The dinner party started like any other. Guests gathered around the pool outside for cocktails while a bewitching aroma floated out from the kitchen. But unlike most dinner parties, those cocktails were served in apples that doubled as functioning bongs, and the food responsible for the magical smells was laced with cannabis.
Viceland's Bong Appetit hosted the get-together at a house in Sherman Oaks to promote the show’s second season. Chef Louis Tikaram of E.P & L.P. re-created a weed-infused meal he cooked on an episode. Beverage pairings were by Devon Tarby of Proprietors LLC.
Cannabis-centered dinner parties are not new. Pop-ups and private events have become ubiquitous all over L.A. Chris Oh and Steven Fretz teamed up with small-batch cannabis brand Flow Kana for a four-course, farm-to-table extravaganza. Neal Fraser cooked a weed-pairing dinner with cannabis firm MedMen. Angelenos even had the opportunity to eat a cannabis-laden Shabbat dinner by weed gastronome Jeff the 420 Chef. High-end influences go well beyond one-off dinners, too. Cannabis entrepreneurs are bounding past the stoner-style norm to create beautiful, luxurious new ways to eat your weed.
"I’m very excited about the marijuana movement in the United States of America, unconditionally so," said Lord Jones co-founder Rob Rosenheck. The L.A.-based cannabis company sells delectable, low-dose edibles made with premium ingredients such as single-origin Ecuadorian dark chocolate. Rosenheck and his wife, Cindy, intend to make a best-in-class candy that stands out for its flavor, not just because it looks cool. "We wanted the chocolate and the gum drops and all of the candy to be so good without the cannabis that you want to eat it as candy." They got what they wanted: The edibles are a treat for your palate and your high.
With the passage of California’s Proposition 64 to legalize recreational weed use, it seems only natural that we’ll be seeing even more pot-related parties and players in the edibles space, and the city’s chefs appear eager to get on board, whether or not they’re 420-friendly themselves. “When they approached me to do it, I just kind of declined politely,” Tikaram said. The chef doesn’t smoke weed, and figured he wasn’t a good fit for Bong Appetit. “I thought it was a stoner show.” It turned out Tikaram was exactly the kind of person the show wants. They explained that it makes for better TV when the chefs are new to cannabis, as Bong Appeitit is all about learning and exploration.
Tikaram accepted the challenge. “I didn’t do any homework. I wanted to be naturally learning on the show when I was doing it,” he said. “I kind of had a vague idea of what I wanted to infuse, even though I didn't really know what the infusions were.” Fortunately for Tikaram, he had a team of cannabis professionals to coach him through his cooking process. One of the key players on that team was Vanessa Lavorato, a host on Bong Appetit as well as the founder of L.A.’s Marigold Sweets, a high-end edibles confiserie.
“I think it’s making a bridge between the culinary and the cannabis worlds,” Lavorato said. “The first thing that I try to show them is that cannabis is a lot like any other ingredient that they have in the kitchen.” On each Bong Appetit episode, Lavorato lends her expertise to help chefs like Tikaram create delicious meals that won’t destroy those who eat them.
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“Once they realize that it’s not just about how can we get high, it’s really about how can we use this as an ingredient, as a flavor profile in our dish, their brains really go wild with it,” she said. There’s a lot of cooking that has nothing to do with the psychoactive properties of cannabis. Lavorato is a fan of using marijuana leaves that normally get thrown away. “We’ve battered and fried it as a tempura, we’ve put it under the skin of a chicken somewhat like sage,” she said. “When I explain it that way to a chef, they understand 'OK, this is another ingredient for my tool kit.' Just like when you find a unique citrus that will add a different acidity to a dish, the same can be said about cannabis.”
With the help of Bong Appetit’s team, Tikaram whipped up a Southeast Asian feast. Diners ate green curry of grilled pork neck with wild ginger and Thai basil infused with cannabis flower, kief and HCFSE (high-cannabinoid full spectrum extract). The spanner crab and abalone congee was infused with lime resin ginger oil. “I saw there was a lemon resin and an orange resin, that worked perfect,” Tikiram said. “Citrus played with the seafood perfectly.”
The chef was amazed how complementary the cannabis ingredients were to his staples, including galangal, pandan leaf, lemongrass and turmeric. As chefs on and off television begin to navigate the nuances of cannabis cooking, Lavorato hopes that the folks at home try, too. You don’t have to have the culinary chops of a professional to give it a go; everyone has to start somewhere. “It took a long time. When I first started they were pretty shabby,” she said of developing her own edibles. “What was key was that I just didn’t stop, and I tried to think about it intelligently, and always was reading, gaining more knowledge about cannabis.” Her other tip for the novice set? “Less is more. That’s probably the No. 1 tip. You can always add more.”