The classic yet antiquated ideal of a cannabis edible is usually in the form of a brownie; a tasty but unsophisticated, pungent, bite-sized treat that knocks you off your feet and renders you zonked out on the couch. But as legal medical and recreational usage of marijuana has expanded across America, those questionable ganja truffles that you bought in the lot of a Phish concert have been replaced by far more exciting things. The future of marijuana-infused food is here, and maybe it should come as no surprise that the future is female. Watch closely, and you'll see that it's women who are leading the way.
Legal cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, and more of its leadership roles are held by women than in almost any other sector. (Approximately 36 percent of executives in legal cannabis businesses are women, compared to roughly 22 percent of senior management in other industries). And when it comes to consumption, women are not only excelling in the cannabis kitchen, but leading as pioneers in this nascent field.
"People never see it coming," says chef Andrea Drummer, when asked what people think of her turn as a cannabis chef. "I guess I don't look the part." Despite not embodying the stereotypical aesthetic of a dealer who can get you masterfully high, Drummer is one of the forces behind Elevation VIP Cooperative, a California-based company specializing in creating unique cannabis-infused meals and dinner parties for its clients, who are medical marijuana patients.
You won't find any brownies on Chef Drummer's menu; her sweet and savory dishes are more along the lines of seared duck with cauliflower, chanterelles, and a blueberry gastrique infused with the popular cannabis strain Blue Dream. The Le Cordon Bleu graduate's resume includes experience working with the Patina food group and as the chef-specialist for the Ritz-Carlton's Club Lounge in Los Angeles. As for how Drummer ended up in cannabis cooking, you could say she was at the right place at the right time. When Drummer was operating Swank Event Solutions, a boutique catering company, she was presented with the challenge of creating some effective but delicious cannabutter, and the results were so delicious and refined that they blew all her friends away. Her new path stood before her—and it's one, Drummer notes, that has elevated her own cooking in more ways than one.
"With cooking in general, the creative process still fascinates me," explains Drummer. "Add to that the complexities of cannabis and the intricate challenges that come along with translating it into a fine dining experience, the fascination quadruples. Working with the product tests my culinary capabilities, and forces me to think even more outside of the box than I would normally. It makes me a better chef."
WATCH: A Colorado Ganja Tour on 'Bong Appétit'
Drummer is not alone in that belief. A number of female chefs that I spoke with agreed that the complexities of cooking with cannabis—ensuring that the temperature is right for THC extraction, finding ways to subdue or enhance the herbaceous flavor notes, calculating the potency of each dish—have only strengthened their skill in the kitchen.
San Francisco-based chef Monica Lo ended up combining the trendy technique of sous vide with cannabis out of necessity, but quickly realized the culinary possibilities it offered. "I was living in a very strict building, and found that the sous vide method was perfect for discreet cannabis infusions," Lo shares. "A crockpot or the stovetop method just wasn't going to cut it with my sneaky landlord lurking around."
Lo ended up starting Sous Weed with some partners, a service that allows clients to hire chefs to prepare stellar cannabis cuisine, as well as to explore recipes for high-end infused dishes such as sea salt melon ice cream, chimichurri egg clouds, and even a cannabis Old Fashioned to round out the meal. "With the sous vide method," Lo notes, "you place your cannabis in a zip-sealed bag with fats for THC to bind to and submerge the bag in a temperature-controlled water bath with a gadget called an immersion circulator. This method ensures optimal THC extraction without the risk of overcooking, stench, or setting your kitchen on fire." (We've truly come a long way from mixing a bunch of dry weed into a box of brownie mix and hoping for the best.)
Stephany Gocobachi is also from San Francisco, and is thrilled to see cannabis cuisine taken to the heights she feels it deserves. As the co-founder of Flour Child Collective (a cannabis edible and topical company she started with Akhil Khadse of San Francisco's Bi-Rite Market), one of Gocobachi's main goals is to ensure that the standards of cannabis cooking are as high as those of traditional fine dining. "It didn't make sense to me that in San Francisco, a place with such a strong artisan food culture, that the edibles weren't at the same level," she explains. "It's become a little bit of my personal mission to raise the standards of quality in the cannabis industry. Whether it's in my products or a private dinner that we are cooking, I am uncompromising about quality of ingredients, from the fruit to the cannabis flowers we use. "
Gocobachi, whose products use local and organic ingredients, was called the "Alice Waters of cannabis" by Maya Elisabeth of OmEdibles and Whoopi & Maya, the line of cannabis products for women she cofounded with Whoopi Goldberg. And when you hear Gocobachi discuss her craft, it's no surprise that she was given that nickname.
"[I treat] cannabis as an herb and a flavor component, rather than something to be masked. For a long time, cannabis to cook with has always been the lowest-tier stuff that isn't good to smoke, like trim or mediocre hash, so it will end up tasting grassy or bitter. However, when you use delicious cannabis flowers or high-quality hash to cook with, your end product will end up reflecting that," Gocobachi tells me. "A lot of people comment that our edibles 'don't really taste like edibles' or cannabis. They do; they just taste like good cannabis. I also love pairing flavors in the strains with flavors in the food—just like you would combine herbs or spices, based on [their] flavor profiles. Some strains are very peppery or earthy, which can overwhelm delicate flavors, but is well-suited to punchier foods."
Female chefs aren't just utilizing traditional methods of cooking to shape the cannabis community; they're also pioneering new ways to improve marijuana consumption. Denver's Jessica Catalano, founder of The Ganja Kitchen Revolution, earned degrees in both Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts and combined them with her love and knowledge of cannabis to become one of the first chefs in the world to publicly discuss the use of specific strains in recipes, she says, in order to enhance the food's flavor profile. Catalano's innovative method of infusing terpenes (the fragrant oils that give cannabis its aromatic and flavor diversity) with food has been popularized over the past decade, and is now considered accepted wisdom.
The response to Catalano's groundbreaking work and recipes has been two-fold. She has earned respect for her knowledge within the cannabis community, but still finds she has to show her bonafides to some culinary folks outside of it. "I find that other cannabis chefs and cannabis enthusiasts want to learn more and expand their craft by picking my brain and snagging my book, as they look to me as an expert on the subject," says Catalano. "There is a lot of respect that is shown by these people and they honor what I do. [But] chefs who are not immersed in the cannabis scene, are not quite sure about cannabis, don't like the smell of cannabis, or are otherwise sitting on the fence, tend to be a little bit more set in their own ways. With these type of people, generally I have to prove myself and my craft, to get the wheels turning in their heads."
The idea of women having to prove themselves in their professional fields is nothing new. It's no secret that the world of chefs is male-dominated, despite the fact that the industry is built on the backs of women, particularly women of color and from immigrant communities. As a result, the sexism seen in the larger cooking world can still be found in the niche of cannabis at times.
"I have found myself in situations where it was like a scene straight out of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," Catalano shares. "But once I throw down and dispel any preconceived notions, I find I have 'all ears'. As more and more women come into the industry, this paradigm will begin to shift."
Yet, like Catalano, the majority of women chefs I spoke with described the cannabis culinary scene as one that has been largely welcoming to women, perhaps due to the fact that it's still in its youth and women are actually a part of building it from the ground up.
"I would guess that I wouldn't have had the same level of success in the culinary industry as I have had in this specific market, though my drive and commitment has been the same," Drummer says. Lo agrees, noting that in the cannabis culinary world, "It feels like there's a place for everyone, which is really encouraging."
For more female chefs who are killing it in the world of cannabis cuisine, check out Vanessa Lavorato on our series Bong Appetit.