Haute Pot: How High-End California Chefs Are Cashing In On Marijuana : The Salt From TV series to cookbooks to cannabis-infused menus at upscale restaurants, pot cuisine is becoming an increasingly lucrative niche — and state and local laws are struggling to catch up.
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Haute Pot: How High-End California Chefs Are Cashing In On Marijuana

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Haute Pot: How High-End California Chefs Are Cashing In On Marijuana

Haute Pot: How High-End California Chefs Are Cashing In On Marijuana

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in California, some chefs are bringing together high-end cuisine with ingredients that might actually get you high.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BONG APPETIT")

ABDULLAH SAEED: Cannabis-infused foie gras - we've come a long way from weed brownies, huh?

TREVOR MILBERY: (Laughter) Yes, we have.

GREENE: A long way, indeed. All right, this trend is the subject of a Viceland show called "Bong Appetit." You get that, right? It's also been lucrative for some chefs in San Francisco and LA, as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The biggest challenge for these chefs, they all say, is dosing. It's a new-fangled alchemy, adding just enough state-licensed weed to your sous vide pot roast.

VANESSA LAVORATO: It's just to add a little bit of herb. It doesn't even need to get you high. It shouldn't overwhelm you.

ULABY: That's Vanessa Lavorato. She owns a chocolate company in Los Angeles that sells handmade, organic, pot-infused truffles. She also co-hosts the show "Bong Appetit," making cherry chocolate ice cream with cannabis crumble.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BONG APPETIT")

LAVORATO: We're going to sprinkle in some of the activated keef.

ULABY: The show has been popular enough to inspire a cookbook coming out this fall. Lavorato says weed's musky flavor was once thought to overwhelm other ingredients. But that's changed thanks to new cultivation and processing techniques.

LAVORATO: You don't have to taste anything if you don't want to. They have distillates. They have different concentrates that isolate it down to THC or CBD.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's going to be your CBD English pea soup.

ULABY: This upscale LA restaurant, filled with fountains and pepper trees, serves a prix fixe CBD menu. CBD is a cannabis product that does not get you high. The chef at Spring uses it in sweet corn risotto, branzino and poached peach panna cotta, says proprietor Yassmin Sarmadi.

YASSMIN SARMADI: It's like putting hemp seeds on a salad, which people do.

ULABY: When Sarmadi and her husband, who's also Spring's chef, noticed CBD popping up in fancy mixed drinks and bars all over LA, they thought...

SARMADI: Forget about the cocktail; everybody's doing that. Let's do a menu with this.

ULABY: It's easier, legally, to serve gourmet food with CBD than THC. That's the psychoactive stuff in cannabis that can get you high. State and local laws here change so quickly, it's tough for entrepreneurs to keep up. Chefs interested in creating Michelin-worthy cannabis restaurants have been hampered by regulations. In California, for example, you can't buy and consume cannabis in the same place, with a few exceptions. But this year, West Hollywood is granting a few new licenses for cannabis consumption areas that might transform the city into a destination for upscale cannabis tourists. Imagine a high-end West Coast Amsterdam, says Vanessa Lavorato.

LAVORATO: But West Hollywood is saying you can do restaurants. You could do a spa. You could have a cafe. You know, it's really going to be exciting to see who gets these licenses and what they do with those licenses.

ULABY: Politicized questions in a country that's incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people for marijuana-related crimes. Andrea Drummer is a private cannabis chef who's catered dinners for Hollywood stars and created room service CBD menus for a luxury hotel. She plans to one day open a fancy cannabis restaurant of her own.

ANDREA DRUMMER: I would love to employ people that have been pardoned or coming out of jails for non-violent marijuana crimes. I would love to be able to give people jobs - you know, people that look like me, black and brown people that should have some part in this industry.

ULABY: Before working with cannabis, Drummer spent years working as an anti-drug prevention counselor. She attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school and found herself interested in cannabis partly because she says it relieved the pain she experienced after so many hours of working on her feet. Now Drummer can be seen in a new Netflix cooking competition...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COOKING ON HIGH")

JOSH LEYVA: Welcome to "Cooking On High," the first-ever competitive cannabis cooking show.

ULABY: ...Which, in the first episode, she handily won.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COOKING ON HIGH")

MOD SUN: Andrea's sandwich was the best [expletive] sandwich I've ever ate in my whole [expletive] life.

ULABY: Right now Drummer is making a blue cheese salad with roasted pear dressing. Her dishes are based on cannabis-infused butters and oils she makes from scratch. Drummer enjoys working with the flavor profiles that can come with different varieties of weed.

DRUMMER: The notes that you find in sour diesel that are different from lemon haze that are different from OG Kush.

ULABY: Different seasonings for a different kind of foodie who puts the pharm - P-H-A-R-M - in pharm to table.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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