Cannabis offers a lot of value for what it can do in regards to taste and perception of the dining experience.
By Rob Benes
Marijuana was once considered a stepping stone to drug addiction, but its medicinal and recreational uses are becoming increasingly accepted in the U.S. — 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use. With more mainstream acceptance comes a shift in how the use of marijuana is perceived, leading to the rise of chefs cooking with it.
Chances are you’ve heard of the two most well-known cannabinoids: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which gets you high and CBD (cannabidiol), which doesn’t. They’re the most prevalent compounds in a cannabis plant.
Many chefs are using cannabinoids as an ingredient for its psychoactive compounds and as a non-high flavorful agent, pairing it with food in a way that’s more haute than hippie. In the March/April issue of the National Culinary Review (NCR), we talked with Andrew Greene (AG) and Duncan Kwitkor (DK), executive chefs/co-owners of Abstract Table in San Francisco, California, who have prepared cannabis-infused recipes.
NCR: Is cooking with cannabis a fad or is it becoming a staple ingredient for chefs?
DK: Considering that cannabis has been used and consumed by humanity going back many thousands of years, I imagine it’s here to stay and with growing legal acceptance its use will most likely increase in the culinary setting.
NCR: Do you consider cannabis a health food?
AG: I think of most true foods as health foods, in that they have nutrients that the human body needs and uses. Cannabis is no different, although it may heighten health benefits in relationship to the endocannabinoid system in our bodies.
NCR: 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 CBD oil. What are your thoughts?
DK: The simple answer is that these chefs are wrong. 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.
NCR: Are there any special tools needed to cook with cannabis?
AG: Depending how much of the processing from raw material a chef is interested in doing, there are various advanced tools one might use. If a chef is making their own distillate from raw flower a still would be needed, but just like processed spices and ingredients, much of this can be purchased pre- prepared and then applied like any spice or processed ingredient.
NCR: Do you cook with specific strains?
DK: Yes. Whenever possible certain strains are selected for their terpenes profiles, as well as cannabinoid ratios. For example, if we wanted to heighten the ripe fermented fruit aspect of a sweet fruit liqueur dessert, we might seek out a strain like blueberry muffin by The Humboldt Seed Company for its pungent and overripe sweet terpenes. There are many strains with many different desirable terpenes that can be used to heighten flavor aspects in dishes.
NCR: What’s your preferred method of preparation?
AG: There is no particular way that we prefer, but we do, whenever possible, love using cannabis as a spice or actual ingredient, whether through the terpenes, as discussed above, or as an actual fork-able element.
NCR: How much cannabis do you use per serving/full meal?
DK: We typically don’t use more than 10 to 15 milliliters (.3 fluid ounces to .45 fluid ounces) of THC across an entire meal. But, because we generally use THC in one course, CBD in another course, and only terpenes in yet another course, etc., nobody is going to get … uncomfortably high. It’s important to remember that if an equal amount of CBD is present, much of the more unpleasant effects of THC will be curtailed.
NCR: Does everyone get high from your dinners?
AG: At our dinners, I would expect a high comparable to having an extra glass of wine with dinner. Cannabis is vastly safer for your body and mind than alcohol, but just like if you’re going out with friends for food and drinks and making arrangements to get home safely, it’s always recommended to apply this sense of responsibility to attending a cannabis dinner.
NCR: Is the cost for a meal higher when cannabis is used from your standard five-course ($50) or seven- course ($70) dinners?
AG: The price is typically higher. Much like when you go to a restaurant and expensive spices and proteins are being offered, like truffles, the price will go up.