Inside and outside the kitchen, chefs have been known to get into the weeds–but the majority of culinary cannabis creations have been mainly limited to a few cakes, cookies, and of course, the archetypal pot brownie. In GQ, writer Jesse Pearson opined, “We’re a nation that obsesses over food and chefs as much as we secretly obsess over drugs, but to judge by the sad trifles on display at legal weed dispensaries, the evolution of the pot snack stalled back when Janis Joplin was still alive. It’s mostly just variations on a theme: cookies, cupcakes, fudge… Yawn. Sickly sweet and uninspired.”
That may be changing, though. Laurent Quenioux is a classically trained French chef based in Los Angeles. He has been approaching cannabis in a way that emphasizes its flavor profile, rather than its effect. Describing himself as neither pro- or anti- cannabis, he says, “I’m not talking about whether cannabis is good for you or not. As a chef, there is a very interesting flavor profile that should be experienced.”
Although it can vary depending on the strain, Quenioux describes the taste of cannabis as something similar to pine sap, often having a kaffir lime accent. He says some varieties can taste more bitter than others and compares its flavor to mastic. Mastic gum is resin obtained from the trunk of the plant Pistncia lentiscus, an evergreen shrub of the Anacardiaceae Family. The tree’s resin has been cultivated since ancient times in the Mediterranean, particularly in Chios and throughout the Grecian Archipelago.
Traditionally believed to have healing properties, mastic has been researched for digestive issues and also has culinary applications. Primarily used in Greece and some Middle Eastern countries, it isn’t common in the United States. Quenioux incorporates mastic with marijuana since their flavor profiles are similar. He adds that it can be used by those who are curious to know what cannabis tastes like but are reluctant to try it.
So far, Quenioux has done two cannabis dinners, both in collaboration with Starry Kitchen. The first event was for thirty people with seven courses and the second featured five courses for one hundred guests in a private loft in downtown Los Angeles:
“I wouldn’t tell anyone to just add marijuana there, there, and there,” Quenioux tells me. “To do something on a gastronomic level, it has to be well thought out and you have to be well prepared in order to offer that kind of a dinner, I would think. That’s my advice.” Quenioux and his team incorporated elements from the entire plant for the dishes, garnishing some with needleless leaves, infusing butters and coconut oil with the buds and using the entire stem and buds for some specific recipes. He says it has been a learning process and credits his long time sous chef, Daniel Vasquez, as the one who perfected all those techniques.
Part of the process was learning the right ratios for the recipes. Although some of the dishes might have been baked, he didn’t want his guests to be. “When we did our tests on everybody, our goal was to have people buzzed and happy and enjoying themselves,” says Quenioux. He gathered up people of all shapes and sizes–ranging from petite women to big, muscular men–to taste the dishes and he estimates that it took about three months to get them to the point where he and Vasquez felt comfortable incorporating the ingredient as a flavor and offering it to the public safely.
The events have been successful and, since then, Quenioux has been invited to do cannabis dinners in Seattle, Amsterdam and other cities. Tonight, he is doing a smaller cannabis dinner for about 30 people in Los Angeles. It has taken much less time to prepare than previous dinners now that he and his team are more familiar with the techniques.
However, there may not be many more in the future from Quenioux and his team. “We don’t want to be recognized solely as being a cannabis team–the idea, again, is the ingredient and that’s the number one thing. The reason we’re doing this one is really the team had some more tweaking they wanted to do, they wanted to offer that and also we had a lot of requests from a few of our guests.”
“My passion is cooking on the high end, using beautiful, locally sourced products that are here in California, all over the world,” says Quenioux. He plans on continuing this approach in the future; it’s just that those dishes might not necessarily include cannabis.
One of the most successful dishes from a previous pop-up cannabis dinner featured monkfish, congee, and a cannabis epazote pesto. Here’s how to make it:
Underground Pop-Up Weed-Dinner Green Congee
(via The New Yorker)
1 pound net filet of Atlantic Monkfish
2 tablespoons of infused cannabis coconut butter
1 bunch basil1 bunch epazote
1 bunch of fresh cannabis leaves
1 bunch of spinach8 tablespoons of infused cannabis oil
Salt, pepper to taste
3 cloves of fresh garlic
1 pound of ready-to-use cooked congee
2 tablespoons of butter
In a saucepan, blanch all leaves (epazote, basil, spinach, cannabis) for two minutes, then drain and cool. In a blender, add the blanched leaves, salt and pepper, garlic, 3 three tablespoons of water and the cannabis oil, and blend until the mixture is a smooth consistency.Warm up slowly the congee and stir frequently.Cut the monkfish in four nice pieces, season with salt and pepper, and saute? for 3 minutes on each side in a saucepan with the coconut butter. Mix the pesto into the congee and add the butter. Spoon the cannabis congee into a shallow bowl and top with the saut?ed monkfish; decorate with a fresh cannabis leaf.
Image Credit: Used with permission from kevinEats.