Cannabis does brunch: Artisanal weed infuses gourmet menu
Let’s not call it a purple haze. But halfway through a recent Sunday yoga brunch, I was awash in a feeling of spacey contentedness, and not just from the meditative qualities of the stretching.
It was thanks to the herbaceous treat served along with it: joints of marijuana.
The underground event for nearly three dozen guests in a SoMa warehouse was hosted by the Cannaisseur Series, a San Francisco firm that hosts occasional get-togethers with gourmet food and artisanal cannabis products. It was founded in May 2015 by chef Coreen Carroll and Ryan Bush, formerly of Madame Munchie, a medicated macaron company. The brunch was the firm’s second event since legalization, but even before that, the public appetite for such private events has been growing along the West Coast.
The couple, who moved from Florida to join the marijuana revolution in the west, give each event a theme. In October, Hightoberfest featured a polka band and German smorgasbord. Next month, a costumed St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Dinner is planned.
For the New Year’s themed Fresh Start Yoga Brunch on Jan. 8, a cocktail hour started with cannabis-laced appetizers, followed by 45 minutes of yoga, and then a meal devoid of gluten, dairy, refined sugar, nuts, eggs, soy or corn. There were, however, plenty of cannabis pre-rolls and vape pens provided as gifts for guests to smoke.
At $149 per person, the event drew professionals, including a software engineer, an immunologist and a personal trainer, guests ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s. The lure, they said, was the chance to do something unique: Enjoy cannabis in an upscale, communal setting outside the confines of their homes or a cannabis lounge.
“All my friends have moved out of town or died, so I’m meeting younger people here and it’s nice to see them embracing this,” said 71-year-old James Albert, a retired Muni IT director and wheelchair user since a motorcycle accident in 1967. Albert smokes cannabis to ease the pain in his legs, preferring it over Valium, and has become a regular at Cannaisseur events.
“I’m no longer a dope addict,” he joked. “I’m a cannabis connoisseur.”
Socializing with cannabis cuisine is a soaring trend in an increasingly weed-friendly nation, appealing not only to guests smoking with like-minded people, but also to chefs eager to explore new, uncharted frontiers of flavor.
“There is a new demographic of cannabis users — I call them the CB2 crowd — and these people are looking to cannabis the way they look at wine,” said Laurie Wolf, co-author of “Herb,” a cannabis cookbook and co-founder of the Portland, Ore., edibles company Laurie + MaryJane. “Terpenes, the flavoring and aroma components of cannabis strains, are front and center at dinner parties.”
Chefs might pair specific strains of cannabis to smoke or vape, to complement the lemon, lavender or pine flavors in the food they’re preparing, for example.
At the Cannaisseur Series, none of the main courses is medicated. At the brunch, with cannabis provided by a grower, Madrone, a rice crepe filled with cocoa banana creme was paired with a sativa varietal called Red Dragon. Sativa, one of the two main categories of cannabis plants, is said to stimulate mental activity and conversation. A salad of bitter greens, and then a duck breast with yam, celery root and pancetta hash, were paired with a cannabis named LA 78 Affie OG. It was low in THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis) and high in CBD (a non-psychoactive component that reduces pain and is said to bring down a high). At meal’s end, a mixed-berry streusel dessert came with joints of Ingrid, an indica, the other type of cannabis plant, intended to afford a sense of calm. Vape pens were provided on each table by Evoxe, a San Diego company.
(For the record, I did inhale.)
What guests said they enjoyed about the brunch was the ability to use cannabis both at an upscale meal and in a group setting with like-minded people. Technically, such use is still illegal outside the confines of a medical cannabis collective or the privacy of a residential home.
“I prefer serving unmedicated courses and pairing them with different joints,” Carroll said. “There’s something about sharing a joint — it goes back to the way we all started cannabis. By putting people together at family-style tables and sharing, you come and meet strangers and leave with friends.”
Carroll made an exception when she offered appetizers with cannabis-infused oil, and a tomatillo Bloody Mary with a tincture, striving to limit each serving to 2 to 3 mg of THC. The founder of MoonMan’s Mistress, a maker of gluten-free medicated cookies, handed out treats with 5 mg of THC each. Carroll advised guests to eat no more than 25 mg worth of THC at the event.
But there are dinners at which guests are stuffed to the gills with ganja. They’re broadcast on Viceland TV’s “Bong Appetit” show every week.
JeffThe420Chef, a Los Angeles chef and author of “The 420 Gourmet: The Elevated Art of Cannabis Cuisine,” has written guidelines for calculating dosage and methods for removing the flavor of cannabis in baked goods. He considers cannabis a superfood, noting that hemp seed is high in protein and contains omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. He also notes that raw cannabis leaves are edible and non-psychoactive; and that cannabis is vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free and easy to digest.
“Hello!” he said with a laugh. “You have a magical ingredient there.”
Not everyone processes edibles the same way. The high from eating cannabis-laced foods is unpredictable and can be unpleasant, even for experienced cannabis users, so many chefs steer clear of infusing entire meals with cannabis.
But the public’s appetite for these events is growing. In Los Angeles, Rachel Burkons and her brother, Holden Jagger, a former chef at San Francisco’s Town Hall restaurant, are behind Altered Plates, which is finding a niche in cannabis cocktail parties, barbecues and three- and five-course dinners for private clients. Jagger, also a cultivator, focuses on “cooking with terpenes,” Burkons said, and uses cannabis pollen and male plants, too. (The female plant produces the flower smoked as “weed.”)
Their guests partake in prerolled joints served up in novel fashion: in small glass tubes. “It’s corked and traps the aromas in this little space,” Burkons said, “like nosing the glass of wine.”
At an outdoor cannabis farmers’ market called the Emerald Exchange in Malibu, attendees paying $75 and up can spend the better part of a day on a private property, meeting artisanal growers who bring their wares from Northern California, as well as eating and dancing to music from a DJ.
Such events may be fun for guests, but despite the passage of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the gatherings are illegal, said Matt Kumin, a civil rights and cannabis attorney in San Francisco.
The new law allows adults to use marijuana recreationally, and will create a new wave of licensing for cultivation, dispensaries, laboratories, distributors and transporters, but did not address the licensing of caterers or private dining events, he said.
The only legal way for people to use cannabis in a group outside the privacy of their own homes is under the auspices of a nonprofit collective, a model that began in 1996 with the passage of Prop. 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative, he said.
“I hate to put cold water on people pushing the boundaries of consumption,” Kumin said. “They’re basically outlaws. But that’s how the law gets changed.”
That’s one reason Cannaisseur guests were asked not to divulge the location of the event on their social media feeds. And that’s how the guests, including Jeff Chen, 28, a medical student from UCLA who came to learn about new cannabis industry trends, became civil disobedients. Happy, spacey, cheerful ones.
On a scale of one to 10, Chen called the event “a solid 10,” adding, “It’s a sign of things to come.”
Carolyne Zinko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
Carolyne Zinko SF Chronicle & Greenstate.com reporter keeps an eye on high style, from cannabis to luxe living & fashion. Read all about it!