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Underground dining series delight and dazzle in surreptitious locations, but none leave you quite as high and stuffed with California cuisine as the food-and-cannabis-pairing event aptly called the Cannaisseur Series, part of a growing trend involving marijuana restaurants in San Francisco.
“I’ve always been a big pothead,” says Coreen Carroll, co-founder of the cannabis-infused dining experience the Cannaisseur Series.
Long before California changed its marijuana laws, Carroll and Ryan Bush hosted underground cannabis dinners in sprawling San Francisco warehouses. Both self-declared cannabis enthusiasts, the husband-wife team (Carroll is the chef, Bush the cannabis expert) moved out west from Florida, looking to light up in the ever-growing cannabis movement.
After completing culinary school, Carroll fluttered in and out of disciplines, such as whole-animal butchery and cheesemaking, before she began working in pop-up restaurants. Around the same time, Bush attended Oaksterdam University, a cannabis college offering 101 courses in everything from running a dispensary to scrutinizing marijuana laws. There, he met a friend with whom he and his wife soon founded an edibles company, Madame Munchie. Specializing in luxury macarons, this was Bush and Carroll’s first foray into the cannabis-infused-food industry.
After moving away from that company, the pair began to focus on creating their own cannabis dinner series.
“I saw that there was nothing else going on here – nobody was really doing these kinds of pop-ups,” Carroll says. “I always had it in the back of the mind that I wanted to do something with food and wanted cannabis to be a part of that.”
“We took a dinner-series type of event and really put Coreen’s stamp on it,” Bush says. “[There] was a need to put products in front of folks who don’t normally visit dispensaries and have a curated environment.”
Bush and Carroll were eager to challenge the stoner stereotype. They wanted to create an experience that illustrated that there’s more to the culture – and more to the cuisine – than stoners and pot brownies.
“We were kind of banking on there being enough people out there like us who loved great food and smoking,” Bush says. “That was really why we created this in the beginning.”
So far, the pair has been proved right: plenty of people around the country and the world have attended the Cannaisseur Series, seeking an experience that merges fine dining and cannabis.
For every experience, tickets cost $175. Each event begins with a happy hour punctuated by cannabis-infused appetizers and drinks, followed by a four-course meal. Each course is offset by a cannabis pairing, from edibles to joints and leaves.
“I always start each menu with what’s in season,” Carroll explains. “Then, from there, the pairings are really focused more on the feelings [that they] will create: what type of euphoria you’re going to feel at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the event.”
To start, Bush and Carroll create an environment that allows guests to ease into the event. Appetizers start off the meal – anything from house-fermented coconut yogurt crowned with honeycomb and fennel pollen to peach crostini with house-made ricotta – each lightly infused with one to two milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, the main active ingredient of cannabis). During the happy hour, guests have the opportunity to hear from various edible, vape and flower sponsors, who provide a bit of education about their products.
Guests are then seated at communal, intimate tables, and the four-course food and cannabis pairing begins. The first course tends to be a cold, light plate; it might be something like a grilled red onion and brussels sprout salad with burrata, or roasted fennel and nectarine salad with prosciutto and pecorino.
As this course ends, everyone receives the first cannabis pairing: a sativa. Sativa, one of the two types of cannabis plant, stimulates the brain and fosters conversation. Early on, the diners are still getting to know one another, so Bush and Carroll ply everyone with an energizing pairing.
The second course might be pâté or squash blossom soup swirled with summer corn and fried shallots. Around this time, people really start feeling the high from the sativa, so the second course is followed by the cannabidiol (or CBD, a non-psychoactive compound of marijuana) pairing. This counteracts the high from the THC and levels everyone out.
The third course often leans toward showcasing an untraditional or wild meat, which in the past has included dishes like confit of guinea hen legs flanked by pea and roasted garlic puree and garnished with hemp oil. As the plates are cleared, everyone receives the indica, the second of the two main types of cannabis, which results in a more blissed-out, low-key high.
“Indica is super chill,” Carroll explains. “Having an indica sometimes makes people feel a little shy around each other. Since it’s so much later in the event, people are comfortable with one another. It changes that dynamic.”
At this point, everyone is decidedly stoned and itching for something sweet. Dessert could be a squat chocolate sour cream cake, cloaked in caramelized cornflakes and topped with blackberries macerated in cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), or a sweet garbanzo crepe, neatly folded with mascarpone, fig jam and chocolate ganache.
The Cannaisseur Series has operated for three years now. At the outset, it functioned under California’s medical-marijuana laws – meaning only those who possessed a medical-marijuana card could come. Under the current laws, which shifted on January 1, 2018, anyone 21 or over can attend. For Bush and Carroll, this not only allowed more people to attend their dinner series but also made it possible for a wider range of people to become part of the cannabis community.
“We’ve prided ourselves [on] hav[ing] a really diverse crowd of people,” Carroll says. “Humans from all walks of life, from young to old, every color under the sun, every belief under the sun. It’s really beautiful, the different types of humans [who] come together under these events.”
Although each event tends to be studded with a mix of industry professionals and daily consumers, it’s open to marijuana newcomers as well. “We definitely get novices and people of all experiences,” Bush says. “That’s what’s really cool about the event: it’s super approachable for everyone.”
Despite the series’s focus on showcasing a host of products and modern ways to consume marijuana – which is often educational, even for experienced consumers – Bush and Carroll are unyielding about one thing: there are always old-school joints placed on the tables.
“We’re really adamant about sharing a joint,” Bush says. “We definitely have a vape-pen aspect to it. That’s a great way to consume and it’s nice and discreet, but we’re very much old-school flower people. There’s nothing more intimate than sharing a joint with somebody.”
At the end of the event, everyone leaves with a gift bag filled with a sampling of the products they’ve tried during the meal, along with a newly cemented, strong affinity for everyone they’ve just shared the experience with.
“We’re all about community,” Bush says. “This is our embodiment of that.”