British Columbia

'I'm going to put a little weed in my grandmother's dish': Culinary cannabis draws top chefs to Vancouver

Two accomplished chefs — Silvia Barban, who is from Italy and now runs a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York and Casey Thompson, who is originally from Texas and opening a restaurant in Sonoma, California — are in B.C. on a field trip of sorts.

Chefs from Italy and California are in B.C. to learn about cooking with marijuana

Cannabis chef Travis Petersen is pictured with Silvia Barban, Kaileen Chisholm and Casey Thompson in Coquitlam on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Two accomplished chefs are in B.C. on a field trip of sorts.

Silvia Barban, who is from Italy and now runs a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, and Casey Thompson, a Texan opening a restaurant in Sonoma, Calif., are here to learn from local chef Travis Peterson.

The trio are preparing for a private event in Vancouver that looks fairly standard gourmet at first glance — Coquilles St. Jacques and fresh cavatelli are among the highlights — but the recipes come with a bit of a twist.

"I'm going to put a little weed in my grandmother's dish," Thompson said laughing as she shucked scallops.

"It's my grandmother's dish on steroids."

Chef Silvia Barban prepares pasta dough for an upcoming meal. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Culinary cannabis

Since marijuana became legal in Canada, Vancouver's culinary cannabis scene has evolved from a poorly kept secret to a gastronomic destination that attracts world class chefs.

Petersen, who brands himself as the Nomad Cook and puts on cannabis-infused dinners across the country, believes B.C. is on track to become the unofficial world headquarters for cooking with marijuana.

"I see, two years from now, other countries will start to follow Canada's lead," Petersen said.

"They'll look at Canadians as the experts in this."

He says, however, time is of the essence if B.C. is going to stay ahead of other countries and U.S. states where legalization is being considered or is already in effect.

Earlier this year, three types of cannabis products became legal in Canada: edibles (food and drink), extracts (shatter or rosin, for instance, to be inhaled with a vaporizer) and topicals (such as lotions).

Chef Casey Thompson prepares scallops in Coquitlam on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The right dose

Barban, who is watching a pasta machine spit out perfectly-shaped cavatelli shells, can't cook with cannabis in her home state of New York because it's not legal.

Still, she's enticed by the various flavours that can be found in cannabis strains and she wants to learn about dosages, so she flew to Vancouver.

"It's such a new thing to approach," she said.

"I'm just curious about the quantities."

Thompson says she's received several requests to put on cannabis dinners but she's always declined because she hasn't learned enough about managing potency.

"Cannabis is a whole new bag, literally," she said as she looked at Petersen, not hiding her disappointment that her pun didn't even get a courtesy laugh.

"Really? Nothing?"

Ingredients for cannabis-infused butter that will be used in a sauce at an upcoming private dinner. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Next steps

Peterson says chefs are already coming to B.C. to learn about cooking with cannabis, so he'd like to see culinary schools teach students how to correctly manage dosages.

"I think that's the really important thing, to be able to do the math," he said.

"What's in your butter? What's in your oils?"

All food items sold in Canada can only contain 10 milligrams of THC, which is the high-inducing chemical in cannabis, and Health Canada's regulations also include a stipulation against cannabis-infused meals served in a restaurant setting.

Petersen says an experienced cannabis user wouldn't feel the effects of a 10-milligram dose but critics, such as the Canadian Medical Association, argue that the limit is too high.

With files from Liam Britten

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