"This joint was chosen as the first pairing of the night because it will help loosen you up after working all day. This strain is CBD-dominant, so you won't get too high right away, and its flavor will also complement the appetizers being passed around."
A server tells me this as she approaches and offers a serving tray stacked with joints, just as she came around earlier offering sticky grilled shrimp skewers glazed with passion fruit.
Two weeks before California votes on Proposition 64—a measure that would make it the fifth state to allow recreational use of weed in the US—more than 130 people have gathered in an undisclosed private event space in West Los Angeles to enjoy an evening of delicious food, local wine, and cannabis. This is all in celebration of cannabis company Flow Kana finally distributing its sustainable, organic, sun-grown craft weed from Mendocino to LA. It's also the first time that I have been invited to a weed-paired dinner in this city.
I take a huge bite of a fried Flamin' Hot Cheeto-crusted kimchi rice ball cooked by chef Chris Oh and then proceed to light the tightly wrapped jay and puff away. The server was right: The tobacco-like peppery clouds of this unique strain grown in Mendocino County—called "Balanced in the Pines"—went well with the unabashed layer of crunchy, cheesy chile powder around the spicy ball.
I cleanse my palate with some chenin blanc by Habit Wine Company before tasting a raw scallop doused in yuzu juice, vadouvan curry, almonds, and cilantro, prepared by chef Steven Fretz. I take another fat puff as the scallop's tender texture and perfume-like citrus punch becomes a lot more noticeable, the 7.2-percent THC starting to slowly creep in and affect my palate. As I turn around, thick clouds are emanating into the clear night sky from the entire patio and everyone is being exceptionally talkative and joyous, to say the least.
These chefs are anticipating the mainstreaming of food and weed as a cultural phenomenon that will surely follow if the measure passes in November.
The three-course family-style menu by both chefs was inspired by "stoner cuisine," says Oh, who admits to smoking a lot in his younger years. Thus the Cheeto dust on his rice balls and the fried Spanish onions on top of the thick slices of tuna tataki and compressed heirloom apples and celery by Fretz. "Name me one chef who doesn't love to smoke some marijuana," Fretz says very matter-of-factly.
When I ask Fretz for the inspiration behind his contributions to the menu, which includes a dessert of brioche donuts with a brown butter icing, he responds: "Brown butter has a petrol-y flavor and nasal profile, just like the terpenes in the Blue Dream that was paired with it." He was told that the first joint of the night was tropical and fruity, thus the passionfruit in his shrimp skewer and yuzu in his scallop appetizer.
By participating in a weed-based dinner party of this size, Fretz and Oh—along with Oh's business partner Stephane Bombet of Bombet Hospitality Group, who was also present in the dinner—are ahead of the weed curve, anticipating the mainstreaming of a cultural phenomenon that will surely follow if the measure passes in November.
Because of the current legal status of cannabis in California, all of the invitees to this dinner had to prove that they had been prescribed medical marijuana. Nonetheless, neither Fretz nor Oh thought twice about negative connotations with cannabis. "Being associated with weed as a professional is not a stigma for me in any way, shape, or form," Fretz says.
"If you still have a problem with weed in 2016, you need to go bury yourself in a fucking hole. Let's be real. Cannabis and chefs go hand in hand," he adds. "Any chef who is afraid of getting involved with cannabis is too involved in themselves."
Fischer's wine and weed pairing advice is: kush with cabernets, and any old-school strong strains like Maui Wowie with high-acid white wines.
The dinner marks the first time that winemaker Jeff Fischer had been asked to pair some of his wines with weed. As a proponent of medical marijuana, he was ecstatic about the challenge. "Honestly, dude, weed just makes wine tastes better. Just like wine, weed has a lot of characteristics that you use the same senses for when you enjoy wine," he tells me the following day.
"I think people who choose to buy wine from quality, local, small-farm people like me instead of giant, corporate wineries will also appreciate small-farm weed like the stuff being passed around the evening."
Fischer's wine and weed pairing advice is: kush with cabernets, and any old-school strong strains like Maui Wowie with high-acid white wines. In a nutshell, the heavier the weed, the heavier the wine. He believes that we are in the very early stages of weed and wine pairing, and he encourages people to just experiment.
The night ends with applause when Oh brings out piles of his jaggedly crispy, sweet gochujang-lacquered Korean fried chicken. However, before we can all dig in, Flow-Kana CEO Mikey Steinmetz instructs all of us on how to properly taste the last strain's terpenes—an indica-dominant Lemonhead OG with 25.3 percent THC. It involves great patience and taking dry puffs of your joint before you light it up to taste the herbaceous qualities first.
I ask Steinmetz why he chose a dinner party format to launch his company's dank-ass weed in LA.
"Remember, weed also acts as a social lubricant for social experiences," he says. "Why not pair cannabis with your food if it builds appetite and increases flavor? It's time to make weed pairings as normal as wine pairings and bridge these two awesome worlds together."