Once a novelty ingredient, hemp is being incorporated by more and more chefs into their culinary repertoire. But does it really have a place on the dinner table?
It gave us stodgy space cakes and pot hot chocolate, but the world of cannabis cooking could be about to make a push for the gourmet kitchen. While the quest for psychoactive and medicinal properties always seemed the key ambition with “edibles”, some professional chefs are now looking to cannabis to further explore the flavour and gastronomic potential of the herb (as well as using it to expand their creative horizons).
Jonathan Gold, the esteemed Los Angeles Times food critic, attended a dinner party last year where fresh marijuana was used in each of the courses to match traditional Chinese herbs (Gold left “unbuzzed but smiling”), and GQ despatched writer Jesse Pearson to sample a weed tasting menu at Roberta’s 12-seater Blanca dining room in Brooklyn. Pearson had lamented a general lack of ingenuity in adapting cannabis for a burgeoning culinary scene: “We’re a nation that obsesses over food and chefs as much as we secretly obsess over drugs, but to judge by the sad trifles on display at legal weed dispensaries, the evolution of the pot snack stalled back when Janis Joplin was still alive.”
After munching his way through sour diesel kief-seasoned bluefish (served with weed yoghurt and pumpernickel-marijuana croutons) and a desert of weed-oil parsley cake with hemp crumble, Pearson said that the pot here had been elevated from a novelty ingredient to an integral part of the flavour profile. “I saw weed claimed in the name of great food. I saw, hopefully, the beginning of the end for the pot brownie.”
While Pearson remained stoned 24 hours after eating his meal, other chefs are turning to hemp to mine the culinary high of cannabis without actually getting you high. At Dragsholm Castle in Denmark – an 800-year-old building that houses one of the country’s finest restaurants – the head chef, Claus Henriksen, treated me to a hemp-smoked soft cheese, stuffed with fresh hemp leaves and served with a puree made from roasted and blended seeds.
When he opened up the vintage cake tin in which the cheese had been smoked, my nostrils were met with an intense, fragrant smell that owed more to Marley than Michelin. The dish was beautiful: crisp, clean, zingy and with nutty hemp as the perfect companion to the fresh cheese. Henriksen likened the taste of the hemp to that of pistachio nuts, but the buzz remained in its flavour. The strain he used – called Fedora 17 – has such small traces of THC that you would have to graze your way through a football field to enjoy any psychoactive effect.
The hemp was grown a few miles down the road at the farm of Søren Wiuff, a supplier to Noma and Copenhagen’s other top restaurants, who has been hailed for a polyculture approach that champions unheralded plants and herbs. Wiuff was granted a permit to grow hemp for animal feed and green manure, but he took a slightly more pragmatic approach to the brief and allowed his chef friends to use it in the kitchen. He hopes the experimentation will lead to more widespread use of the plant. So far, he says, he hasn’t seen a swarm of police and health authority agents surroundings his farm. “I’m a self-confessed anarchist, and at some point you have to test the boundaries if you want to push them.”
Henriksen also used Wiuff’s hemp to make a mousse which he shaped into cylinders and then dipped into ash (made from burnt hemp and hay) to resemble green spliffs. Even the sausages on this year’s Christmas menu at the castle have been stuffed with dried hemp leaves and chopped hazelnuts. “I haven’t found a dish yet where hemp didn’t work,” says Henriksen. “You often talk about a multipurpose vegetable or herb. Take something like sage, thyme or rosemary, which people think you can almost use with everything – I actually believe hemp has the ability to accentuate a lot of food. You can saute it like spinach, fry it, or cook it like creamed kale. I was really impressed that you can use the plant to such a wide extent.”
Whether it’s stoner dinners in Brooklyn or new Nordic hemp cooked up in the fjords of Denmark, the grass might just be a bit greener for the culinary-inclined cannabis connoisseur. But does it merit a place in the kitchen as a herb beyond providing psychoactive inspiration, medical alleviation and eliciting cravings for junk food?