Stateside’s conversation with cannabis chef Gigi Diaz
Cannabis, it turns out, is not just for smoking.
Since its legalization for both medical and recreational purposes, marijuana has been making its way into kitchens across Michigan, including the kitchen of Gigi Diaz.
Diaz has been cooking professionally for years and recently, she’s started making cannabis-infused meals. She even won Best Chef at the 2017 High Times Michigan Cannabis Cup. Her business, Cannabis Concepts, does regular pop-ups all around Detroit.
“It’s really come a long way since your average pot brownie,” Diaz said.
Diaz says she’s always been interested in the wide range of ingredients that can be used in cooking, including medicinal ones. When it came to cannabis, she felt it was important to offer alternative ways of ingesting marijuana, ones far different from the age-old pot brownie or gummy.
In her kitchen, Diaz cooks with ingredients derived from the marijuana plant that have a range of properties. She uses hemp in addition to CBD and THC oils. CBD, or cannabidiol, is an ingredient associated with pain and anxiety relief among other medical uses. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive substance that causes users to feel “high.”
“We want to think about people who have different dietary needs, and also people who are also using it to heal themselves,” Diaz said.
Listen to Stateside’s interview with Gigi Diaz to hear what brought her to the world of cooking, some of her most popular cannabis-infused dishes, and what she thinks marijuana legalization in Michigan will mean for her business.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.
I don’t remember my first experience eating a weed cookie, but I do remember my worst one. I had no clue what its potency was or what kind of strain it contained, but after eating just half, I was sinking into a friend’s sofa and questioning my relationships, my new haircut and my life’s purpose. Smoking weed usually made me chatty and extroverted, but this demon cookie made me feel anxious and paranoid for hours. I vowed never to eat another edible.
Flash forward eight years, and here I am preparing a cannabis-infused dinner party for seven friends.
What changed? Well, pretty much everything. THC and CBD are now part of our everyday lexicon. Craft cannabis makers hawk artisanal baked goods in pop-up markets. Trendy chefs organize hip supper clubs serving restaurant-quality, weed-infused dishes and publish glossy cookbooks. And until the Project Claudia police raid in 2016, dispensaries selling gummies, brownies and everything in between proliferated in Toronto.
Edibles are the future of cannabis consumption. (According to a 2017 Deloitte survey, nearly half of Canadians are interested in trying them.) Last December, the federal government released its draft regulations for edibles legalization, which isn’t expected until October 2019. Until then, you can buy edibles in illegal pop-up markets and at the few dispensaries still open – or make them yourself.
The latter option appealed to me: I could control the dosage and pick the strain. Plus, I’d made weed cookies a couple times and my friends liked them.
But planning a dinner party is a daunting task, and adding weed to the equation can spell disaster. Nevertheless, I decide to throw a THC-laced dinner party at home. What could go wrong?
Cooking with weed doesn’t mean grinding up some bud and sprinkling it onto whatever you’re eating. It involves math, science, dosing ratios, a process called decarboxylation and a bunch of other intimidating terms. So before I start planning, I consult Reena Rampersad, a Trinidadian chef who runs High Society Supper Club, a Hamilton-based cannabis catering service.
“The experience my guests have is completely reliant on me and how well I’ve organized it for them, so I’m very careful. I tell everyone to take it easy, go slow and see how they feel,” says Rampersad, adding that before she even starts thinking of the menu and how strong her dishes will be, she surveys her guests on their tolerance levels.
On my guest list are friends, all in their late 20s and early 30s, with varying degrees of experience with edibles, from a couple who eats infused gummies and cookies regularly, to a girlfriend who hasn’t tried any in over a decade, citing a bad experience with a super-strong cookie while travelling through Australia in a camper van.
I also seek the expertise of Sarah Gillies, a cannabis baker for nearly a decade and co-founder of High5, a promotions company that organizes pop-up markets and other events. Gillies’s mantra for edibles is “go low and slow,” as in, cook with low doses and pace yourself.
The first step in cooking with weed is decarboxylation. Cannabis won’t get you very high if you eat it as bud because the non-psychoactive component, THCA, needs to be heated before it transforms into psychoactive THC. This process happens when you smoke a joint or take a bong hit, but when you’re cooking with weed, you need to decarboxylate another way, such as baking or toasting.
I grind up the weed and bake it for around 20 minutes at 115°C (240°F). Nervous that isn’t long enough, I stick it back in for another 10. I can’t be sure it worked, but I figure we’ll all find out in a few hours.
After decarbing your weed, you need to cook it with a type of fat, like oil, butter or lard. Cannabinoids – namely THC and CBD – bind naturally to fats, so that’s the most convenient method to create an infused sauce, dressing or dish. Plus, your high will be more potent than if you just ingest decarbed cannabis. And it’ll taste better.
Rampersad says when she organizes the High Society dinner parties, she usually only infuses the sauces, gravies and dips instead of entire dishes. “That way, people can stop the dosing if they’re feeling like they’ve had enough.”
The recipes I’m following either call for infused oil or infused butter. Although any strain will work, I use Critical Super Silver Haze for the oil – according to Leafly, it “boasts an energetic long-lasting body high” – and for the butter, Deep Purple, which Lift&Co describes as having “strong cerebral effects.”
I make the cannabutter on the stove, simmering the butter and the weed on low heat and stirring incessantly so it doesn’t burn. After two and a half hours – and, yes, my entire house reeks at this point – I pour it through cheesecloth into a mason jar, filtering out the bud. I end up with a gross-looking dark brown liquid that I set aside to cool.
Infusing the oil is much simpler. I add my decarbed weed and oil to an automated herb infuser and it does all the stirring and cooking for me.
After hours of just prepping my cannabis, I’m finally ready to start cooking. I don’t want to taste test, since I’m not ready to get high yet, so I enlist my boyfriend to try my creations. He starts by eating a spoonful of the cannabutter, and by the time I’m cutting vegetables, he’s stoned.
For the menu, I settle on the following infused dishes: balsamic mushroom toast with sprigs of thyme and an olive oil drizzle a za’atar-topped cucumber and citrus salad a green salad tossed in a creamy cilantro vinaigrette mac and cheese with a pesto sauce (find the recipe here) and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
In total, each person will be consuming around 15 milligrams of THC, which, according to Rampersad, is a safe number for beginners.
From the Bong Appétit cookbook, this mac and cheese is a delicious addition to cannabis soirées.
The Dinner Party
By the time my guests start arriving, I’m in full panic mode. Sure, the food looks good, but there are so many unknowns. Would the doses be so weak that no one would feel anything? Or so strong that someone could pass out on my kitchen floor? Would the macaroni taste like buttery ash? Was it completely irresponsible to throw a cannabis dinner party having only ever made weed cookies a couple of times?
My friends start by taking shots of CBD oil.
Both Gillies and Rampersad tell me to keep some CBD on hand – whether as a non-alcoholic cocktail, oil or joint – in case anyone gets too high, since it’s known to counterbalance the panicky effects of too much THC. “It’s for insurance,” my friend shrugs as she squeezes drops into her mouth.
Gillies instilled in me the golden rule of “go low and slow,” but since it’s 9 pm when we finally start eating, everyone is famished. I’d planned to pace out the courses but end up serving everything at once.
The food is delicious. The macaroni is gooey and cheesy, the mushroom toast crunchy and fragrant, the citrus salad juicy and refreshing, and the chocolate chip cookies perfectly chewy with a whiff of butterscotch. And, surprisingly, none of it tastes like weed.
The high comes on like it always seems to with edibles: the feeling of “I don’t think it worked” suddenly becomes “I am definitely very high.”
“I’m starting to feel my face right now,” a friend says, as she picks at the citrus salad.
I’m also very aware of my face and whole body. Although I have some neurotic thoughts – “Is everyone having fun?” “Why didn’t I clean the bathroom beforehand?” – it’s nothing like my experience of eating the demon cookie in university. I feel slightly hazy, but in control and giggly.
My girlfriend who hasn’t tried edibles in a long time begins cackling uncontrollably as she precisely describes how she would make gourmet drumstick ice cream cones, while I scour my cupboards for snacks during a munchies-powered second wind.
Over four hours of eating, chatting, laughing and eventually playing several impromptu rounds of Catchphrase, we find ourselves at the bottom of a bag of Sriracha-flavoured potato chips and discount candy cane ice cream.
Experiences with edibles can be unpredictable. During dinner, one friend tells a story about having eaten the equivalent of a nibble of a single Kit Kat stick at a movie theatre and getting so high, he felt like he was “melting into his seat and couldn’t move.” Likewise, I remember buying a single toffee or cookie and being warned to only eat a tiny bite because it was so potent.
The federal government regulations for edibles are set to curb some of that unpredictability. The draft rules, which are currently under public consultation until February 20, include a 10 milligram limit per package (compare that to the Kit Kat-like bar, bought at a local dispensary, which had 400 milligrams), plain child-resistant packaging and the prohibiting of ingredients that appeal to kids.
Vanessa Lavorato, a contributor to the cookbook, Bong Appétit: Mastering The Art Of Cooking With Weed, where many of the recipes I used came from, says she recommends first-time users start with an even lower dose, like 2 milligrams. “Even if you don’t feel it, you can try a little more the next time until you find the right dose for you,” says Lavorato. “If you start off with 125 milligrams and have a bad experience, you might say, ‘I never want to try an edible again,’ which is a shame because it can be beneficial for sleep, relaxation and anxiety. That’s why I think regulation is important for educating people on how to consume.”
The government hasn’t announced who will be able to apply for licences to make edibles or what the requirements will be, but both Gillies and Rampersad are planning to apply.
“For someone like me who has been openly breaking the law, I hope the government sees that we are trying to create what [legalization] could possibly look like,” says Gillies. “I hope I’m allowed to be a part of it.”
Next month, Gillies is hosting a pop-up called Prohibitive Love featuring various craft edibles producers for Valentine’s Day.
Rampersad agrees that hobby chefs shouldn’t be barred from working in the industry post-legalization.
“We’re the people who created the industry and the demand. If we want to make sure [edibles] adhere to certain standards, we need to make sure we’re licensing experienced people,” she says. “I can understand why the government would be concerned about an [illegal] dispensary pulling in close to a million a week, but that’s a far cry from someone who is supporting their community by making them some brownies and cookies that aren’t accessible elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, Big Weed – Canada’s licensed producers (LPs) – are already moving to cash in on the appetite for edibles. Canopy has teamed up with fancy chocolate purveyor Hummingbird Chocolate to create THC-laced sweets, while the Green Organic Dutchman is building a massive new facility dedicated to edibles. Tilray has partnered with Labatt to fund a $100 million (USD) THC- and CBD-infused non-alcoholic beverages research division. According to Gillies, some LPs have already scooped up former black market bakers.
However with edibles legalization still months away, it’s high time to go DIY, whether it’s baking a batch of brownies or hosting five-course supper clubs.
The morning after my dinner party, I take a survey of how everyone is doing.
“I slept so deeply but was really foggy when I woke up,” a friend texts back.
“When I got home, I was in drunk survival mode,” says another.
One friend went to her early-morning workout class feeling fine.
I feel sluggish and have a headache all day, similar to a full hangover. Although the dinner party was a success, it’s something I’d only want to do once or twice a year. On the other hand, baking those chewy chocolate chip cookies, which only contain 3.7 milligrams of THC? I’m doing that again this weekend.
Tips for first-time edibles users
Start with a low dose
Health Canada is proposing a 10 milligram THC limit on packages of edibles. If you’re a beginner though, start with a lower dosage of around 3 to 5 milligrams. Never eat edibles if the dosage is unclear or you can’t speak directly with the maker to find out its potency.
Edibles affect everyone differently. For example, if you eat on a full stomach, it’ll take longer to experience the effects than on an empty stomach. Before you think, “This isn’t working, I should eat more,” wait at least one hour to see how you feel. You should also avoid drinking alcohol, since it can cause nausea and dizziness.
Keep some neutral snacks handy
If you get a classic case of the munchies while on edibles, it’ll be tempting to eat another delicious cookie or a few more gummy bears. But unless you want to up your dose, satisfy your cravings with non-infused snacks.
I’m too high, now what?
If your heart’s racing and you’re flooded with anxious thoughts, try not to panic. This feeling will pass. Drink a glass of lemon water or suck on a lemon wedge. Lemons contain the terpene limonene, which helps metabolize THC and will diminish your high. Other tips: put a cold compress on your head, get some fresh air and sleep it off.
The honest truth is that most cannabis cookbooks follow the same form and format. The first few chapters are usually spent illuminating the basics of cannabis, from dosage, decarboxyation and terpenes to tips for picking and pairing strains with recipes. What makes each of these culinary efforts distinct is the personality the author is able to infuse into their work.
So for anyone already familiar with Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey, it absolutely makes sense that her book, “The Art of Weed Butter,” emphasizes the art of infusion in a way that demonstrates her love and appreciation for “her first boyfriend” — aka weed. And those hearing about her for the first time will be delighted to learn about the creative and enchanting force she calls a “cosmic hybrid” of her favorite things: cuisine, cannabis and words.
Though she’s not a chef, Aggrey has been involved in the cannabis industry for over a decade. It’s clear she has a deep appreciation not only for the power of food to nourish and heal, but also for how it can bridge connections between people and across cultures. “The Art of Weed Butter” has eight chapters and offers a selection of 35 infused recipes, and also provides infusion instructions. Readers can learn how to infuse alcohol, lecithin, bacon grease (can you say genius?) and ghee.
Like most cooks, Aggrey’s personal life heavily influences what she likes to make. As a resident of Mexico City with West African heritage, many of the recipes she includes reflect a clear connection between her roots and her chosen home: fried plantains, Philly jalapeño crema, esquites (Mexican street corn) and her mother’s signature West African fried chicken all grace the pages of this cookbook. But her book has a little something for everyone — including vegans.
In the best way possible, this cookbook is a good choice for people who are not necessarily interested in a culinary challenge. It’s down to earth, informative and relatable. Aggrey does an excellent job of writing in a way that flows like conversation. Sometimes, in the pursuit of so-called elevation, some cookbooks toe the line when it comes to alienating the average, casual at-home cook who just wants to put some weed in the types of food they already eat. Aggrey’s recipes effortlessly cover some much-needed basics like infused tomato sauce, balsamic vinaigrette, cheesy flatbread pizza and even avocado toast.
The work itself is alignment with her passion for inclusivity in the cannabis industry, where so few black women break through into leadership roles. It’s imperative that more voices are added into the cannabis conversation, so the fact that this book is written by a black woman and features images of her brown hands making magic in the kitchen with cannabis is more important than many people may realize. She joins the ranks of other black women, like Andrea Drummer and Cedella Marley, who have also created their own collection of recipes infused with cannabis.
This is a good cookbook for anyone looking for a thoughtful, unintimidating guide to infusion with recipes for foods you’re already making and want to figure out how to infuse. It’s substantial while still being a light read, and it manages to be interesting and entertaining thanks to Aggrey’s cool, calm and collected writing style. If you’re wondering if you need yet another cookbook with a cannabis tilt, the answer could easily be no. But if you’re in the mood for something familiar with a little bit of flair, this collection is definitely worth checking out.
TELL US, what’s your favorite cannabis cookbook and why?
The first couple months of the year is a great time to start planning your cannabis garden to get a head start on the outdoor growing season, which roughly runs from March to November, depending on where you live. Navigating the cannabis seed market can be challenging when states have different degrees of legality. This guide will answer your questions on buying seeds so you can be on your way to growing your own cannabis.
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Is it legal to buy marijuana seeds?
(Courtesy of Erik Nugshots)
Marijuana seeds are considered cannabis products just like flower, edibles, and concentrates. Their legality depends on which state you live in. People living in states with adult-use legalization can buy, produce, and sell seeds within their own state, but seeds can’t cross state lines. People living in states with medical marijuana legalization can only buy seeds if they have a medical card.
Seed banks exist outside of the US and can sell them for “souvenir purposes,” but it is illegal to bring seeds into the US and Customs will seize any cannabis seeds that they find in packages or on a person.
Many world-renowned seed banks are overseas in the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, and other countries where cannabis laws are less restricted. Seed banks provide seeds from a variety of different breeders.
In states with adult-use legalization or a medical marijuana program, you can buy seeds within your own state, either at a dispensary or through a specific seed company’s website.
Researching cannabis seeds online
Before you purchase seeds online, you’ll need to figure out what strain you want to grow and what breeder you want to buy from.
Because US federal law still prohibits cannabis, it can be hard to find information on seed banks and breeders. Breeders who have a long history and positive reputation are usually a good place to start. To get an idea of what well-established breeders look like, check out:
You can also do some research and find an online grow journal that details the whole growing process of a specific strain from a particular breeder. Through these, you’ll be able to look over another grower’s specific notes and see pictures of the final results.
If you grow some seeds and like the results, try growing another strain from that same breeder and see how it goes.
Although this option is only available to people living in states with medical and adult-use legalization, buying marijuana seeds at the dispensary is far more straightforward. However, your options are more limited.
Dispensary staff should be able to give you information on the seeds they’re selling, but keep in mind that a lot of dispensaries focus on selling flower and end-products. It’s a good idea to call ahead and talk to staff to see if they are knowledgeable about seeds and can give you specific information on growing.
How do I know if I’m getting quality genetics?
Breeders talk about “unstable genetics,” meaning that a seed’s origin is unknown. Make sure that when you buy a packet of seeds that it or the breeder who produced them can list where the seeds came from and how they were crossed and/or backcrossed to get the seed that you hold in your hand. If you can’t get a seed’s history, it could be anything and the result of poor breeding practices.
An inexperienced breeder might cross a male and a female one time and sell the resulting seeds as a new hybrid strain, but professional breeders usually put their strains through several rounds of backcrossing to stabilize the genetics and ensure consistent plants that reflect those genetics.
What’s the difference between regular, feminized, and autoflower seeds?
If you buy a packet of regular seeds, they’ll come with a mix of males and females. A lot of cultivators prefer to grow these because they haven’t been backcrossed—essentially inbred—as much as feminized or autoflower seeds. You’ll need to sex out the seeds once their reproductive organs show during the flowering phase and discard the males—because they don’t produce buds and will pollenate females, resulting in seeded flowers.
Seeds can come feminized, meaning you can just put them in soil and start growing for buds. These seeds are guaranteed to be bud-producing females and growing them cuts out the step of having to sex out plants and discard the males.
It also reduces the risk of having a stray male sneak into your crop—just one male can pollinate a huge crop, causing your females to focus their energies on producing seeds instead of buds.
Autoflower plants change from the vegetative to flowering state with age, not the changing of their light cycle. They have a short grow-to-harvest time and can be ready to harvest in as little as 2 ½ to 3 months from when you put the seeds in the ground. The downside is that, typically, they are less potent, but autoflower seeds are great for people who want to grow cannabis but don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it.
How much do marijuana seeds cost?
Cannabis seeds usually come in a pack of 10 or 12 seeds and start at around $40 a pack and go up from there. Some high-end genetics can run between $200 to $500 a pack.
Feminized and autoflower seeds will cost more because more breeding work was put in to creating them and they take less time for the grower to get buds.
How many seeds should I buy? Are they all going to survive?
When you grow any amount of seeds, a percentage of them won’t germinate, even if you get them from a reputable breeder. Always count on a few not germinating or dying off, or roughly 1/4 of the total you put in the ground.
When growing regular seeds, some won’t germinate and some will have to be discarded because they’ll turn out to be males. With feminized seeds, some won’t germinate, but a higher percentage of them will turn into flowering plants because there won’t be any males.
If you want six total cannabis plants to harvest for buds and are growing from regular seeds, start with about 4 times as many, or 24 seeds. Some won’t germinate and some will turn out to be males, and then you’ll want to discard down to the six best phenotypes. If growing feminized seeds, you can probably start with about twice as many seeds in this case (about 12); a couple won’t germinate, and then discard down to the six best phenotypes.
Make sure to always stay within your state’s legal limit of growing plants.
Pat Goggins is an editor at Leafly, specializing in cannabis cultivation after working for a commercial grower in Oregon for two years. When not fixing typos, you’ll probably find him on a boat or in the mountains.