Cannabis is showing up everywhere. Once relegated to street corners and medical dispensaries, it is now gaining favor in restaurants and bars. With California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada all recently legalizing recreational marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C., where it’s already legal, we figured it was “high time” to revisit the topic as it relates to the restaurant business.
In California, several restaurant bars are using cannabidiol, or CBD oil, also, which is derived from the seed and stalk of the hemp and plant and does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that causes intoxication. Producers of CBD claim that it contains many healthful elements, including omega-3 fatty acids, terpenes, vitamins, chlorophyll, amino acids, and other phytocannabinoids, such as cannabichromene (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabidivarin (CBCV). There are chefs who are experimenting using other products that do include THC, albeit under the radar.
Usage and Legality
CBD-enhanced cocktails are on the menu at both Gracias Madre in West Hollywood and Madison in San Diego. Is it legal? That depends on whom you ask. According to Maxwell Reis, the beverage director at Gracias Madre, “I was using CBD and went into a health food store and they had it on the shelf and I flipped out and said, let’s put it on the menu. I went to Las Vegas and it was there, too. We figured if it was legal there, it was fine.” At Madison, general manager and partner Matt Sieve found a provider that was very committed to the medical benefits of CBD and went out above and beyond to help the staff learn how to use it properly. Sieve notes that it’s sourced from overseas, which, he feels, helps to avoid a legal gray area that exists when sourcing CBD from inside the U.S.A. To avoid getting into trouble, work with legal counsel and even consider contacting your local city council to let them know you’re planning to use it.
Chef and entrepreneur Payton J. Curry of Brat Haus in Scottsdale, Arizona, has held private cannabis dinners and events in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Nevada. He notes that it’s legal to give it away or make it available — rather than sell it. At his events, which are sometimes billed as fundraisers, cannabis is on hand in different forms, including as a condiment that patrons can add to meals as they wish. His perspective on cannabis is holistic; he understands it as a vegetable and has used the whole plant including leaves, stems, and the root ball. Curry has also worked with organic farmers and teaches chefs and restaurateurs to use it to add value to offerings. Looking ahead, he envisions edibles as a possible replacement for alcohol in some restaurants and believes it can transform hospitality. Curry was recently named Best Chef in the 2018 Greenstate Cannabis Awards.
As with any drug, of course, safety for your patrons should be of the utmost concern. Determining dosages can be tricky. Since bartenders and chefs are in control of how much cannabis they are adding to drinks and food, they need to learn how different strains and dosages can affect sobriety. Reis recommends knowing your provider and product well and doing a lot of experimenting to see how it interacts with alcohol and how it is affecting your customer. “What I’ve learned is that five to fifteen drops are better with alcohol,” he says. “Too much is going to cost a lot — and less may be more effective,” says Reis.
Ultimately, it only really makes sense to use cannabis in your cocktail or food program if it enhances not just mood but taste. Many strains of marijuana are available and chefs are experimenting to better understand terpenes, the fragrant oils that give cannabis aromatic diversity. “The options are limitless,” says bartender Danny Kuehner of Madison. “It has a distinct smell and flavor. We use it with mescal, tequila, whisky, and citrus flavors like lime and lemon.”