Cooking with cannabis:’ I have a fish guy, a meat guy and a weed guy’

April 18, 2017

In the two years since Colorado legalised cannabis, cooks in the state have been seeing new ways to make a snack of it

This is delicious, Roz Bielski says, dabbing her mouth with a napkin. Like eating a cloud. This is the kind of food Id picture eating in heaven.

It is just after 10 am on a sunny Sunday morning in Denvers Highlands. Clusters of smart churchgoers saunter past the windows of the restaurant; an impossibly healthy-looking young couple follow, pedalling up the hill with yoga mats slung over their shoulders. Then the peace is cracked by a cackle. Roz, a wealthy 62 -year-old from New York who looks at least 10 years younger, breaks down into girlish giggles as she passes a large slice of sponge tart to her twentysomething daughter, Rachel. Look, darling, Im a great big flan, she guffaws, bent doubling with laugh as crumbs fly from her mouth. YOUR BIGGEST FLAN!

It has been simply over two years since the state of Colorado legalised cannabis use, and the two-and-a-half-hour cannabis cookery class Im attending at an upscale eatery in Denver is booked out for weeks. Students such as Roz and Rachel fly in from all over the US to learn how to embrace the ultimate herb and how to cook with it.

Colorado has issued more than 350 edible marijuana licences, but those holding them for both recreational and medicinal purposes are light years ahead of the stereotyped stoners baking hash cakes. High-profile cooks have been drawn to the challenge, including Chris Lanter, owner and head chef of Cache Cache, the top eatery in Americas glitziest ski resort, Aspen, and Hosea Rosenberg, who won Top Chef, a make cook show. The Ganja Kitchen Revolution, a gourmet cookbook by Coloradan chef Jessica Catalano, became an Amazon bestseller when the state first legalised marijuana, and is now the go-to volume for aspiring cannabis chefs.

Cannabis growing under illuminates at High Country Healing which furnishes a number of Colorado cooks

From a chefs point of view, cannabis should be placed in the same bracket as basil, sage or rosemary, Catalano tells as she prepares for a cannabis-infused dinner party at her home, a converted firehouse in the mountain township of Silverthorne. Its a fascinating herb with multiple flavors profiles.

Catalano, like other professionally trained cooks employing cannabis as an ingredient, selects her strains extremely carefully. Within the two major marijuana groups uplifting sativas and the more calming indicas there are a wealth of different savours to harness. Today, shes cooking with one of her favourite strains, super lemon haze, a sativa with sweet floral notes.

It savours a little like candied lemon when its activated, Catalano tells. This strain goes particularly well with scallops, but also tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar, which Im employing today.

Chef Jessica Catalano has cooked for Snoop Dogg and written a bestselling marijuana cookbook

As a pregnant Catalano places the crushed marijuana on a baking tray and slides it into the oven( hot triggers its active ingredient, THC, through a process called decarboxylation ), her husband Erik offers his theory as to why gourmet ganja has proved such a moneyspinner in these proportions. You eat it because its delicious, then you get the munchies and you want to eat more. Its a never-ending cycle: you can get seriously fat on this diet.

When Erik and I sit down to dinner( Catalano isnt eating any cannabis while pregnant ), I begin to see his phase. The seared scallops are served in a super lemon haze, honey and apple cider vinaigrette. Its tangy and moreish. After a short while, I begin to feel a little heady, similar to the impression after a glass of wine with a light meal. There is a noticeable rise in the mood around the table.

In this sense, cannabis is potentially the perfect ingredient for the restaurant business, but its hampered by one final hurdle: for the moment, Colorado state law does not allow its consumption on public property. Residents are sidestepping this by hosting private events in homes or closed eateries( such as our cookery school in Denver ); but Catalano, who has cooked for celebrities including Snoop Dogg, predicts well assure the first bona fide cannabis eatery opening within the next two to three years.

Its hard to argue with that when you consider the fiscal benefit to the state. In the last tax year, Colorado collected $88.2 m( 61 m) revenue from cannabis marketings, according to the Marijuana Enforcement Divisions annual report. Those figures included virtually 5m marijuana-infused edibles sold , not to mention some 70,000 kg of plants. The Washington Post predicts that more than$ 1bn will be spent on cannabis in Colorado this year, producing virtually $100 m in taxes. In a state induced famous for its frenetic gold rush in the mid-1 9th century, the green hurry is on.

Thirty-five-year-old chef Melissa Parks originally moved to Colorado so she could enjoy mountain climbing, but soon got involved with the gourmet cannabis scene, making beautiful cakes and desserts infused with weed. Marijuana is a wonderfully versatile ingredient to cook with, she tells, while preparing a large batch of goody, cannabis-infused vanilla tea cakes in her expansive kitchen. You can set it into everything from icings to dressings. Every recipe that has a fat component to it, you can add cannabis-infused oil, butter or cream.

Philip Wolf runs curated cannabis dining experiences for US clients

For me, this whole thing is about exploration and food development. Thats how you improve as a chef: cook with cannabis challenges me in ways Id never expected.

At the heart of that challenge, Parks explains, is the variety of cannabis strains available, which continue to evolve as expert growers improvise, cross-pollinate and perfect in order to service the culinary boom. Different strains can have truly contradictory savours: actually bold and exciting flavours, she tells. They can be salty, nutty, zesty or sweet, and everything in between.

So how does Parks go about choosing her strains and matching them to dishes? As a chef, I take cannabis as seriously as any other ingredient. That means you have to know and work with your supplier. I have a fish guy, a meat guy and a weed guy.

One of the more popular weed guys in these proportions is Nick Brown, whose company High Country Healing furnishes a number of Colorado cooks with cannabis. Based in the heart of Silverthorne, Brown runs what might be described as a psychodelicatessen, with thousands of plants growing in carefully controlled rooms. Weve gone through 350 strains since we started, and now weve perfected it down to 50, tells the 32 -year-old Princeton graduate, who has more than 30 staff on his payroll. Every strain is grown differently, from the pH levels of their water to the type of fertiliser we use, the temperature, lighting, fans, even the music we play to them.

Nick Brown gave up a successful career in property to supplying Colorados chefs with marijuana

Brown takes me into the flowering room, a lush, luminescent jungle where huge Mesozoic-style marijuana plants sway gently to the beats of Warren G and Nate Dogg. The foodies tend to gravitate towards fruitier strains like Tangerine Flo and Grape Ape, he tells, guiding me, Dr Livingstone-style, through his forest.

Brown left a successful career in property for this, and it seems he made a shrewd investment. Despite footing electricity bills of more than $20,000 a month for the hydroponic illuminates and industrial fans, business is buzzing. Were seeing 200 to 300 customers a day and it really is every walk of life. People simply pour out of the cannabis closet when they come to Colorado.

Several of his customers are entrepreneurs, such as Philip Wolf, who set up Cultivating Spirits, offering private food and wine cannabis pairing evenings. Wolf, a very chilled 30 -year-old Texan with a long, blond ponytail, describes his upscale soirees, which include a chauffeur-driven limo to and from his private eatery for five-course dinners, as curated cannabis experiences.

Jessica Catalano prepares a three-course cannabis-infused snack at her home

Cannabis should be treated like fine wine, Wolf tells. It harmonises so well with certain foods. Our pairing evenings aim to set cannabis intake on a platform that middle America can understand. This is about education as much as enjoyment.

Plenty of Browns other customers simply smoke his product, especially the popular death starring( thus monikered because it induces you feel like you might implode ), but many are alsoes attempting the advanced recipes from volumes such as Catalanos, which includes recipes for Sicilian somatic veal marsala and Indian kalichakra sweet carrot pudding. The cannabis cookery website, formerly The Stoners Cookbook, has five million page views a month. After three other states Washington, Oregon and Alaska followed Colorados lead in legalising the drug, the sites chief executive, Matt Gray, predicted the edible marijuana industry will be worth as much as $40 bn in the US within five years.

The Bielskis get a fit of the giggles during class

Could the UK is beneficial for decriminalising cannabis? The Liberal Democrat are currently calling for the legalised sale of marijuana through licensed outlets, backing a David Nutt study published in March. Experts say it could cut our national deficit by 600 m, and after a public petition signed by more than 220,000 described a three-hour parliamentary debate in October, theres a build pressure for a change in policy.

But will it appeal to cooks in the UK? Mark Sargeant, a former British chef of the year , is unconvinced. Maybe Id consider infusing a little into some milk to make a chocolate ganache for some truffles, or a salted caramel and skunk truffle. But personally I dont particularly like the effect of cannabis, so it wont be on any of my menus any time soon, he tells. Lets be honest, who wants to feel stoned after a big snack?

Meat and barbecue guru Neil Rankin is a little more enthusiastic. Ive never cooked with weed myself, he tells, but marijuanas pretty pungent stuff, so it could easily be used like a traditional herby ingredient perhaps in a salad, much as you would rocket. You could also have it dried and ground, and the powder used as a seasoning for meat or fish, or in a curry. From a professional point of view, Id probably merely ever set it in a starter then diners might order 10 courses each.

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