Drugs & Leisure

Care for Some Canadian Cannabis-Infused Food Porn?

I've had some pretty sketchy moments in the hands of a pot brownie or two. The day I had my first pot brownie, I remember staring up at my ceiling for what could have been all of time and realizing—it wasn't so much as a surprise as it was an inevitable, immutable truth—I was dead.

But, spoiler alert, as it turns out, I wasn't dead and I wish that feeling—when I was waking up like a ghost at 4 am in my bed—was an isolated case. There are only so many times I can talk my friends down from the ledge of similar edibles-induced existential crises before I have to conclude that edibles, when not taken responsibility (but how can you take them responsibly when you can never truly know what’s in them?), can fuck you up. So, as you can imagine, my relationship with the laced treat has been a cautious one ever since they tried to murder me—that was, until I met Travis Petersen. 

It was pouring rain the day that I met the chef, better known as the Nomad Chef, behind the buzzy touring cannabis dinner party known as the Infused Dining Series. He greeted me warmly on the steps of his home in Vancouver carrying a garbage bin of kitchen scraps, but shaking my hand none the less. Myself; slightly flustered having just lost my phone in a taxi and Petersen; with an air of unwavering calm and gentleness which has nothing to do with high doses of THC he puts in his food. He had invited me into his home to help him prep for one of his Infused Dining events the next night, all so I could get insight into what it’s like to pair fine dining with highly concentrated THC extract and, most importantly, to find out how he's doing this safely and (as it turns out, not so) legally. 
Petersen cooked exceptional food, but the pairing with cannabis just made it that much more special; it coated it in a little fairy dust and made it sing.

But really, the best way for me to experience his food was to go to the event itself. So, the next day I walked up to the mysterious location where the chef was hosting his 25 open-minded diners, and I can’t possibly tell you where it was because it’s a big secret. When I arrived I was immediately ushered inside and told that if I wanted to smoke a joint please can I go do it a block away so as not to draw attention to anything that might be happening inside. First, I won’t be smoking a joint before I’m about to ingest 200 mg of THC, I’m not a maverick. And second, this was all a bit exciting! I’ve never been anywhere in Vancouver that has rules about not smoking joints in public, but this anonymous venue was intent on keeping the hazy secret weediness going on inside just that, a secret—and I was part of it.

Petersen launched the Infused Dining Series only a few months previous to us meeting and at least 700 people have been served in total since he started. The events are proving extremely popular, mainly because each one challenges the stereotypical weed “edible” with no brownies, cookies or gummies in sight. Well, this is fine dining, and I can’t imagine a THC gummy bear would have much of a place in any of Petersen’s (mainly Asian-inspired) haut cuisine.
I sat down at a table opposite the pass so I could watch Petersen work his magic, accessorized by a green cap on his head, eyes a little bloodshot and a wide smile on his face. He was already putting out dishes and placing chunks of praline onto the Vietnamese panna cotta we were to have for dessert. I'm already impressed by the food they’re putting on the plates even before I’ve tasted any—it’s refined and elegant, and having seen the tiny kitchen Petersen had been prepping in the day before, it’s no small feat to produce this level of cooking.

The dining room was dimly lit and there were no windows to the outside world, making things feel even more secretive. As each of the other guests arrived, bustling eagerly through the door and being given the same words of warning, the room started to quiver with expectation. People were excited as I was. Petersen gave a little introductory speech in his deep Canadian drawl, welcoming everyone and immediately merging us all together as one giant group of friends. In that moment, we were all bonded by the fact that we were about to secretly get extremely high together and there was something quite unifying about that.

Undeniably, this was a clientele that perhaps challenges the archaic perceptions of what a traditional stoner looks like. "The stigma has been released," commented Petersen, adding that his dinners prove that the stereotypical "young stoner kid" isn't the norm anymore. With legalization just around the corner in Canada, the stigma on this plant has been lifted, allowing older folks who perhaps would have initially turned their nose up at the illegal drug, to now become interested in sampling its benefits. Looking around the room I can see exactly what he meant. His guests were "predominately foodies" who weren't adverse to also getting high at the same time. The mix of people was mainly couples, and they were diverse and interesting and it just showed what a delightful variety of people the market appealed to.
I spied a jar of oil on the pass with a pipette inside, an amber color—which neither looks potent nor delicious—but I know not to judge anything by its appearance, especially when I’ve been told what’s inside. I had held the syringes of pure THC oil up to fully inspect them the day before. Each one containing 1000 mg of pure THC oil, supplied by a company called Sky extracts.

"What happens if I have a drop?" I asked him.

"Don't," he laughed. The syringes were pure THC, but the mix in the jar on the counter surface was a dissolute made from mixing the extract with coconut oil, making it far more palatable and less potent than the pure stuff. This was the magic that Petersen would be infusing into his cooking, each tiny drop perfectly measured. Petersen microdoses everyone individually as per their own self-determined tolerance, and at the start of the event I could see Petersen going round to each guest, talking to them all about their habits.Petersen chooses to dose this way rather than dosing in butters or sauces because he finds this is the only accurate way to dose. This is how Petersen combats the edibles conundrum where too much can (figuratively) end you. “Everyone’s tolerance levels are totally different and so if they all had the same spoonful they would all have a different experience, which is why we micro dose and accurately dose each person based on their personal usage.” This seemed like genius to me, and I felt immediately less anxious about what I was going to eat, knowing that my pathetic tolerance wouldn't be judged or mocked, but instead catered to. That night, I was told to expect a nice mellow high that is meant to "make peoples bodies feel good" and that sounded extremely appealing. "As long as I don’t think I'm dead again," I warned him as he made his way around to me to ask about my own tolerance for my micro-dosage. "You won’t," he reassured me, and I believed him.
I watched as Petersen dosed each of our dishes on the pass, dropping three or four drops of THC dissolute onto each, and he was meticulous in his precision. He began to bring out the infused food and as we dug into course one, shrimp and pork spring rolls with CBD fish sauce, I couldn't wait for the next. The food was delicious, and even if the edibles would soon make me question my humanity, at least I would be exiting this world as a result of all this deliciousness, and there are worse ways to go.

Course two was brought out swiftly after, lemongrass and beef soup, which I had seen bubbling away since the day before. After everyone had finished the warm pho-like broth I could feel the room's atmosphere shifting; getting warmer and a little slower. The guests were happily tucking into the food; former strangers sat at tables together, suddenly best friends chatting away. "You can sit anyone around my dinner table, any culture, background or religion. It doesn’t matter. Everyone breaks bread together and that’s when people tell their stories and that's what I see happen at my events," Petersen mused.

"Do you feel like a pioneer?" I asked him the day before. Petersen couldn't help but laugh. "Canada is at the forefront of change, and it’s cool to be part of that change," he shrugged in response."I get emails from people being like, 'Thank you, you're a pioneer'," he told me in disbelief. Admittedly, Petersen wasn’t doing anything completely new, there are chefs cooking with cannabis all around the world. He’s not trying to be the guy known for cooking with cannabis, he’s just trying to be the guy that invites people into his home, cooks great food and has a great time. Looking around the room and watching him merrily drop THC onto course three, spicy soy tenderloin with coconut rice, I could see that this is exactly what he has created.
Three dishes into the four course meal was when I knew: I was high. That familiar warmth spread through my body and rested at the base of my skull and the tips of my fingers. It was lovely. Not only was I high, but I was just in a constant state of "Mm." The food could absolutely stand alone without the cannabis; its not a flavorless weed gummy that’s only purpose is to get you high, it was delicately balanced and refined. Petersen cooked exceptional food, but the pairing with cannabis just made it that much more special; it coated it in a little fairy dust and made it sing.

"Is any of this legal?" I had asked him whilst he fancy chopped some mushrooms the day before. "Its a grey area" he told me, and that’s putting it lightly. Vancouver is kind of just doing its own thing and has been for five or six years. It’s not legal, but it’s not not legal. It means he's unlikely to get in any trouble, but he is forced to limit his promotion of his events to Facebook, Instagram and the like, and is only able to host in venues willing to take the risk or in his own home.
What is now cloudy becomes clear across Canada on October 17, when smoking, buying and even growing cannabis will become legal. Still, edibles and THC extract will remain banned. People expect it will take around a year for the government to legalize edibles following October 17, and that’s mainly because right now, they are struggling to figure out a way to do this safely. "There is a bad rep for edibles right now,” said Petersen. And that's mainly due to the fact that there’s no over-the-counter interaction and no quality control. "Education is a good place to start," Petersen explained in response to my inquiry about a solution."But honestly they don’t know how to legalize edibles at this point" he continued.
So while the rest of the world will be celebrating Canada's legalization October 17, Petersen's schedule will go a little quiet. He will begin focusing on a cookbook and online cooking lessons which look at how to teach the consumer to dose themselves responsibly. Does that mean the end of events like this? Luckily, no.Petersen mentioned that he will continue to cook with cannabis despite the risks. “We will find ways to stay within the legal borders” he added.

So by course four; Vietnamese panna cotta, I was well and truly stoned in the most lovely way. Every one in the room was. The air was almost thick with it. Time stretched out lazily as the evening went on, making the conversations I was having last so long I would forget if I had spoken or not, leaving gaps of time that could have been two seconds or could have been 16 minutes. At this point ,memory got wonderfully hazy so I had to defer to the trusty note section in my phone where I reported to have “ears filled with warm cotton wool” with no accompanying notes about fear of death—and if that isn't a sign of success, I don't know what is.

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