Top Chefs and Caterers Use Pot as a Secret Ingredient

Going beyond the brownie

Put down that pot brownie. In a bid to join the mainstreaming of marijuana, chefs and caterers are pairing cannabis with cuisine—not just to keep up with the times, but to create a high-end dining experience.

“We’re really breaking down the stereotype that the traditional stoner group is people who light a joint in a back alley,” said Jane West, whose Denver catering company Edible Events hopes a few tokes taken at its dinner parties will accentuate the complex flavors of its sweet corn chowder garnished with a chipotle-rubbed bacon stick. “We’re trying to make it socially acceptable to do that while having a glass of wine.”

Billing itself as one of “the first marijuana experience dedicated to fine dining,” New York underground supper club serves dishes like a local rib eye steak topped with a dollop of Maui Waui pot butter and a cold-smoked Peconic Bay scallop crudo seasoned with chorizo and OG Kush weed oil. “We went public because we wanted to normalize marijuana,” explained a source associated with the supper club. “If you take something seriously, it makes a difference.”

A culinary difference—and a fiscal one, too. While seats at these events can run $200 a person, there are plenty of partakers. Dave Bienenstock, a contributor to Vice’s food vertical Munchies, said the food industry is more than willing to welcome weed. Not only does marijuana open up a revenue stream similar to premium alcohol, but weed users also tend to be better behaved than drinkers—and they’re more likely to order a ton of food. “Wine tastes good and pairs well with food, [but] it doesn’t enhance your sense of taste or smell,” he said. “Marijuana does that. It also has a great social aspect.”

At least, it does in Colorado, where pot’s legal status has opened the door for marketing. Marijuana brands like Dixie Elixirs & Edibles and The Farm dispensary have joined forces with Edible Events, which recently cooked up a fundraiser for the Colorado Symphony.

It’s even becoming acceptable for mainstream brands to make references to pot—most notably, Jack in the Box’s Munchie Meal and Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco, which commercials referred to as a “gateway breakfast.” Ryan Nerz, Fusion’s chief marijuana correspondent, said that it isn’t unfeasible that the next five years may see a weed brand presenting an award ceremony. “Once [detractors] see that executive producers and lawyers are doing this in the same way they drink wine, I think that the brands will catch on,” he said.

It doesn’t hurt that pot tends to make chefs happy anyway, said Nguyen Tran, co-owner of Los Angeles’ Starry Kitchen. Tran has hosted a few Chinese herb and weed dinners, including a five-course menu featuring monkfish congee with vegetables in a cannabis epazote pesto. “Most cooks tend to be potheads,” Tran said. “When it comes to food, there’s a general rule. If your cook is excited, the food is going to be a lot better.”