RCL Exclusive

Cooking With Cannabis: High-End Cuisine Rediscovers a Once Taboo Ingredient

These modern chefs are at the forefront of resurrecting pot's long, culinary tradition.

Food and Drink By

Western palates aren’t yet accustomed to cannabis, but they soon might be. As states continue to roll back tight regulations on the recreational and medicinal uses of marijuana, there’s a highly skilled and creative subset of people who are crafting the way the future era of legal pot is going to taste.

We’re talking about chefs, of course.

Michael Magallanes has worked in several Michelin-rated restaurants in his 12 years as a professional chef. After opening Mourad Lahlou Aziza’s swanky namesake restaurant in San Francisco—it’s Moroccan fine dining with a California twist, and boasts an extensive wine list—he decided to explore the world of becoming a private chef to allow for more experimentation. Enter: ice water hash.

“Hash is a very traditional preparation of smokable cannabis that can also be infused in food,” Magallanes told RealClearLife in a phone interview. One of Magallanes’ former colleagues started a company specializing in the hash, which refers to hashish that’s been highly concentrated using ice and water without the use of chemicals, and the two started to work together.

“I had never cooked with cannabis before, so [I] probably took a good month of time trying to figure out how to prepare the cannabis properly, sending it off to a lab, figuring out my method for preparing it.

“Once I had my infused products, I started cooking with them,” Magallanes said, explaining how he curates the experience. “I will showcase the ingredient in the first couple of courses, that way it’ll take an hour to kick in, so they’ll start feeling the effects as they’re still eating. So the last 3-4 courses they start feeling the cannabis that they’d eaten in the first couple of courses. If you start giving people cannabis throughout the whole meal, it’s going to take a really long time for them to peak, and they might start peaking after the dinner is already over.”

Cooking with cannabis, of course, isn’t new. People have incorporated marijuana into their diets since before Jesus Christ was born, literally. Chinese records detailing cannabis’ use as a food source date to sometime around 7th century B.C.E.

For Magallanes’ purposes, cannabis is infused into “any sort of lipid”: Olive oil, coconut oil, brown butter, cocoa butter. Eager to experiment, he expanded the hash businesses he works with and started cooking cannabis-infused dinners for groups of five to 20 people on a monthly basis. This allows him to continue to mold the definition of fine dining, which he said has changed quite drastically over time.

“You can have a fine dining dinner without eating foie gras or caviar or typical luxury ingredients. What we do now is, we seek out unexplored ingredients, we find things people don’t really know about, and we skillfully prepare these ingredients that were not really known to the greater part of the world,” Magallanes said. “The way that we go about giving someone an opulent experience is different than before, and given that difference I can plug cannabis into the equation. I’m trying to show people that you can use an ingredient like cannabis that’s been used for a very, very long time…you can have an amazing experience.”

This energy, ambiance, and overall experience you have with eating cannabis varies drastically, of course, by whether or not your state allows you to consume marijuana and, if so, recreationally or medicinally.

Mindy Segal is a James Beard award-winning pastry chef who owns Hot Chocolate, a restaurant and bakery in Chicago, Illinois. She’s also a partner in Mindy’s Edibles—the name speaks for itself—and because recreational marijuana isn’t legal in Illinois, she has developed recipes that are strictly for people suffering from ailments or diseases that allow them to consume cannabis.

“We have a whole line of gummies, and we have a whole line of hard sweets, and then we have fruit chews—similar to a Starburst—and then we have chocolates, brittles, and we have baked goods.

“The whole conceptual idea of the company that we put together is that we are trying to give a pastry chef’s perspective on medical marijuana,” Segal said. “Right now we’re just in Illinois, so the most important thing for me is that the product is effective for the patients.”

Segal does have an eye on expanding into recreational territories, though. Mindy’s Edibles will soon be operating in Nevada and California, among other states with legalized pot in some form. Until then, she’s working on finding “the right balance between making something that’s interesting and creative and tastes good, making something that’s effective and consistent, and making something that actually makes a difference for people.”

The mission of all excellent chefs, in other words, whether cooking with cannabis or not.