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

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

This is delicious, Roz Bielski says, dabbing her mouth with a napkin. Like feeing a cloud. This is the kind of food Id picture feeing 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 restaurants sector; 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 your biggest flan, she guffaws, bent double with laugh as crumbs fly from her mouth. YOUR BIGGEST FLAN!

It has been only 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 in all the regions of 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 ought to have drawn to the challenge, including Chris Lanter, owner and head chef of Cache Cache, the top restaurant in Americas glitziest ski resort, Aspen, and Hosea Rosenberg, who won Top Chef, a hitting cook present. The Ganja Kitchen Revolution, a gourmet cookbook by Coloradan chef Jessica Catalano, became an Amazon bestseller when the country first legalised marijuana, and is now the go-to volume for aspiring cannabis chefs.

Cannabis growing under illuminations 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 says 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 flavour profiles.

Catalano, like other professionally trained cooks employing cannabis as an ingredient, selects her stress extremely carefully. Within the two main 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 savors a little like candied lemon when its activated, Catalano says. This stres goes particularly well with scallops, but also tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar, which Im using 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( heat 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 portions. 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 ingesting any cannabis while pregnant ), I begin to see his point. 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 feeling 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 restaurants sector business, but its hampered by one final impediment: 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 restaurants( such as our cookery school in Denver ); but Catalano, who has cooked for celebrities including Snoop Dogg, predicts well ensure the first bona fide cannabis restaurant opening within the next 2 to three years.

Its hard to argue with that when you consider the fiscal benefit to the country. In the last tax year, Colorado collected $88.2 m( 61 m) revenue from cannabis marketings, according to the Marijuana Enforcement Divisions annual report. Those figures included virtually 5m marijuana-infused edibles sold , not to mention some 70,000 kg of plants. The Washington Post is predicted that more than$ 1bn is likely to be spent on cannabis in Colorado this year, generating nearly $100 m in taxes. In a country induced famous for its frenetic gold rush in the mid-1 9th century, the green rush 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, inducing beautiful cakes and desserts infused with weed. Marijuana is a wonderfully versatile ingredient to cook with, she says, while preparing a large batch of dainty, 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 petroleum, butter or cream.

Philip Wolf operates curated cannabis dining experiences for US clients

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

At the heart of these new challenges, 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 stress can have truly contradictory savours: really bold and exciting flavors, she says. They can be salty, nutty, zesty or sweet, and everything in between.

So how does Parks go about selecting her strains and matching them to dishes? As a chef, I take cannabis as severely 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 most popular weed guys in these portions is Nick Brown, whose company High Country Healing renders a number of Colorado chefs 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, says the 32 -year-old Princeton graduate, who has more than 30 staff on his payroll. Every stres is grown differently, from the pH levels of their water to the type of fertiliser we use, the temperature, illuminating, fans, even the music we play to them.

Nick Brown gave up a successful career in property to render 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 stress like Tangerine Flo and Grape Ape, he says, 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 energy bills of more than $20,000 a month for the hydroponic illuminations and industrial fans, business is buzzing. Were watching 200 to 300 clients a day and it really is every walk of life. People merely 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 dinner at her home

Cannabis should be treated like fine wine, Wolf says. 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 clients simply smoke his product, especially the popular death star( thus monikered because it stimulates you feel like you might implode ), but many are also 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 opinions a month. After three other countries Washington, Oregon and Alaska followed Colorados lead in legalising the medication, 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 depicted a three-hour parliamentary debate in October, theres a building 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. Perhaps 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 especially like the effect of cannabis, so it wont be on any of my menu any time soon, he says. Lets be honest, who wants to feel stoned after a big meal?

Meat and barbecue guru Neil Rankin is a little more enthusiastic. Ive never cooked with weed myself, he says, but marijuanas fairly 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 spice for meat or fish, or in a curry. From a professional point of view, Id likely merely ever set it in a starter then diners might order 10 courses each.

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