they put me on pain medication and I couldn’t reconcile being on tour, being a part of the sex, drugs, rock n’ roll music scene while having an unlimited supply of pharmaceutical grade dope, basically. This one time Trey and I got too high at Coventry, and it was a major fucking embarrassment.
Eventually, I pulled out of working in the music scene and decided it was more up my alley to enjoy the music. When you start out seeing a band as a fan and 10 years later you get a gig working with them, it’s hard to not want to go to shows and trip your face off and be with your friends. It’s hard to reconcile that as far as working, especially when you’re 30-years-old and you think you’re invincible. The production work I’m doing here on Bong Appétit is a combination of my legacy in food over the last decade and production with live music, and then weed.
HT: What are you responsible for as the producer of Bong Appétit?
JP: My title is cannabis producer. I’m the first credited cannabis producer in TV/entertainment history. No one else has that credit on IMDB or anything like that, which is kind of cool.
My role is basically dealing with anything and everything that has to do with weed on the show. I am responsible for all of the industry relationships, all of the product partners we have on the show and the talent, like bringing Ry [Ry Prichard, co-host and cannabis specialist] on the show. Initially, I was asked by Abdullah and the executive producers at VICE and VICELAND to come on to the show as a consulting producer. I would help them out on a couple of different segments.
Then, I wound up coming out to California and putting together our first pantry, which was an amazing selection of flower, terpenes, distillates and isolates. It was quite massive, and we realized that just maintaining the pantry was kind of like a full-time gig in and of itself. Also, there were 100 different people I needed to put in across the episodes for our special thanks and these are our product partners in the industry—hash makers, cultivators and breeders. Whether it’s locations, products, talent, even infusions, the weed on the show is my responsibility.
We’ll have our cooking segments, but then we’ll do a segment on how to make live resin or where terpenes come from, so I’ll produce those field segments and block those out and line up the talent. It’s pretty specialized and focused on weed. We’re all wearing a billion hats when it comes to promoting the show on social, finding guests for dinner, finding chefs or locations. We all help around the court. Without the entire team, this shit would not go down the way it does or translate the way it does. So credit should be given to everyone, because it takes all of us to pull this off.
HT: How do you describe Bong Appétit to someone who’s never seen it?
JP: The way I like to characterize the show, because really it’s a cooking show, is that 70 percent of the show is food and how to, 20 percent is weed and 10 percent is weed chemistry and science—the next chapter of using cannabis ingredients, breaking them down into the raw materials that make up the oil and then isolating and using those in the pantry for chefs to incorporate into their dishes like a new palette of paint for an artist.
We use these items like a spice rack that these chefs haven’t seen before. We prefer to work with chefs that are not savvy with weed. I love Chef Joey Galeano from Magical Butter. I was thinking of having him on the show, but once we started filming a couple of the early episodes, we saw the difference between a chef who has worked with weed and one who hasn’t worked with it. To capture the raw emotion from a chef who hasn’t worked with weed, when they open up the pantry and see that for the first time or when they start to smell the terps, and you capture that for the first time, it’s really priceless.
HT: What type of feedback are you getting from the cannabis community?
JP: They’ve embraced us because we’re not only highlighting brands, we’re putting forth the right messaging. We’re one of the top viewed shows on the network. We’re now syndicated across VICELAND’s global reach, which is internationally. And we’re changing the narrative on weed to a whole new generation of people, which I think is really important work.
If you think about it, it was the media, a century ago, that portrayed cannabis as marijuana and reefer madness and the evil weed, and attempted to shut down hemp as an industrial product because of interest in the paper industry. We all know the history. The media was a huge part of delivering that propaganda. Now, I’m part of a media company with global reach that is retooling the narrative on cannabis and making it a palatable show to a broader audience. Pun intended because it’s a cooking show and everyone eats. My role is to make it authentic to the core community. Myself and Ry and Abdullah are fucking weed heads, so everything that goes out in relation to weed has to be authentic and part of the story that hasn’t been told before. That’s really important to us.
HT: Do you see your involvement on the show as an extension of your previous efforts to help legalize cannabis?
JP: I’ve done a bunch of activism in New York. I helped pass the [New York Compassionate Care Act] bill in 2014. Then in 2016, after using cannabis concentrates to get off opiates, I lobbied for chronic pain, which was actually covered by VICE in their Daily Vice series. Six months later, chronic pain was added to the bill, so I’ve done my share of activism on the state level for cannabis reform in a medical sense as an activist and a patient. Having the privilege of working on this show and being a part of crafting the new narrative on weed and having a platform like VICELAND to share that is humbling. I take it very seriously.
The show would not be possible at all without the relationships we have with product partners. Need weed for the pantry? Here. Need vape pens? Here. Need terps? Here. The way I explain it to people is, you’re not just giving us stuff to use on the show. Yeah, maybe it will make it on TV. We make no promises. But more than that, this is the best type of collective activism we can do to portray cannabis in a different light. So really, I look at this as bigger than me, bigger than the show, bigger than the companies we feature. This is a gift to fucking humanity.
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