Life / Food

Chefs getting in on the buzz around cooking with cannabis

Almost 50 per cent of Canadians say they want to try marijuana edibles when they become legal — which isn't expected to be until 2019.

Wagyu beef was among the seven courses in the cannabis-infused meal.

Courtesy Natta Summerky

Wagyu beef was among the seven courses in the cannabis-infused meal.

The first dish is ready to be served: jalapeno corn muffins with a dollop of maple butter. Next up, seabream ceviche, followed by a mushroom “cappuccino.” The dinner has all the makings of a fine-dining experience — but the star ingredient is not a common menu item.

“I don’t try to hide the flavour of weed. I try to highlight it,” said Ronnie Fishman, resident chef at online marijuana resource Hempster.

She helped serve up a seven-course, cannabis-infused meal to a group of Canadian veterans in Toronto on Saturday. The gathering of 10 men and women was a way to honour the veteran community and spark a discussion about edibles.

The trend is catching on already among Canadians, with almost 50 per cent saying they would want to try edibles when they become legal, according to a study by Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Chefs are getting in on the buzz, too, even though edibles aren’t expected to be legal until 2019.

The meal — prepared with the personal prescription from each veteran — is an example of how cannabis can become part of gourmet cuisine. The dinner was hosted by the founders of Hempster, who approached Toronto catering service The Food Dudes to create the menu and cook for the event.

“It’s something we’re really proud of and we’re very passionate about, in terms of supporting our veterans and being part of the marijuana scene in general,” said The Food Dudes operational manager Matt Wowk. “It evolved from a normal catering menu to being able to play around with infusing.”

Fishman was in charge of overseeing the dishes and making sure veterans received the correct doses. An average dose per serving for edibles is around 10 milligrams of THC — or tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical compound known as a cannabinoid with psychoactive effects that makes users feel high. For the dinner, each dish was infused individually. The entire amount per person was in the 10 to 25 milligram range based on desired results and medication.

“We considered the CBD content (another cannabinod) of each patient’s medicine to provide a balanced medication level,” said Fishman.

CBD can counteract the effects of THC in food and doesn’t give users a high feeling. Instead, said Fishman, it “mellows you out.”

For cooking purposes, cannabis has to be combined with a fat, like oil or butter, said Fishman, which is what she did for the meal. But unlike a regular dinner service, she wasn’t able to try the food right before it hit the table.

The fourth course is branzino — smoked with cannabis “for the aroma,” said Fishman — served on a green pea puree with a winter succotash.

“They did things like ceviche, things like pestos. All of that needs citrus flavours, which the weed actually brings to it,” said Fishman.

For cooking purposes, cannabis has to be combined with a fat, like oil or butter.

Courtesy Natta Summerky

For cooking purposes, cannabis has to be combined with a fat, like oil or butter.

Part of cooking with cannabis is understanding how to pair it with complementary flavours. Each marijuana flower has a distinct terpene, or aroma, that makes it unique. The chefs brought out its natural earthy tones with ingredients like truffles and chocolate.

“If you’re using it right, you don’t really taste it because you match the aromas of the weed and the flavours with the food that you’re cooking,” said Fishman. She added that ingesting it doesn’t have to “get you very high,” which is a common misconception.

“Unfortunately we cannot taste a medicated dish,” said Fishman. “We taste all components of the dish prior to any infusion as we normally would.”

The last three courses are served: pasta with homemade ricotta and walnut pesto, wagyu beef, and, finally, to end the night on a smoky note, a lava cake with liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Although edibles are only available for medicinal purposes now, Wowk said the dinner was a great way to get started in the marijuana industry.

“We’re just hoping that more and more companies get involved in this type of a process,” he said. “As it gets to the point of legalization ... and we don’t have to check with each medical patient using their own specific medicine, we hope to be at the forefront. We’re showing others how to do it.”

Fishman said she wants elevated edibles to become part of fine-dining experiences for everyone.

“Hopefully one day they’ll have it in restaurants on their menu and instead of people going out for bottles of wine, they’ll go and enjoy a light cannabis dinner,” she said.

Not 'just a pothead'

Veteran Shamus O’Reilly said the dinner showed how cannabis can be integrated into daily routines without the health risks associated with smoking.

Courtney Greenberg / For Metro

Veteran Shamus O’Reilly said the dinner showed how cannabis can be integrated into daily routines without the health risks associated with smoking.

When retired Master Cpl. Shamus O’Reilly returned home to St. John’s after serving in the military for almost 20 years, he was angry.

“I would just get over-the-top mad,” he said. “It became, with my wife at the time and my son, fear was more what my relationship (with them) was turning into. They were afraid of me.”

He was depressed and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder when he asked his doctor about medicinal marijuana. He got his licence four years ago. He went from having no motivation to speaking out about cannabis on his eponymous show, which he posts on his Facebook page.

“I no longer carry mountains I was meant to climb. It’s really turned my life around so dramatically that I felt the need to speak about it,” he said.

For O’Reilly, the dinner was another way to raise awareness and get rid of the stigma of "Oh, you're just a pothead." It also showed how cannabis can be integrated into daily routines without the health risks associated with smoking.

“That’s why this (dinner) is so important to me,” he said. “You can sit down for a five-star meal and you’re still ingesting your medication with no aftertaste. It’s extremely exciting as to just how many very intelligent people are thinking forward.”

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