How chefs are using the cannabis trend in responsible and inventive new ways


by Rob Benes 

Marijuana laws are changing at a rapid pace across all 50 states. To date, 33 states, including the District of Columbia, have passed laws broadly legalizing weed for either recreational or limited medicinal use, according to Governing

The new laws regarding the use of marijuana is having an influence on the food and beverage industry. According to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 2019 What’s Hot Culinary Survey, infusing food and drink with cannabis and CBD (cannabidiol), could create unique cuisine opportunities and potential new markets for experiential dining occasions. In fact, 77 percent of respondents identified cannabis/CBD-infused drinks as the number one trend, and 76 percent of them tapped cannabis/CBD-infused food as the second most popular trend. 

Cooking with cannabis is becoming so popular that Netflix airs a competition program called Cooking On High and Viceland airs Bong Appetit, on which chefs prepare high-end cannabis-infused delicacies. 

However, as chefs and restaurateurs consider incorporating the ingredients into menu items, NRA officials stress that cannabis and CBD are federally controlled substances and laws governing their use vary from state to state. As a result, the NRA says, “Operators are urged to follow all laws, including applicable federal, state and local laws, that apply when selling or using those items at their restaurants.”

Sizzle talked with chefs and mixologists using cannabis and CBD to get a better understanding on how to go about creating a successful dining and cocktailing experience (where legally allowed).


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Cannabis plants • courtesy Bluegrass Hemp Oil

Let’s first get an understanding between the two available ingredients: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both are cannabinoids derived from the Cannabis plant, but they differ dramatically in their effects. 

THC is the cannabis compound that gets users high and is usually smoked or added to recipes in the form of butters, infused oils and more. CBD lacks the psychoactive properties and is sold in gummies, tinctures, oils, supplements, extracts and more. Scientific studies have shown that CBD has significant benefits for a wide array of health concerns and boasts the greatest therapeutic potential of all the cannabinoids, according to Lexington, Kentucky-based Bluegrass Hemp Oil, which has become a popular ingredient in cocktails and mocktails.

To fully explain everything needed to know about cannabis requires reading a book. So, to gain a complete insight into having a safe and enjoyable cannabis dining experience, read The 420 Gourmet: The Elevated Art of Cannabis Cuisine by JeffThe420Chef (2016, Harper Wave). It’s the definitive guide to understanding cannabis, popular strains and effects, and the art of cooking with cannabis.

How to learn to cook with cannabis

Culinary schools have not included curriculum that discusses the use of cannabis or CBD oil as a viable ingredient because of the legalization issues and age restrictions. All states that have legalized cannabis do have requirements that make it only legal for adults 21 and over to possess certain amounts of marijuana. Culinary schools teach to a broad range of ages, with many students under the age of 21. 

Nonetheless, there are many cookbooks available to research for self-learning and discovery to learn about the product, how to infuse it into recipes, how to calculate THC levels and how to understand conversion principles to know the correct amounts to use per recipe or dinner. Students also can look for chefs who are using cannabis and ask if they can work in their kitchen like an internship.

How to cook with cannabis

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Andrea Drummer is co-owner of Elevation Cooperative a Los Angeles-based company that caters high-end dinner parties, and author of Cannabis Cuisine: Bud Pairings of A Born Again Chef (2017, Mango Publishing Group). • courtesy Andrea Drummer

There are a lot of different cannabis strains to use, which is a good thing for chefs. Imagine if the only herb was thyme and that’s all you could use when cooking. Well, that’d be pretty boring and make every recipe have the same flavor profile. 

“Eating a cannabis-infused dinner is an evolving process,” says Andrea Drummer, co-owner of Elevation Cooperative, a Los Angeles-based company that caters high-end dinner parties and author of Cannabis Cuisine: Bud Pairings of A Born Again Chef (2017, Mango Publishing Group).

Drummer, a classically-trained chef who fuses Southern, Cajun and Creole styles, gets her cannabis from an organic farmer who has grown weed for 35 years. She meets with clients and determines their objective for a dinner, such as are there any dietary restrictions and what’s their tolerance level of using cannabis on a scale of one to five. She generally recommends that a full meal, such as a four-course dinner, be limited to 25 to 30 milligrams of cannabis, but adjusts the amount of weed in a meal more or less based on guests’ preferences.

“When consuming cannabis, you want to take your time in serving courses because you want the cannabis to take effect from course to course. If, for example, the guest decides after the first two courses that they and their guests are feeling the effects and do not want any more for the final two courses I can then either adjust to lower cannabis amounts or discontinue the use of it. The dinner is up to the guests because I want them to have a good experience,” Drummer explains. “It could as little as 10 milligrams or as much as 60 milligrams for a guest to experience the affects of cannabis. It’s different for each person, so it’s important that I check in with guests throughout the dinner and see how they’re feeling.”

THC-free CBD oil is served in pipettes filled with 15 milligram (1/4 teaspoon) for guests to apply as they wish, such as with Grilled Shrimp Kabobs, at the Angad Arts Hotel. • courtesy Grand Tavern by David Burke

Prices for a cannabis-infused meal can be a premium and depends on client expectations, such as number of courses and then the different strains used. Drummer’s private dinners can cost up to $500 per person, where guests might try ravioli with braised lamb and mushrooms, which includes garlic-roasted cannabis oil and cannabis butter. In this recipe, she uses Cali Kush cannabis for its fruity citrus aroma and coffee notes that stand up to the gaminess of the lamb, yet complements the earthy notes of the mushrooms. 

Robert Cantu, executive chef, Grand Tavern by David Burke in The Angad Arts Hotel, St. Louis, uses THC-free CBD in recipes to leverage its flavors to sculpt the palate of the dish. “CBD brings a uniqueness to the culinary table with its herbal and earthy flavor,” he explains. “Adding CBD to a menu brings sexiness and trend setting to a menu, but this initial buzz, no pun intended, will fizzle away, but the use of the ingredients will remain a staple in kitchens as more states legalize its use.”

The unique aspect of CBD olive oils is that they can be infused with flavors, like lemon, which has a fruity flavor with the background of an herbal note, which Cantu sources from BeeZBeeCBD.

Cantu prepares savory items that includes CBD oil served in pipettes filled with 15 milligrams (1/4 teaspoon). He leaves it up guest as to how they want to apply the CBD, such as with the Shrimp Guactail CBD-infused guacamole and Grilled Shrimp Kabobs. Guests can add the CBD to the guacamole, drizzle on top of the shrimp or even take it sublingually. “We didn’t want to alienate a guest who does not prefer or want anything to do with CBD oils,” he explains.

For sweet items, CBD is added directly to a recipe, such as chocolate lollipops and chocolate cheesecake lollipops with an Oreo crumb covering. “The flavor of CBD oils can vary and can be strong in flavor, so a little goes a long way,” Cantu says, “It’s a good idea to taste and test recipes before adding to the menu.”

Some chefs object to pairing food with smoking cannabis and/or with infusing with alcohol. Some view that the only way to use cannabis is to cook with it in its THC format or THC-free CBD oil. Duncan Kwitkor, executive chef/co-owner of Abstract Table in San Francisco disagrees. “Cannabis can be used simply for its terpenes in a culinary application. One can also pair vaporizable forms of cannabinoid from cannabis — much like one would pair different alcoholic beverages with food. Terpenes can be used to heighten the flavors in dishes, and it has been shown to increase one’s ability to taste food. Lastly, CBD has been shown to relax the body and mind without creating confusion, all of which heightens one’s dining experience.”

Whenever possible, Kwitkor chooses certain strains for their terpenes’ profiles, as well as cannabinoid ratios. For example, if he wanted to heighten the ripe fermented fruit aspect of a sweet fruit liquor dessert, he might seek out a strain like Blueberry Muffin for its pungent and overripe sweet terpenes by The Humboldt Seed Company. “There are many strains with many different desirable terpenes that can be used to heighten flavor aspects in dishes,” he says. 

Kwitkor typically doesn’t use more than 10 to 15 milliliters (.3 fluid ounces to .45 fluid ounces) of THC across an entire meal. “We generally use THC in one course, THC-free CBD in another course and only terpenes in yet another course, so guests don’t get blasted or uncomfortably high,” he says. “It’s important to remember that if an equal amount of CDB is present, much of the more unpleasant effects of THC will be curtailed.” 

Cannabis Mixology

Broomwagon’s Mango Tango organic fruit smoothie includes mango, pineapple, honey, cayenne, and choice of whole milk, skim milk, coconut milk, coconut water, almond milk, oat milk or orange juice, topped with THC-free CBD oil. • courtesy Broomwagon

Cocktails are already a great way to relax and unwind, but a new trend is taking things one very chill step further: THC-free CBD. Bartenders are taking note, experimenting with the stuff in everything from infusions and tinctures to teas. 

Adam Drye, co-owner of Broomwagon, Lexington, Kentucky, a bike shop and cafe under one roof, blends Bluegrass Hemp Oil (BHO) CBD into organic fruit smoothies, adds to lattes by dripping on top of the frothed milk because high heat can damage the cannabinoids in the CBD and adds to any drink a customer may order like a tea or milkshake. One serving of CBD is $2 for a 5-milligram serving and a second serving is $1. “We treat the addition of CBD as if a customer would order a shot of espresso,” he says. 

“I use BHO because I like their approach to growing and making CBD. They grow hemp organically and only use the flowers, because hemp extracts heavy metals from the dirt, so their products are full cannabinoid spectrum, American hemp extracts,” Drye says, “Plus, BHO offers our baristas CBD educational programs so can be accurately informed when talking with the customers about CBD.”

Meredith Berry, beverage manager, Grand Tavern by David Burke in The Angad Arts Hotel, St. Louis, uses Bee2Bee flavored tinctures, CBD-infused extra virgin olive oils and CBD honey sticks. “The oil is a great ingredient, but it won’t emulsify in a cocktail. Nonetheless, you can use it by floating it on top of a cocktail to serve as a flavor enhancer and as a garnish,” she says. “The soluble tinctures are incorporated within cocktails and mocktails that infuses flavor throughout the cocktail.”

The Cannabee includes gin, lemon juice, honey syrup made with a THC-free CBD honey stick and egg whites, garnished with edible flowers and one drop of lemon-infused THC-free CBD oil floated on top. • courtesy Grand Tavern by David Burke

Examples include the Cannabee, which is based on the classic cocktail Bee’s Knee. She includes the usual ingredients of gin, lemon juice and honey syrup made with a CBD honey stick, as well as egg whites to give the cocktail a textural element and one drop of CBD lemon oil floated on top. There’s also the CBD Spirit Free Martini made with Seedlip Garden (a distilled non-alcoholic spirit), Verjus, lime cordial and saline, garnished with basil-infused CBD olive oil dehydrated lime and basil flowers. Additionally, guests can request to have CBD added to any cocktail or mocktail for a $4 surcharge.

Cannabis Dreams

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Still Life with Berries is made with Capel Pisco, muddled raspberries, lime juice, St. Germaine, mint syrup and Strongwater’s Cherry CBD Herbal Bitters at the ART hotel. • photo by Morgan Thomas

The ART, a hotel in Denver, not only created a CBD cocktail menu, but they offer a CBD wellness package. “We’re particularly proud of our CBD cocktail menu and Sweet CBDreams package because through the implementation of both, we’ve been able to not only set the bar high for innovative product use, but highlight local purveyors in the space through our relationships with Strongwater and Flora’s Mercantile,” says Bartley Malicoat, mixologist.

The Sweet CBDreams package includes:

CBD drink examples are Still Life with Berries made with Capel Pisco, muddled raspberries, lime juice, St. Germaine, mint syrup and Strongwater’s Cherry CBD Herbal Bitters; Waltz of the Flowers includes Spring 44 gin, Flora’s Mercantile’s Rosy Red Hemp tea syrup, St. Germain and Strongwater’s Lavender CBD Herbal Bitters; and CBD Vieux Carré made with Woody Creek Rye, Cognac, Cocchi di Torino Vermouth, Benedictine, and Strongwater’s Aromatic and Orange CBD Herbal Bitters. Doses range between 5 milligrams to 10 milligrams. 

Rob Benes is a Chicago-based hospitality industry writer. He can be reached at