Cannabis dinners a high point in Bay Area dining scene

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The mystery is, of course, part of the appeal.

A few dozen people had each paid $150 to attend one of the most exclusive parties in the city, a lavish four-course cannabis themed dinner. 

Put aside your stale jokes about stoners getting the munchies and pigging out on Taco Bell or pizza. Or college students baking pot brownies at the fraternity house.

Several years ago, Chef Coreen Carroll, her fiancé Ryan Bush, and an impressive roster of Bay Area chefs started hosting the invitation-only underground dinners, brunches, and cocktail parties featuring all manner of cannabis-infused dishes and delights

They throw a few events each month and typically draw 40 to 75 people of all ages and backgrounds.

Saturday’s party started with Brussel sprout slow on a rice crisp and spinach and mozzarella cheese balls – all of it seasoned with just a smidge of weed, to get people started. Those who didn’t care to indulge (such as this reporter) had the option to sip beer or wine. The idea is to ease people into the evening, not get them baked immediately.

“Low and slow is the golden rule,” Carroll said. “Ingesting cannabis can sometimes take up to two hours to take full effect, so we make no one is overconsuming right in the beginning.”

The marijuana soon worked its magic. Strangers became fast friends, chatting, snapping selfies, and commenting on the delicious food and mulled wine infused with, you guessed it, cannabis. After about an hour, someone tapped a wine glass with a spoon, summoning guests to long tables with formal place settings and elegant holiday centerpieces. Each table featured several glass ashtrays and a few lighters.

Carroll did not provide a menu, nor any clues regarding the evening’s bill of fare, and, the marijuana having kicked in by now, people were starting to get a serious case of the munchies. “I’ve been looking at this dinner for almost a full year,” said Laura Skaggs, a 55-year-old Oakland woman.

She’d have to wait just a bit longer. To make sure everyone knew a little something about the people seated around them, Carroll asked each guest to stand up, state their name, and share four words describing themselves.

People said pretty much what you’d expect them to say: silly, fun, foodie. The room, it seems, teemed with bon vivants. And sentimentality. A surprising number of people gushed openly about their girlfriends or spouses. One guy called himself “the luckiest man alive” as he beamed at his date.

The weed had clearly kicked in.

Introductions made, Carroll and Bush laid down the ground rules. The first rule of the cannabis dinner is no one talks about the location of the cannabis dinner.

“This is a secretive event, and we want to keep it a secret event,” Bush said. Guests were asked to refrain for disclosing the location of the evening’s festivities on social media, but were otherwise free to tweet and Insta and Snap to their heart’s content. That small matter attended to, Bush reminded everyone that they still had a long evening ahead of them, and to pace themselves. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,’’ he said.

The meal featured a trio of latkes including one topped with house-made crème fraiche and kelp caviar;  wild boar sausage, kale and sweet potato stew;  quail ballotine; and bread pudding fermented with rum and topped with poppy seed ice cream. Carroll does not infuse the course with cannabis, but joints are passed between course. Some diners indulged others passed in favor of savoring their food.

Given the emphasis on pot, the wine that usually flows at such parties was an afterthought.

“With cannabis you can actually appreciate the food more than with alcohol,’’ said Michael Magallanes, the founder of Opulent Chef, which hosts cooking workshops and dinners with, and without, weed. “There are times when you start getting too drunk and forget what you ate or you can’t taste the food.”

Of course, there’s always the possibility someone doesn’t know their limit, or gets caught off-guard by the potency of the pot. But chefs hosting these parties go to some pains to ensure everyone who wants to gets nicely toasted, not totally wasted.

“We have a thorough questionnaire that will allow us to make a judgment call as to where an individual guest's tolerance level is,” Magallanes said. “But at the end of the day, if the guest doesn't know their dose, most likely they will be getting the minimal -- but not always.”

Those who find themselves a bit higher than they’d like can drink plenty water or a large glass of OJ, says Jessica Catalano, the author of the “Ganja Kitchen Cookbook. She also suggests skipping the booze, unless you know you can handle it.

That wasn’t a problem Saturday. No one seemed to get high, but left the party having made at least one new friend – which many said was the point of the evening.

 “My favorite part of the night was sitting around talking to people, bouncing from person to person, just getting to know people,” said Monique McClendon of Oakland.

McClendon ‘s husband often uses cannabis-infused oil when cooking, and they’re thinking of hosting a weed dinner of their own.

Although cannabis will be legal beginning Jan. 1, Carroll said her events will remain underground because small scale events still aren’t licensable under the state’s current regulations. The regulations do, however, cover large scale marijuana events such as Hempcon and the Emerald Cup. 

 “I think we will see a huge boost in the private, in-home dinner parties,’’ said Carroll. “A whole new market of consumers who may not have wanted to obtain a medical card before will now have access to many more cannabis options. It’s exciting times for sure.”

What’s more, she said, home cooks will have the ability to purchase a wide array of infused products and tools to make their own infusions, giving them an opportunity they may not have had previously under prohibition.

Bon appétit.