Note: This review contains some spoilers!
Everything’s better with a bag of weed. But everything’s much, much better with a pantry filled with weed.
That’s the bet VICELAND (produced by VICE’s television network) is placing on Bong Appetit—and the early return suggests this bet will pay off, while giving audiences around the world a contact high. The show has a simple premise: host Abdullah Saeed welcomes a distinguished culinary expert into Casa de Bong (the Bong Appetit home) and kitchen to whip up his or her finest infused meal for a mix of cannabis industry and non-industry guests.
What happens next is anything but simple. In the premier episode, “Molecular Marijuana,” the well-spoken, well-smoken host Abdullah and his cohorts break through bud barriers that most of the world doesn’t even know exist.
Consider the show—it’s essentially Iron Chef where the secret ingredient is weed; only, the secret ingredient is always weed, and the chefs are competing only against themselves and marijuana’s limitations. After 20+ minutes, VICE’s crew has habitually line-stepped all over cannabis’ limitations.
This isn’t groundbreaking television: it’s sky breaking—and it’s really well-produced. Cannabis aside, this is clean television concocted by the show’s executive producers Lauren Cynamon and Chris Grosso, who collectively helped come up with the catchy title for VICE’s Munchies branch.
What the Food Network and Emeril did for stay-at-home moms in the ’90s, it’s quite possible Bong Appetit and its mix of modern chefs may accomplish for stay-at-home moms in the weed era. By creating dishes on the fly, the show has unearthed a new ingredient for moms looking to spice up holiday dinners.
While there’s not much consumption on set, the cast remains true to its subject matter and steadily lubricated. Quite frankly, it’s a wonder Abdullah—who smokes spliffs with 10 percent tobacco and five percent hash throughout the taping—can speak at all.
But he’s not your everyday smoker.
Abdullah has been covering (and consuming) cannabis since 2012 for VICE—but he thinks his high tolerance comes from his heritage.
“I’m lucky to have a fairly high tolerance for cannabis, so I can consume in all forms without stringently measuring and know that I’ll still have the energy and articulation to host the show,”Abdullah told me.
Abdullah’s ancestry is South Asian, and he believes his high tolerance has as much to do with his ancestors—who “have consumed cannabis for thousands of years and have the lungs and heads to handle lots of strong ganja”—than his habits.
Abdullah poetically ends the premier episode reflecting on the moment in history we’re all apart of thanks to marijuana reform. The host then serves Bong Appetit’s mission statement on a (silver) green platter:
“Our specific goal is to push the limits of edible cannabis to infuse foods in ways that no one has ever done before but perhaps look back and say this was the first place that’s happened.”
Abdullah is right—but the show also leaves viewers with one unintended, scary consequence—education. This is a show about smart people doing very smart thing with a plant that few people understand. These smart people make it easier to understand this very complex plant.
While the show certainly offers a new perspective for both chefs, consumers and even non-cannabis enthusiasts, Abdullah and his team’s goal isn’t to reinvent the stoner stereotype wheel.
When I asked about changing this stereotype and the show’s goal, Abdullah told me that “cannabis precedes the notions of such categories. It is a communal substance that lubricates the gears of life in too many ways to be defined so narrowly. I want people to learn about cannabis, but I also want to undo the perceptions that try to jam it into a safe corner of this toxic modern construct around substances. In the simplest terms possible, I want my work to lead to as many more people freely using cannabis as possible.”
And that is exactly what Abdullah achieves with a little help from his friends.
The first bit of education comes from Pax Mahle of Wind Gap Wines, who, in a matter of minutes, calmly explains how his cannabis can ferment in wine, thus creating a weed wine. That weed wine, a Sour Diesel Rosé, is later enjoyed by very pleased guests.
The next lesson comes in the form of food 101 from notorious celebrity chef Marcel Vigneron of Top Chef fame. That education (without ruining the show) includes Marcel (and others) using a smoker in inventive ways, molecular gastronomy, a juicer and cannabis as garnish.
Throughout, the excitement on set is palpable, as guest chef Marcel Vigneron noted (after the meal), “For me, it’s so cool cause its like you guys gave me a whole new pantry. It’s pretty cool to get so many new aromas and flavors to play with.”
Behind the scenes of that pantry—a character in itself—was what is likely the the first dedicated cannabis producer (according to IMDB) on television: New York’s Jason Pinsky. When I asked Abdullah to describe him on set, he elaborated on Pinsky’s role:
“Pinsky is a phenomenon. So much New York hustle and so much West Coast chill have never congealed into one person so well. I knew Pinsky would be able to produce that weed pantry, which is an integral character on the show, but he took it a step further by rallying some great weed minds around the show who really enhanced the experience we set out to create.”
When I asked Pinsky about the pantry he said, “Building the first cannabis pantry on television was one of the highlights of my 30-year relationship with the plant. My goal was to capture the raw emotion on camera from each of the chefs when they discovered this new palette of ingredients to cook with.”
The pantry isn’t Abdullah’s only sidekick.
Alongside for the trip are Abdullah’s subject experts, providing a steady dose of clarity and sometimes unintentional hilarity. There’s Ry Prichard, the weed nerd who drops terpene knowledge like a Porzingis dunk (disclosure: a friend of the magazine and mine). Ry, an extract and terpene expert based in Denver, Colorado, says words about cannabis that much of the audience may have to look up in a dictionary. And there’s Vanessa Lavorato of cannabis confection company Marigold Sweets who provides infusing expertise and a much-needed feminine voice and view.
Like any show about weed, Bong Appetit isn’t immune to the forsaken cannabis cliché (note: they never use the words marijuana or weed). The selection of Blue Dream may seem questionable to the connoisseur. There’s a few too many F bombs. You may cringe (or clap) at the wine maker’s Phish shirt or wince when Marcel says, “obviously we’re smoking a fish!” That’s because craft cannabis and weed snobs are just like craft beer and beer snobs. Yeah, it may look hipster or douchey to some—but deep down, everyone wishes they were there.
That’s cause it’s all in good fun for a show show that’s equal parts tutorial and equal parts pot party. While you may develop serious FOMO during Bong Appetit, that FOMO should awaken a bigger sense in the viewer—that cannabis is meant to be enjoyed with your friends with a smile.
Cannabis, much like cuisine, relies on community. The plant’s transcendency forces the most unlikely, serendipitous groups of people to interact. The result of these interactions produces the most natural reaction of all, a universality that should open eyes and change minds.
Bong Appetit expertly displays this cross-section of two oddly synchronized industries that serve to amplify one another. And the show does so in a seductive way that will have viewers reaching for both their bowls and their…bowls.
Watch the premier episode of Bong Appetit episode right here:
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