Cannabis is exploding on today’s almost bloated medical cannabis and recreational edibles markets, but what about the herb in fine dining? Mixologists are just beginning to muddle cannabis into iconic cocktails, and chefs in Europe and on both coasts have conquered “hidden” dinners. There’s even been hosted “weed bars” at weddings. With so many states going recreational and a big push to lift federal controlled substance prohibition, it is only a matter of time for cannabis to hit boutique bistro menus, right? Yes and no.
Yes, there are truly some remarkable cannabis chefs and bakers who are intent on bringing this medicinal to the plate and to print. No, cannabis in cookery isn’t always tasty, and you still can’t sit down to a nine-course cannabis dinner at your favorite fine dining restaurant. The reasons why are both complicated, yet simple to understand.
Firstly, it’s not easy to coax the cancer-fighting and good-feeling chemicals (mostly THC and CBD) out of the cannabis flower and certainly not in exact measured doses. Secondly, each chef has their favorite way to infuse cannabis into a cooking product. It wasn’t until this February that the “standard dose” of 10mg per serving was set (100mg maximum) in Colorado, so chefs finally have a target to hit when concocting cannabis-infused dishes.
For most foodies, however, cannabis does not make a gourmet meal, because it is just not that tasty. The overpowering taste does not enhance a dish as foodies would expect, but must be masked over somehow. In fact, most cannabis chefs are renowned for their abilities to standardize dosage and to mask the hideous taste rather than coax it into ever more edible splendor as with most “new” culinary ingredients.
Still, some chefs are focusing on cannabis because of their love for this humble plant and its seemingly miraculous healing abilities throughout human history. These canna-entrepreneurs are bringing cannabis back in both old and unexpected new ways. Some are in it for this new health food’s market potential in the billions of dollars and others seem to be truly intrigued by the plant’s healing abilities.
Because restaurants have been unable to cook with cannabis (and mixologists handcuffed to mere herb-based simple syrups), the mother of all herbs has been mostly relegated to at-home cookery and medicinals.
Although cannabis has never killed anyone, no chef nor restaurant wants to feed their guest into a catatonic state. Most certainly, feeding someone vast quantities of cannabis at one meal could lead to a legal nightmare.
The result has been secret cannabis dinners by clandestine chefs at undisclosed locations mostly New York, London, Copenhagen and Vegas. But not for long. The cannabis cuisine revolution is about to hit mainstream culture big time with now dozens of prominent chefs and, perhaps more importantly, the release of many illuminating cannabis cuisine cookbooks, including Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook and HERB: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis.
Meet the Top Cannabis Chefs
So, who are these pioneering cannabis chefs? Here’s our short list:
Chris Kilham: A true ethnobotanist, “The Medicine Hunter” is also the author of 14 books and a cannabis (along with all other indigenous medicinal plants) educator most notably at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His title really is “explorer in residence” for Naturex, which is the world’s largest botanical extraction company. He’s also on the medical advisory board for The Dr. Oz Show and writes frequently about cannabis in his weekly column for Fox News. Chris started cooking with cannabis in the 1980s. For Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook, he contributed his world-famous, 20-minute cannabis olive oil infusion along with bonzo butter, highland yogi smoothie, good morning sativa chai, ganja java go-juice, high ho puttanesca, holy mole! and majoon love balls. “Why would you want to get the cannabis flavor out of your foods? I would never recommend such a thing!” exclaims Kilham. “The aroma and fragrance of cannabis offers a profusion of aroma sols, various fruity, spicy, skunk, floral and other emissions that tease the mind through the senses of smell and taste. Embrace the nuances of cannabis as an ingredient. This is a big part of cannabis cookery.”
Herb Seidel: Another Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook contributor Herb “Mota” Seidel has brought together his experience as a Chicago culinary school trained fine dining restaurant chef, a health care consultant and a longtime toker to create what he calls “healing cannabis food.” He started back in the early 2000s by going public of his love for cannabis and cooking with it when the stigma was not only real, but could get you jail time. Based in L.A., Herb now cooks fine cannabis cuisine to private clients and for special events such as cannabis conventions. He also has a tutorial video series titled Cook with Herb. He contributed no less than 15 recipes to the Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook, including beginner’s oil and butter, cannabis ceviche, smokin’ grilled corn and grilled romaine hearts with olive cannabis dressing. “I believe that the medical uses of cannabis have been barely touched upon at this point, and in the future it should become a major component in the food as medicine and living food movements,” he says.
Scott Durrah: Not only a professional chef, Scott is also a master grower and contributor to Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook. He has run award-winning restaurants in L.A., Denver and Jamaica, but he owes his cooking background to his Boston roots, Italian grandmother and his Rastafarian island “brothers.” He and his wife Wanda ran Apothecary of Colorado until they were forced to close because their burgeoning business was turned down for banking services. Instead, they opened Jezebel’s Southern Bistro and Bar in Denver and Simply Pure Cooking School, which offers cannabis culinary excursions to Jamaica as well as Denver-based chef certification and cooking classes. A former Marine, he teaches people how to maximize cannabis’s flavor and health benefits in gourmet cuisine.
Melissa Parks: A contributor to the new HERB cookbook, Melissa Parks is a classically trained Le Cordon Blue and Johnson and Wales trained chef, who has worked for French pastry chefs in Texas, for fine dining restaurants in Minneapolis’ theatre district, as a product developer for General Mills, as a private chef for CEOs and as a custom wedding cake designer. She started cooking cannabis into edibles and baked goods when a girlfriend was stricken with breast cancer. Knowing nothing about cannabis, let alone cooking with it, she eventually started cooking what she calls “cannabis-infused artisan edibles” for other sick friends in need of medicinal cannabis from stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to migraine and insomnia sufferers. She is famed for developing techniques to cover up the “inherent grassy sage-like taste” of the oils. Melissa uses many methods to infuse cannabis into culinary products such as CBD oils, butters and concentrated extracts. “The changing flavor components of cannabis are what create a chef’s playground,” says Parks. “The advice I would give to any home canna-foodie/canna-chef is to figure out what type of effect they are aiming to achieve through their edibles, and safely experiment with the strains in their area. Once they gain an understanding of the plant and its properties, the creation of meals becomes a natural next step.”
Payton Curry has a thriving non-weed restaurant group in Scottsdale, Arizona (Brat Haus and Taco Haus). He is hoping to broaden awareness of what he calls a “nutrient-rich vegetable” by writing the upcoming Nutritional Marijuana Cookbook. He teaches medical cannabis patients how to cook with cannabis and has partnered with the Epilepsy Foundation of Arizona to provide free cannabis and cannabis cuisine classes to parents of sick children and the sons and daughters of aging parents. Payton has also just launched his Rawvolutionary Edibles line, which Payton says “showcases the abilities of marijuana to oxygenate aging blood cells and improve motor function all without being psychoactive.”
Chris Sayegh, who is also known as The Herbal Chef, travels up and down the West Coast cooking cannabis “experiences.” His Herbal Chef brand not only brings pop-up cannabis dinners to your table, but it is also launching a line of frozen dinners, focusing on cancer patients, that are infused with hemp CBD, whole plant CBD or THC (depending on your nutritional and pain management needs). A molecular biology student at the University of Santa Cruz, Sayegh left school to cook with some of the best Michelin-starred chefs in L.A. He fell in love with cannabis during his college days at Santa Cruz and decided it was a “natural synergy” to put his cooking skills and passion for this powerful plant together as a viable career. On October 30, Sayegh has partnered with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness for cannabis as medicine at a swanky eight-course charity dinner held at L.A.’s LABART space. “Most strains that you are purchased nowadays have been crossed many times and are rarely pure strains,” says Sayegh. “So I really don’t have a favorite strain I like cooking with as long as they are grown and made with love and proper nutrients and care.”
Jeff the 420 Chef’s claim to fame is that he has somehow magically created “tasteless cannaoils and cannabutters,” which he demonstrates at private parties and cooking classes. Chef Jeff says he has noticed recently that cannabis patients are becoming a lot more discerning about what they are consuming and they want it to taste great too. Jeff is partnering with Harper Collins to publish a cannabis cookbook in June 2016. “I prefer to cook with either pure sativa or indica strains and high-CBD strains,” he says. “The results from pure strains are more predictable than hybrids. Strains that are high in CBD really help medical cannabis patients. It’s rewarding to see them doing better and knowing it’s because of something I made to help them feel better.”