Cooking Advice From a Ganja Gourmet

Jeff the "420 Chef" in his kitchen. JeffThe420Chef

By Associate Editor Tim Baker

Jeff the "420 Chef" will make your dream meal. The self-taught culinary mastermind is not only confident he can create the perfect gustatory experience for anyone—"If people want Beef Wellington, I'll make Beef Wellington," he says in his excited yet straightforward tenor—he's also confident the experience he creates will deliver the perfect dose of THC, CBD or both. What's more, Jeff (who prefers to reveal only his first name for reasons that are likely already apparent) says these cannabis-infused dinners won't taste anything like those bitter, pungent brownies your college roommate used to make. The Beef Wellington will taste just like Beef Wellington, the brownies will taste like brownies, the cheesecake like cheesecake and the snozberries like snozberries. Impossible, you might say, but Jeff and imitators across the legal cannabis world beg to disagree.

Always interested in cooking, Jeff began his cannabis experiment when someone close to him needed help. "A friend of mine's mom had gotten sick, and I started baking regular things for her. Then she got a medical marijuana prescription, and I started making edibles for her that were different from the typical edibles that were available. When dispensaries started selling things, they sold edibles that were just THC laden, and that's not what she needed. She needed the CBD. You'd buy an edible and chop up a cookie or candybar, whatever it might be—50 or 75 or 100 milligrams—and break off a little piece and don't know what you're getting. So they didn't really help her at all. I figured out there are certain strains that could really help her at the time, and if I could figure out how to cook with them, I could make her feel better."

But like many people who endeavor to eat their cannabis, the telltale taste of the plant became an obstacle to the full culinary experience. "People said, 'If you can get rid of the taste, you'll be in a gold mine,' and I said, 'I'd love to try it, but people have been doing it for years and couldn't figure it out.' Lo and behold, 18 months later, I figured out how to take out the taste but keep the strains of the THC and the medicinal properties of the strains I was using and started cooking for people with that. I made cookies and brownies and a mac 'n' cheese, and there was no cannabis taste in any of it. I ended up giving a cupcake to a journalist from The Daily Beast, and a couple days later he called me the 'Julia Child of Weed.'"

The key to cooking a cannabis-infused meal that tastes like the meal rather than the cannabis, according to Jeff, is making a perfect butter or oil. "If you can actually make a pure cannabutter, take out the plant matter, extract the THC and CBD into the butter or oil, you can use it like you would any other butter or oil," he says. And that means you can cook anything that uses butter or oil, which is to say almost anything at all. "I teach how to make all kinds of things. You name it. I actually made a 'Pot Shabbat' with matzo balls and challah that were infused with cannabis. We had chicken and brussels sprouts and potatoes infused with cannabis—everything was infused."

The reason for Jeff's foray into cannabis cuisine isn't unusual. In fact, chemotherapy is the reason why many patients choose to ingest cannabis through their digestive system rather than their respiratory system. It's less than healthy, after all, for a cancer patient to puff away at a spliff, regardless of the benefits that a spliff's CBD might have. But as recreational marijuana gains traction in states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, edible marijuana has merited a second look. Products such as gummy candies, cookies, lollipops and other junk foods have raised concerns from many that cannabis-laden treats might end up in the hands of children.

As if to illustrate those fears, in the first years of legal recreational cannabis, edibles were the breakout star of the market, causing many to question whether the future of marijuana might be smokeless. Companies such as Colorado's Dixie Elixirs, which creates cannabis-infused soft drinks, became huge stories, with features on TV news and in print. According to Dixie Elixirs' CEO Joe Hodas, the prevailing trend toward the collective sweet tooths of cannabis enthusiasts has nothing to do with age. "On the savory side of things, with crackers or other baked items, the temperature required [to cook] can damage the THC content," he explained to New York magazine. "We've looked at things like pretzels, but part of the reason why sweets work a little better is that it helps mask the flavor. I would argue as we get more sophisticated with the flavor profiles, though, we are developing products that complement the earthiness of cannabis." But these reassurances are little comfort to parents in states where cannabis Swedish Fish identical to their un-infused counterparts seem to be everywhere.

Perhaps most famously, in June 2014, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd traveled to Colorado, ostensibly to give the paper's readership an inside look at legal cannabis. But instead of sampling the state's newly legal recreational substance in a controlled manner, Dowd neglected to pay attention to the recommended dosage of the cannabis chocolate bar she had purchased. Noting the candy's resemblance to the four-pipped Sky Bars she enjoyed as a child, Dowd ate the entire thing. Her experience was, to hear her tell it, less than ideal. Dowd claimed to have spent the next eight hours curled up in a hallucinatory state. "I had been convinced that I had died, and no one was telling me," she later wrote. A doctor would later inform Dowd that she'd consumed what a cannabis novice like her should have considered as 16 separate servings in one sitting.

"What I do is teach people that edibles are really all about dosing, and that's the biggest issue people have right now," Jeff explains. "If you go to a dispensary and you're going to buy an edible, that edible is going to be between 25 and 150 milligrams," Jeff says. "If you love chocolate chip cookies, and you buy a 100-milligram cookie, you'll only be able to take a tenth of that cookie as a dose. If you love cookies, what are you going to do?" Cannabis-infused chocolate chip cookies prove to be just as tempting as their fresh-baked but otherwise standard, pot-free counterparts: It's hard to have just one.

"I teach people how to make 5 cookies and give themselves a 10-milligram dose in each one, as opposed to a 100-milligram dose in one cookie," Jeff explains. But the 420 Chef is also quick to note that human nature isn't the only issue when it comes to store-bought edibles. "In the dispensary, you don't know what you're getting," he says. "You don't know the strain. You don't know what it's going to do for you. A lot of the time they'll use a blend of things they get from the growers, and you don't know if it's sativa heavy or indica heavy. You don't know if it's going to make you relaxed and couch locked or focused and creative." It's akin to going to a pharmacist and saying "I need pain killers" and her handing you a bottle of pills of varying doses. You've been told to take 50 milligrams three times a day, but if one pill is 300 milligrams and another is 25 milligrams, you too could end up on your floor wondering if you're still alive.

Edibles might be the future of cannabis, and in many ways it's a safer future than one filled with the combusted material from burning plant products. That doesn't mean edibles shouldn't be handled with care. If you're interested and live in a state where cannabis is cleared for medicinal purposes, talk to your doctor. Or, alternatively, try talking to a chef.

This article appears in Newsweek's Special Edition, Weed 2.0, by Issue Editor Tim Baker

Ryan Etter