Underground cannabis culinary events are all the rage these days, as pairing flowers with food or serving medicated meals continues to grow in popularity. Emboldened to experiment with ganja as an ingredient, more chefs these days are specializing in cannabis catering, offering elusive pop-up experiences featuring high-end THC-infused cuisine.
At my first such “secret cannabis dinner” in 2012, I was seated next to Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, who later opined about the current trend, writing that “transgressive eating has become voguish… as has obsessive concentration on a single ingredient.”
Since that fateful meal, which featured visionary cuisine from chef Laurent Quenioux and Nguyen Tran, the cannabis dining scene has exploded, with young culinary school graduates seeking to enter a lucrative niche that’s fun, trendy and dangerous enough to be exciting. Bigger names are even getting into the mix, with Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg continuing his series of harvest dinners in Boulder, choosing local produce to complement an array of cannabis strains.
The underground cannabis dining scene has a bit of an outlaw vibe, attracting adventurous, artistic types. Currently, it’s still not legal to serve cannabis-infused food in a restaurant setting anywhere, even in freewheeling Colorado. Since public consumption is technically forbidden, which includes serving weed foods. Chefs skirt these prohibitions by hosting private events that either feature medicated dishes, or by pairing cannabis strains with a sumptuous multi-course meal. Many of these secret supper clubs operate like speakeasies, with entry codes, last-minute location announcements and guest vetting. Most chefs seat 15 to 30 guests, allowing hosts to converse with everyone and maintain an intimate, mellow atmosphere.
Hawaii Mike is a self-taught cook who works with Chef For Higher, a cannabis catering company operating completely underground in New York. Almost every month, eaters gather to sample his homestyle comfort food at Dinner Is Dope events, with medicated dishes like Butternut Squash Soup, Roasted Whole Branzino and Mac & Cheese satisfying stoned cravings.
“At the end of alcohol prohibition, there were 1200 speakeasies in New York alone,” Mike explained. “There’s always been a grey market and word spreads amongst people in the know.”
Doses can range from 15 to 35 milligrams of THC per dish, so over five or six courses, diners can ingest up to 175 mg—a sizable amount intended only for those with a high tolerance.
“We want to be able to control how much people consume, so we monitor how much THC people have eaten,” Mike said, “and there’s always the option to have unmedicated food.”
Most cannachefs prefer to err on the side of caution, with the majority of medicated meals dosed at only 15 to 25 milligrams total, allowing patrons to enjoy—or “enhance”—without becoming overly inebriated or having a negative experience.
Also popular are pot pairing events, where food is served as usual, and each course is followed by a specially selected strain. Allowing diners to smoke piques their appetites, really letting people appreciate the sensual nuances of a dish, while relaxing with each other.
On a sunny San Francisco afternoon, I attended a Wake N’ Bake Brunch hosted by Coreen Carroll and her fiancé Ryan Bush, proprietors of the Cannaisseur Dinner Series.
Guests mingled in the courtyard of a large loft, sipping mimosas, coffee and juices before sitting down to exquisite brunch fare: Ricotta and Brown Butter Pancakes, Fresh Maine Lobster on Brioche, Homemade Corned Beef with a Farm Fresh Poached Egg on an Arizmendi English Muffin, followed by a Pinot Noir Poached Pear. Serving only a lightly medicated amuse-bouche, Chocolate Covered Cherries with 5 mg of THC, allowed guests to get slightly high but not overwhelmed.
“The flower is the star, and you want to complement it.” Coreen said, describing the process of pairing a Strawberry OG indica with a Strawberry Endive Salad as similar to tasting and pairing wines. “The indica has a heavy high with berry hints to it and a touch of bitterness, so I chose the endive for the bitterness and a gorgonzola to bring out that funky richness of the OG.”
Joint “Intermezzos” provided by FlowKana occupied diners between courses. There was an energizing 26 percent THC sativa to start, the Chem Dawg Special Reserve 2012, which included tasting notes describing the cannabis as “a citrusy floral smoke that picks up intensity imparting a tangy oil drench finish.”
As brunch progressed, CBD followed, “to calm down the high” as Coreen said, with a Black Rose strain containing a cannabinoid profile of 5.4 percent THC and 11 percent CBD, billed as a mellow strain. An indica joint concludes the soiree, with a 28 percent THC San Fernando Valley OG Kush filling the air with “a strong lemon cleaner smell mixed with pine.”
Other cannabis chefs don’t believe smoking during a meal allows flavors to be properly appreciated. Chris Sayegh prefers a hit of cannabis extracts from a freshly cleaned glass rig or vaporizer to really capture the unique flavors from each strain, explaining: “When you’re combusting THC at a high rate, it immediately turns into smoke and coats your tongue, therefore you’re not tasting the weed, and you’re not tasting the food properly.”
Through his company The Herbal Chef, Sayegh crafts truly soigné cuisine, dosed with THC to individual specifications and meticulously plated. Using French techniques with Middle Eastern and Italian influences, Sayegh’s favorite recent dishes include Arancini Bites, Salty Braised Pork Belly and a Foie Gras Parfait.
A veteran of fine dining kitchens, Sayegh believes that the beauty of the cannabis dinner party is in exploring the versatility of marijuana as an ingredient. As far as dosing, Sayegh said that the majority of his customers “go for 10 to 15 milligrams of THC, especially with the wine, but if they want 100 milligrams, that’s their choice.”
Hiring a private chef knowledgeable in the ways of cannabis infusion allows guests to customize the experience, designing an elegant meal intended to fulfill the loftiest expectations. Cannabis and cuisine mesh so seamlessly together in a sensual balance that it’s no wonder these weed dinners are tantalizing adventurous eaters. So get on the list, learn the secret handshake and prepare to enter the underground world of cannabis speakeasies.
Check out “18 Dank Dishes from Top Canna Chef Dinners” to find a cannabis-infused dining event near you!