Cannabis in the Kitchen

Vanessa Lavorato cooks up original edibles.
Lavorato
Photo by Wes Sumner

The atmosphere in Vanessa Lavorato‘s kitchen is cheerful and toasty. She’s filming a recipe for her newest subscription venture, The Edibles Club, and before she starts baking, she’s got to get baked.

“We’ve gotta do some weed math, so light the joint, ’cause you know that always helps me with math,” Lavorato says to her friend, artist Niki Ford, as she weighs out a gram of Mango Haze to infuse a vegan baked banana cake.

She rattles off her calculation: 1 gram of 25% THCA flower equals 250 mg THCA; accounting for a 20 percent loss, that’s around 200 mg THC after decarboxylation and infusion.

“What do you think?” she asks Ford, who has lit the joint as asked, and is happily puffing away. “When I heard you start talking about math I just checked out,” Ford says. No matter—Lavorato is confidently in charge, and obviously having a good time.

It’s that whole vibe that’s made Lavorato one to watch. Many folks know her as the resident culinary expert on Viceland’s Bong Appétit, while San Franciscans and Angelenos fell in love with her as the confectioner behind Marigold Sweets, her line of handcrafted infused chocolates. 

“Meet the chic cannabis chocolatier who will change the way you think about edibles,” Vogue wrote in a glowing profile of Lavorato in 2016. Nowadays you can join her Patreon and hang out with her in her tiny Los Angeles kitchen as she cooks up original edibles recipes and calculates weed math. At least, it feels like you’re hanging out—Lavorato offers a sense of connection and community that’s undoubtedly got a whole bunch of stoners invested in a parasocial relationship with her.

There’s also an engagingly subversive streak underneath Lavorato’s sunny charm and Sophia Loren-esque looks. She tells me that the first strain she ever smoked, Romulan, smacked her in the face.

“I was like, this is something, because it scared me a little bit, but I like that,” she laughs.

Her interest in edibles was initially piqued when her mom cautioned her by recounting a familiar tale: the pot brownie that got her way too high, for way too long. Lavorato rose to what she interpreted as a challenge by baking an infused apple pie.

“And that first edible high, I learned it lasts a lot longer. I remember going to work the next day. I was so high, it was coming out of my pores.”

Her manager sent her home.

“It took me a couple of days to get it out of my system,” she says. “I was like, holy… this is very, very, very different from smoking.”

She’s unimpressed by people eating huge amounts of THC, however.

“That kind of pressure to eat high doses, I hope that goes away, and we have more acceptance that all of our bodies are different. I think this competitive nature of, ‘How much can you smoke? How much can you eat?’ I don’t know, it just feels like part of the patriarchy.”

Photo by Cory Wright

Her eyes twinkle as she says this, but I get the sense that she’s dead serious. I’m beginning to understand that this is very much her thing: she’s a whole lot of fun, with an academic bent, which makes sense since she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in art history.

After her studies, Lavorato was compelled to marry her love for cooking and cannabis with her talents as a saleswoman, launching Marigold Sweets in 2010 when she was working at a high-end clothing boutique in San Francisco. She procured cold-water hash from a grower in Humboldt County and started making edibles for the store’s clients, experimenting with caramels and chocolates, teaching herself about decarboxylation and dosing, and hand-making beautiful little origami boxes for her sweets. Word spread like wildfire, and chefs and culinary artists started to take note.

“People trusted me ’cause they were like, ‘Her dose is consistent.’ I didn’t have lab testing. I was the Guinea pig,” she laughs.

After cementing her reputation as a boutique chocolatier, Lavorato moved to Los Angeles, where she found herself interviewing for Bong Appétit.

“I thought I was being interviewed to be a food stylist, and maybe do a chocolate segment,” she says. “I didn’t know I was being interviewed to be a co-host. I don’t think they knew either.”

The producers asked her to do one episode. She ended up in all 40. Since wrapping that series in 2019, Lavorato has often been asked if she’d do another show. And she recently bet on herself to make one, traveling to Thailand in January to film four episodes of her new show Incredible Edibles. In one episode, she meets with a Thai grower who gives his landrace sativa seeds away for free.

“I cooked mackerel curry with him,” Lavorato says. “And we made this mung bean dessert with CBN flower that he’d aged, it was like brown sugar, you know that color? I took a really, really long nap. It was so beautiful.”

The series will premiere on The Edibles Club for subscribers, and will eventually be available on YouTube. Lavorato also just sold her first book, titled How to Eat Weed and Have a Good Time. Forthcoming from Simon Element, the cookbook will contain 80 recipes, and judging by the ones available in The Edibles Club, Lavorato will have us covered with sweet and savory concoctions: the marijuana meatball hero, BLTHC popcorn, and hot boxed fudge sundae all sound drool-worthy for any weed-lovin’ gourmand. Plus, she’s hellbent on demystifying edibles for the home chef with science-backed infusions, which is where her weed math comes into play. I’m delighted to report that when I made her Vegan Baked Banana Cake at home, it was perfectly dosed, and absolutely (chef’s kiss) delicious.

Learn more about The Edibles Club and keep an eye out for a holiday drop of Marigold Sweets and other news from Vanessa Lavorato at vanessalavorato.com.

Photo by Wes Sumner

Vegan Baked Banana Cake

Recipe by Vanessa Lavorato

Makes 16 pieces

Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Dose: 12.5 mg delta-9 THC per piece

1 gram ground flower (about 25% THCA)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

3 medium-sized ripe bananas, plus 1 optional for the top

1/3 cup softened vegan butter (such as Earth Balance)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup oat milk

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup aquafaba

To Infuse the Coconut Oil:

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 245° F.
  2. Put the ground flower on a piece of parchment paper big enough to fold around the weed. Fold the parchment paper in half, then fold the edges to create an enclosed parcel. Then slip the parchment paper package into an oven-safe silicone bag (like a Stasher bag, though aluminum foil works, too, if necessary), rolling out the air before sealing.
  3. Bake the weed in the oven for 30 minutes to convert the THCA to THC, or decarboxylate it. Remove the flower from the oven.
  4. Make a double boiler with a small saucepan and a metal bowl, adding enough water to the saucepan to cover the bottom but not so much that the bottom of the bowl will touch the water, about 1 to 2 cups. Turn the heat to medium, add the coconut oil to the metal bowl, and let it melt for 5 minutes. Add the decarbed weed and whisk to agitate the weed and infuse the oil. Stir frequently and add water to the saucepan as necessary, cooking for 40 minutes.
  5. Once infused, line a sieve with cheesecloth and place it over a small bowl, then use the set up to strain the flower from the coconut oil. Squeeze out all of the oil from the flower. The leftover flower can be thrown into a batch of brownies, but most, if not all, of the cannabinoids are infused into the coconut oil.

To Make the Cake:

  1. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving it overhanging on the ends for easier removal.
  2. Increase the oven temperature to 350° F.
  3. In a small bowl, use a fork to mash the bananas until most of the fruit turns into a mush (a few lumps are fine). Set the fruit aside. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the vegan butter and sugar until fluffy and lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the mashed bananas, infused coconut oil, oat milk, lemon juice, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Continue mixing until all the ingredients are well incorporated. It may look separated, but the dry ingredients will bring the batter together.
  4. Sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder over the bowl, then use a rubber spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the batter until most of the flour is incorporated.
  5. In another medium-sized bowl, use the hand mixer on high speed to beat the aquafaba until it turns white and appears fluffy, like egg whites, about 5 minutes. Fold the aquafaba into the batter until completely blended, no remaining streaks. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. If using the final optional banana, slice it lengthwise into four pieces and lay the pieces on the top of the cake. Place the pan into and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top turns a rich brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool for an hour, then slice into 16 even pieces and enjoy.

This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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