The table was set and the amuse-bouche was already on our plates as a small group of Chef Enid Parham’s friends and followers began to arrive for one of her recent dinners.
Meant to awaken the palate, the amuse course is traditionally a single bite of food that offers a preview of the meal to come, a little gratis gift from the kitchen to welcome guests.
But this dinner was a little different.
Instead of a preciously plated morsel, we were offered a pre-rolled joint — a marijuana cigarette comprised of the hybrid strain Chem Glue — a fitting aperitif before a meal infused with cannabis.
By day, Parham, who is known to some as Chef Sunflower, cooks at one of the stadiums downtown and also occasionally pops up around town with her African-Detroit fusion concept Swahili Coney. Before that, she was a cook at Punch Bowl Social, Brooklyn Street Local and Wright & Co. in Detroit.
But for the last four years, Parham’s also been practicing and honing her skills cooking cannabis-infused meals, first informally and illegally with mixed results.
“We were actually having parties in the downtown area serving corporate people but we used to keep it quiet and hidden,” Parham says. “The clientele we had picked up at the time was so good it made me nervous, because at first I didn’t know what I was doing. … I had people complaining saying, ‘It was too much for me.’ ”
Parham took a pause from doing the underground parties a few years ago to focus on R&D. She scoured the internet, contacting people hosting similar events in California, gathering knowledge and getting her recipes down.
On Nov. 6, 2018, Michigan residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of a ballot measure legalizing adult use and possession of marijuana, just as Parham was readying her return to what’s now projected to be a multi-billion-dollar market.
Now, she’s bringing her practice out of the shadows, with a cannabis-infused catering company called Lucky Pistil and a soon-to-launch online cooking show called Bonnie’s Kitchen.
More than just munchies
Many of us, myself included, chose to save our “first course” for later, more curious to experience the psychoactive effects of the food we were about to eat unaided by other measures.
We were gathered around the table inside a private residence in Detroit’s Bagley neighborhood for a higher purpose than just, well, getting high.
We were also being filmed for a segment to be included in Parham’s new cannabis-infused cooking and conversation show, created to educate consumers and destigmatize marijuana consumption for the uninitiated.
“We wanted to have a space where people could come together just like at grandma’s table,” Parham said, noting that Bonnie’s Kitchen was named after her paternal grandmother, “and talk and discuss whatever they want to discuss and network and meet people and grow something that can also help the marijuana community.”
Our first bite of food that night was buttered crostini carrying three clouds of whipped cannellini bean mousse infused with duck liver and approximately 5 mg of GG4, an Indica-dominant strain of weed that’s known for its relaxing and euphoria-inducing properties. Atop the mousse lay spicy griddled broccoli rabe and beef bacon — a nice cover for the hint of earthy, high-palate cannabis flavor emanating from the mousse.
It was delicious.
“You go to a dispensary and it’s all brownies, gummies, rice krispies,” said fellow diner Jenna Michlin. “There’s no, like, real food.”
Someone else mentioned that this was their first multi-course cannabis-infused meal.
“Those are my best experiences,” said Chi Walker. “Because the chef typically is making sure that it’s a comfortable high, versus ‘Let’s just get (expletive) high.’ ”
Together, Michlin and Walker run Femmes de la Fleur, a cannabis catering company. “Inspired by the healing properties of THC and CBD, these women will take your culinary experiences to new heights,” the Femmes de la Fleur website proclaims.
Before the rest of us had arrived, they’d also filmed a segment for the show, preparing the dessert for the evening.
“Another reason why I want to do Bonnie’s Kitchen is to introduce other local chefs, especially women of color and other ethnicities of people,” Parham told me a few days after the dinner. “When I came back down here and jumped into this new Detroit, it wasn’t really for people of color or women.”
In the weeds
The racial disparities evident in Detroit’s dining scene — where front-line staff, top-level management, owners and diners in the hottest restaurants are mostly white despite the city’s overwhelmingly black population — are even more troublesome in the field of cannabis.
Just as I started to feel a little softness behind my eyes, the conversation turned from edibles to the country’s drug policies: Nixon and the War on Drugs, Reagan and Just Say No, Clinton and Three Strikes, and how all of these policies had disproportionately affected communities of color, ballooned the U.S. prison population and destroyed families over something that more privileged folks now stand to profit from. (One salient example: Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, once vehemently opposed to marijuana, now sits on the board of a publicly traded cannabis company.)
“It’s one of our goals to work to help those families who have been affected by having a family member who has been imprisoned for a nonviolent marijuana crime,” Walker said. “Because it doesn’t make sense. It makes absolutely no sense.”
Conversations about race were on the same table a month prior, when freelance writer Darralynn Hutson convened a group of African American cannabis industry influencers to discuss the budding industry and its challenges.
Parham offered a Bonnie’s Kitchen preview meal that night, on the stoner high holiday of 4/20, to diners that included former Fox 2 Detroit anchor Anqunette Sarfoh, now a medical marijuana dispensary owner, and Willis Marshall, a former Arena Football League wide receiver who owns a line of CBD-infused hair and skin care products.
But one of the most salient points of that night came from a participant who wished to remain anonymous because marijuana use and advocacy could cause trouble with their employer — a request that highlights the gaping rift between the new law and established professional culture. (It’s the same reason Parham didn’t want to name her own employer.)
“When I’m reflecting on stigma, I think my race has a lot to do with my ability to be out and consuming cannabis,” said the anonymous guest, who is black. “Privileged normalization is still a thing. White folks have been consuming cannabis for so long and they can talk about it, but when we do it we have to say, ‘This is medical!’
“So when I’m thinking about being able to say that I’m an adult user of cannabis, I’m thinking about the culture. Do you know how many friends I have made around a table with a blunt? How much deepening of relationships that happens there? This is something that’s not shameful, but there’s a lot of shame put on it because of who is the face of it.”
A higher calling
I started to feel butterflies in my stomach, an anticipatory sign of an oncoming high, just as Parham introduced the main course: capellini pasta in a lemon and anchovy sauce with enoki mushrooms, smoked mussels and seared scallops. It was cooked with more of that GG4 butter and some olive oil infused with Hindu Kush.
The table grew quiet as we devoured the dish, its subtle sauce brightened even more by the lemony turpenes, the essential oils that give weed its flavor.
I asked Parham how her grandmother would feel about her name being used to promote cannabis.
“She grew up in the hood,” Parham responded. “She never tried to pretend like everybody should be holier than thou. She would correct you when you were wrong. She knew nobody was perfect. She wasn’t perfect. But we lived through it. I think if she saw me being successful with her name she’d be happy.”
By the time we were served dessert, a pudding-like infused dark chocolate mousse topped with infused whipped cream and plain old chocolate chips, I started to see some trails, a kind of subtle motion blur that makes the world feel just a bit more cinematic.
Over the years, Parham has honed her quantities, aiming for a microdosed meal with subtle effects rather than an experience that will glue you to your couch or send you on a paranoid trip. At both meals, during the taping and on 4/20, my buzz never reached a level I’d call “high,” the effects more akin to drinking a glass of wine or two.
And the result was similar, too. Eight people had started the night mostly as strangers from varying backgrounds and ended it discussing our favorite Disney movies, at times breaking into song to prove a point. We’d bonded over a delicious meal in a safe, adult way, and each learned something new in the process.
Michigan’s burgeoning recreational marijuana industry is still in its infancy, with many new endeavors operating in a legal gray area simply for lack of specificity in the law. Legal consumption on the premises of a marijuana business, say, in an Amsterdam-like cafe, is still a big question mark, though it could one day be a lucrative market.
Aside from questions of equity and who benefits in this Green Rush, there are plenty of other hurdles to overcome.
“I think it’s good that it’s legal,” Parham told me a few days later. “But now comes the part of educating people, teaching them not just to get high but how to medicate themselves.
“Food is medicine.”
Send your dining tips to Free Press Restaurant Critic Mark Kurlyandchik at 313-222-5026 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MKurlyandchik and Instagram @curlyhandshake. Read more restaurant news and reviews and sign up for our Food and Dining newsletter.
For info on Bonnie’s Kitchen
The rules on weed, and dining
Until the regulated recreational market debuts in 2020, it will remain illegal to sell non-medical marijuana in Michigan. But the law currently allows for the gifting of anything less than 2½ ounces, which is far more weed than any single diner should consume. The Bonnie’s Kitchen meal contained approximately 35 mg of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana, which represents just a tiny fraction of the legal limit.