Stoner Food Has Gotten Fully Baked
GQ‘s resident food authority, Marian Bull, went on a journey into a wild new world of gastronomy: the California edibles community. After way too many dinners, candies, drops of oil, and one super-intriguing panna cotta, she’s ready to answer the question nobody’s asking: Can marijuana be delicious?
If you’ve taken two bites of a weed brownie, you know that they can fail in a number of ways: They’re dry and crumbly, or flavorless, or stale, or too weak, or (more likely) too strong, maybe so strong that you forget what it feels like to stand up, and you begin to long for a bottle of Sprite as big and welcoming as the Statue of Liberty. The first weed brownie I ever ate was a grave mistake, taken before a New York–to–Boston bus ride that became a study in acute paranoia and the healing properties of a rest-stop McDonald’s. Since then I’ve dabbled in gummies and chocolates, at a mountain weekend here and a trippy art installation there. I made weed oil once, while reviewing a cannabis cookbook for work; it is, admittedly, a convenient and novel ingredient to have (well labeled!) in your fridge. Weed food—brownies, cookies, cakes, candies, and oils—is many things but is almost never delicious.
As legalization slowly spreads across America, though, that’s changing. In 420-friendly states, a growing cadre of chefs, confectioners, and entrepreneurs is intent on pulling weed out of its dank past and into our locavore, organic, chef’s-menu-laden food present. The goal is no longer to make a cookie so potent it will turn your brain into pommes purée.
In California, where many types of summer produce grow year-round and new strains of weed are hyped as heavily as Supreme drops, the intersection of food and cannabis is at its apex. Casually observing the culinary marijuanaissance from the sidelines as a New York food writer, I’d heard legend of scientifically precise dosages and equally mind-altering flavors; of chocolates and candies—entire meals!—as Insta-worthy as they are mind-altering. I’ve also wondered, a bit crankily, whether eating cannabis-infused dishes is actually necessary. Given the corny history of weed marketing, could infused food ever reach the level of sophistication of a tasting menu from mastermind chefs like Dominique Crenn and Danny Bowien? And how far have edibles come from crumbly, brain-melting brownies?
So L.A. was where I spent a week in February, eating as much infused food as my body and brain could handle, all in the hope of better understanding where weed and cuisine are coming together right this moment. (Spoiler: I was high for a lot of hours.)
My first dinner in L.A. would come from Luke Reyes, a beefy dude in hip glasses who initially scared the hell out of me when he offered a meal dosed with 40 milligrams of THC. For those curious, this would be enough to convince me that Captain Planet is a historical figure. We agreed on 20 milligrams, the typical dosage for his dinners and a number far less terrifying to me and the slightly wary friend I’d dragged to the dinner. Then we were greeted with oysters and wine and a playlist heavy on Frank Ocean, and we realized we were in good hands.
With the help of a sous-chef, Reyes cooked us seven courses at his apartment in downtown L.A. There can be bundles of red tape with meals like these—less so when they occur on private property—but the majority of people I spoke with in California are banking on full legality in the near future and little pushback now. Those oysters arrived in a perky, salty mignonette of infused citrus vinegar and studded with blips of Cara Cara orange. We ate a 40-day dry-aged New York strip basted with weed butter, whose seared edges smelled like a rich, funky caramel. We ate snap peas—snap peas! in February!—stacked in an artful Jenga tower with citrus segments over a neon green pea-and-cannabis-oil puree. Dessert was a deceptively rich sweet-potato custard with various crunchy doodads on top, plus a pre-rolled joint that Reyes sent me to fetch from under his bathroom sink.
Each dish felt unfussy but modern, the sort of restaurant-esque experience I’d tell my friends to go spend their money on. It felt like the future of…something. “Right now we’re not cooking it in a restaurant setting, but it can still be high-end restaurant-quality food,” Reyes told me of his vision for his company, La Hoja. This wasn’t a meal that needed weed as a crutch so much as a genuinely delicious dinner that happened to get me stoned. Stoned enough that by the time dessert came, everything felt shinier, each new bite a tiny Christmas-morning surprise.
To get the cannabis into his food, Reyes uses weed butter, infused oil, or distillate (a super-viscous oil that comes in a dropper bottle), all of which are meticulously dosed so he can keep track of how many grams of THC are in each course. Dosage is the biggest hurdle for would-be weed chefs: Regulating the amount of THC—the “brain high” portion of weed, as opposed to CBD’s so-called body high, for the non-professional stoners out there—is the difference between happy customers and puking customers. That science largely involves decarboxylation, a delicate process wherein the cannabis flower is heated for a period of time to activate the THC. It can get complicated. Some chefs skip the issue altogether by simply handing you a joint.
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Published: June 7, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News