Calgary executive chef offers tips for cooking with cannabis

Move over hash brownies — how about cannabis-infused lemon vinaigrette?

John Michael MacNeil is a master of molecular gastronomy — and also a medical marijuana permit holder

Calgary chef John Michael MacNeil is at the Cannabis Expo this weekend talking about cooking with marijuana. (Left: Ellis Choe/CBC Right: CBC)

Move over hash brownies — how about cannabis-infused lemon vinaigrette?

Recreational marijuana is expected to become legal this summer, and Canadians are looking at different ways to use it.

Calgary chef John Michael MacNeil has some creative ideas.

The former executive chef of Teatro and The Belvedere is a master of molecular gastronomy — and also a medical marijuana permit holder.

MacNeil appeared on CBC Radio's The Homestretch on Friday, ahead of this weekend's Cannabis and Hemp Expo at Stampede Park, where he'll be sharing tips and techniques for infusing cannabis into culinary creations.

Below is an abridged version of that conversation.

Q: A lot of people are familiar with hash brownies, but are there a lot of different ways to bake or cook with marijuana?

A: Absolutely. Anywhere you could use a type of fat or an oil in your cooking, you can substitute using a concentrated oil from your [licensed producer], or make your own cannabis-infused oil.

Q: And how do you avoid the smell or taste of weed in your food?

A: There are some strains that do have a strong aroma. I have a special technique I'm using right now that does mask the odour a bit. It's a little bit proprietary right now so I'm holding onto that one until legislation has passed.

Q: What kind of cannabis cuisine have you come up with?

A: We've done a lot of baked goods right now, then some savoury items — a white cheddar Spanish paprika biscuit as well as a green salad. It's going to be all green — kale, green grapes, apple slices, along with avocado-vinaigrette mixed with infused cannabis oil.

Q: How does [cannabis] change the taste of what you're making?

A: It depends on what terpenes, or oils, that are in the strain itself. Some of them do a have a bit of a lemon taste to them, there's ones that have orange.

Q: So if you're making a salad, you're not eating [cannabis] raw, are you?

A: No, you have to gently roast or toast the cannabis before use. It's a process called decarboxylation — it's converting the THC acid into usable THC.

Pot-infused brownies are divided and packaged at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder, Colo. When it comes to experimenting with cooking with cannabis, 'start low and go slow' is chef John Michael MacNeil's advice. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Q: There's a lot of science involved here. We've had a lot of pastry chefs on over the years and they talk about how baking is very scientific — you have to follow the recipe more so than if you're cooking. So how do you come up with these combinations?

A: There's quite a bit of trial and error. It's not as easy as just taking a steak and cooking it, or any other meat or vegetable. If you do try it, you have to wait 30 to 45 minutes before you see if there's the effect [of cannabis] you want, as well as the flavour.

Q: What kind of effect does consuming cannabis have on a person compared to smoking it?

A: It's a bit different. [Eating cannabis] is about seven times stronger than actually smoking it. When you smoke it, it's called delta-9, and when you ingest it and your body metabolizes it, it becomes a compound called 11-hydroxy, which is about seven times stronger than smoking.

Q: So you have to be very careful, I would think, with concentrations.

A: Absolutely. Safety and consistency is very important, so start low and go slow.

Q: For someone wanting to make a dish, what do they need to know about getting the concentrations right?

A: Anybody who has a medicinal cannabis permit, they should follow the licensed producer's dosing instructions. And if somebody is new to it, a starting dose … in Colorado it's 10 milligrams, and in Canada it's going to be five [milligrams].

Q: I wouldn't be able to drive after having a cannabis-infused meal, I would imagine?

A: No, I would not drive within 10 hours of consuming any edible or consuming any cannabis product or alcohol.

With files from The Homestretch