The stereotypical stoner: some 30-yearold with a patchy beard, still living with their parents, blankly watching TV in a sea of crumbs and crisps bags and the remnants of last night’s McDonald’s run. Munchies are the ultimate stoner signifier, the punchline of every stoner movie. It makes sense. When you’re high, food is really tasty. And dipping your chips in your McFlurry is an exceptionally good idea as I discovered on my last late-night Macca’s run — trust me, try it. But times are a changing and stereotypes are boring.
With cannabis legalisation continuing to sweep across the world, and the U.S. in particular, we’re seeing the early stages of something really interesting — an emerging cannabis culinary culture. As weed entrepreneurs and luminaries come out of the woodwork and laws around food and cannabis consumption become more lenient, a landscape of social cannabis bars and restaurants is looming on the horizon. Far from the junk food of stoner stereotype’s past, this new era of high dining is actually haute cuisine. Fine dining chefs are leading the charges towards a world where the inextricable link between food and weed is taken seriously.
That link goes as far back as us humans do. Since cannabis debuted in modern taxonomic literature, in 1753, botanists and historians have rigorously debated its origins, evolution and taxonomy. Here’s what we know: originating somewhere in Asia during the early to middle Jurassic period in an arid upland habitat, cannabis was eventually spread across the world by early humans who used it for food, material, medicine, spiritual exploration and a good time.
Many actually believe it was one of the first plants that humans discovered. Carl Sagan, science guru and closeted weed advocate, admitted it would be “wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilisation.” As cave people formed crude communities around freshwater sources dotted with stalks of cannabis, some caveman or cavewoman, one fine day, licked the sticky sap off their fingers and the rest is history, as they say. Some researchers have even gone as far as to theorise that we have cannabis and its creativity-sparking qualities to thank for “the great leap” — the first major period of human advancement when tools, weapons and art began along with collective working and organised religion.
From Africa to Greece to China, ancient cannabis users existed seemingly everywhere. Robyn Griggs Lawrence details the history of eating cannabis in her aptly named book Pot in Pans: A History of Eating Cannabis. Persians created and enjoyed mahjoun, what she refers to as “the origin of edibles”. It was a street food of sugar, sesame and of course the star ingredient cannabis. India, by way of Persia, had a mahjoun of their own. More of a food, it was spicy, sweet, buttery. They also passed around charas, potent hash wafers and bhang, a yogurt drink made with honey and spices. As a consequence of the U.S. forcing global cannabis criminalisation, mahjoun and charas ceased to be sold legally, but bhang survived because of the elites who refused to give it up and advocated on the drink’s behalf. It can still be enjoyed today throughout India.
Other cultures have signature cannabis foods and drinks of their own, but mahjouns hold an important place in the history of edibles as they’re the ancestor of the popular modern edible we know and love: the pot brownie. Gertrude Stein and her life partner, Alice B. Tolkas, were somewhat of a bohemian power couple in what Stein coined as The Lost Generation. They ran a salon in Paris frequented by Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the like. In 1954, later in life when Stein had passed away, Ms. Tolkas authored a culinary sensation, The Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook. It took off because of one particularly sought-after recipe, a contemporary rendition of the mahjoun titled “Hashish Fudge”. Hollywood took some creative liberties when, in their 1968 film I Love You, Alice B. Tolkas!, they made it a recipe for brownies. It was a hippie cult classic and pot brownies lived on forevermore.
According to the late Anthony Bourdain, “Everybody smokes dope after work. People you would never imagine.” Weed, and let’s be honest drugs at large, have existed within the underbelly of fine dining kitchens for who knows how long. It’s no surprise then that, as cannabis becomes both legalised and normalised, these chefs are at the helm of the food revolution that’s taking off. What’s gone on behind kitchen doors is proudly making its way to tables with style.
In U.S. states like Colorado and Washington where weed is legalised recreationally, talented chefs are leaving their jobs at esteemed restaurants behind for private, high-end cannabis dining productions. Even in states where it’s not legalised, there are some gutsy chefs going publicly underground like the guys at Roberta’s pizza in Brooklyn. For those of you who have yet to experience all that is Roberta’s, I’m happy to say, on record, it’s hands-down the best pizza I’ve ever had. With humble beginnings in a small, shabby concrete building where they served pizza, Roberta’s has expanded to take over virtually the entire block with their restaurant, outdoor bar, parking-lotesque picnic area, rooftop garden, take-out pizza shop, catering space and 12-seater tasting menu space. In 2012, they hosted an impressive cannabis tasting menu including craft cocktails where GQ writer Jesse Pearson got one of those 12 seats and shared the experience.
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