Pot-infused menus give fine dining a heady boost – SF Chronicle

Pot-infused menus give fine dining a heady boost

By Elise McDonoughJanuary 24, 2018 Updated: January 26, 2018 12:08pm


Somewhere between the gorgeous desert sunset, the cannabis-infused cocktails, the Chinese tea time with a guy named Snakes, the artisanal weed tastings and the rabbit ragu, it dawned on me: I am not at another boring weed dinner.

As the author of a best-selling cannabis cookbook, I’ve watched this scene evolve from an underground phenomenon into a hot new trend in the culinary world. And the field is starting to get crowded. A few years ago, simply having the gumption to pull off a weed dinner drew intense interest, not just from pot-friendly foodies, but also from the press. But now to stand out, would-be weed impresarios must reach a little — forgive the pun — higher.

And so, to see what the next level in cannabis fine-dining might look like, I signed on to attend Moonlit Moveable Feast, the first of a series of seasonal three-course dinner events held in Joshua Tree, in the heart of the Mojave Desert, and timed to the full moon. Organized by Barbie Sommars, co-founder of Mary Jane University, and hosted at an art gallery called Furst World, the event promised “a feast for all senses.”

Tickets for the extravaganja, which I attended in June, cost $150 and were available to those with a valid medical cannabis recommendation. Now, with cannabis fully legal for all adults, doctor’s notes are no longer necessary. With big plans in store for 2018, Mary Jane University is relaunching these dinners under its High Dining brand. The next event is scheduled for April 28.

“I’m going to highlight the incredible beauty of the high desert, and feature the artists and artisans right in my own backyard,” Sommars told me on the phone, a few days before the dinner. “I want people to experience this plant in a truly inspiring setting.”

I first encountered Sommars at one of Mary Jane University’s “Sushi and Doobie” workshops in Orange County, which brought together weed experts and a top-level sushi chef. More than half of the participants, who were largely female, didn’t know how to roll sushi or a joint, but by night’s end, most of them appeared to leave with at least basic competence in both skills. It was a fun, interactive evening, with a friendly crowd, quality sushi, and enough high-end weed sponsors to provide serious value for the cost of admission.

So when Sommars told me about Moonlit Moveable Feast, I was intrigued, if not a tad skeptical. Would the execution live up to her intentions?

Considered sacred ground by artists, spiritualists and eccentrics, the Mojave Desert offers wide-open terrain and a low cost of living — a perfect combo for those working to manifest strange visions. So while typically I wouldn’t travel five hours round-trip for a cannabis dinner, this particular gathering promised truly cosmic vibes. And a quick perusal of the Furst World website revealed the venue alone might be worth the ride.

“I like to geek out on the alchemy,” said mixologist Levi Strom of Awakened Topicals, explaining that the buds sat in the bourbon for six months as part of a special cold-infusion technique designed to impart flavor but not potency. “So you get the medicinal benefits of THC but very little of the high.”

Drink in hand, I explored Furst Wurld, a workshop and performance space that consisted of three lofted hangars and several Airstream trailers, plus a wide concrete veranda overlooking Joshua Tree National Park. The space was crowded with objects, including a large iron stove, a wooden Buddha statue, an old wagon and barrels of mannequin parts.

A series of cannabis educators roamed the property. There was Furst World founder Bobby Furst, tan and wiry in a fur hat and glasses; a teahouse steward who went by the handle Snakes and poured out cups of a fermented Chinese tea called pu’er; cannabis expert Jeffrey Rabin, who offered insights on all aspects of the plant; and a mystic named Vega of the Valley, who conducted tarot card readings in a cozy trailer.

“Our focus on education makes these events different,” Sommars told me as we strolled the grounds. A wisp of a woman with long dark hair, clad in a flowing white dress, she said she discovered cannabis after a serious medical diagnosis, and has since ditched the corporate life to set down roots in Joshua Tree. She sees organizing cannabis events as an extension of her activism, aiming to “seduce people into education, not just about cannabis, but on multiple levels.”

First, though, we needed to get high.

Gathered around a small table, guests sat together and tasted several different strains of cannabis, making notes on the aroma, flavor, finish and cerebral effects, considering whether the smoke was sweet or astringent, fruity or savory. The blind tasting encouraged a certain mindfulness, all while priming our appetites for the meal to follow.

From there, I was ushered to a long communal table. Keiko Beatie of Edibles List magazine explained the dinner menu, which included THC infusions staggered throughout the meal. In total, we’d be served about 10 milligrams, a dosage that typically allows for a pleasant, present high.

Our first course: arugula salad with dates, pickled shallots, goat cheese, hemp seeds and a lemon-hibiscus vinaigrette. Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Eduardo Pineda had infused the vinaigrette with raw cannabis oil that, similar to the infused bourbon, offered a large dose of cannabinoids in their non-psychoactive forms.

“The biggest challenge for any chef cooking with cannabis, and certainly for me as someone experimenting with it for the first time, is properly dosing,” Pineda told me.

The main course was a rabbit ragu with cipollini onions, carrots, ghee, thyme and cannabis leaves. Integrated directly into the pasta dough in carefully measured amounts, the cannabis ghee (from Canobutter) delivered a solid 7 milligrams of THC per serving in a tasty, earthy plate where the flavor of the weed melded nicely with complementary herbs.

“To me, the flavor profile of high-quality cannabis is fairly floral, and depending on the strain can also have pine or citrus notes, so I tried to work with those flavors as much as possible,” Pineda said. Both courses were delicious and offered enough unusual flavor combinations to make the meal feel adventurous.

Served in the main hangar at a walk-up station, dessert began with a refreshing prickly pear granita with candied Buddha’s hands and pickled tamarind, infused with a CBD tincture that imbued a balanced and relaxing high by tempering the effects of all the THC ingested during dinner. There were also low-dose chocolate truffles and an adorable mini “Desert Sands” parfait composed of cookie crumbles, green aloe gelee, hemp coconut pudding, cantaloupe candy and prickly pear caviar dosed at just 2 milligrams of THC.

“We want guests to experience a sufficient amount of euphoria to feel like they’re having a magical time, but not be so out of it that they can’t leave under their own power,” Sommars said.

By the night’s end, a certain euphoria did take hold, sparked not just by the cannabis, but by the experience in total. As I left the grounds — yes, very much under my own power — I had the sensation of leaving an oasis and back into the vast desert of day-to-day life, far better off for having made the journey.

Elise McDonough is a cannabis edibles expert, consultant and cookbook author living in Santa Cruz.

Sushi & Doobie, Orange County: The flagship event from Mary Jane University’s High Dining Club, this fun workshop combines hands-on sushi-rolling and joint-rolling instruction from chef Victor Miller. Mix and mingle before and after class with passed appetizers, exhibitors, a demonstration on how to blow smoke rings, dessert, vape lounge and lively DJ sets. Scheduled for March with updates coming soon. www.highdining.club/

If you go

Moonlit Moveable Feast, now rebranded as High Dining, is hosting its next dinner event at 6 p.m. on April 28 in Joshua Tree. Cost TBD. www.highdining.club

*All High Dining events are 21+

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