Is Weed the New Wine?
“I think this is the beginning of something that’s going to be very big,” says Flow Kana’s marketing coordinator Summer Lambert. “People are going to be having these culinary experiences with cannabis. This is just the very beginning of this very big industry.”
She perches next to me on a couch inside SmogShoppe. The sustainable cannabis company chose the posh Culver City venue for its launch party with the purpose of introducing sustainable cannabis to the mainstream Los Angeles culinary world by pairing it with a four course farm-to-table tasting menu. And that’s why I, a non-smoking, frequently eating food writer am in attendance. Lambert is smiling and seems giddy about the experience in store for us.
The time before dinner would seem like any other cocktail hour, if not for the servers walking around with vials filled with joints of In the Pines, Red Tail Ranch CBD (Cannabidiol).
“It’s a body high. It helps with any pain you have in your body. It’s not psycho-active. It just kind of relaxes you,” Lambert says, pointing out why it is the appropriate strain to start the party. In addition to joints, Chris Oh’s (of Escala and Hanjip) Cheeto dusted kimchi fried rice balls are passed around on trays along with grilled shrimp skewers and cups of bay scallop ceviche with yuzu vadouvan and Marcona almonds. All the food is brought to us by Oh, Chef Steven Fretz with Stephane Bombet’s Bombet Hospitality Group and Outstanding in the Field.
“It’s very much like wine is. Every strain serves a purpose. And you want certain strains for certain occasions,” Lambert continues. This occasion, apparently calls for three strains. Though speaking of wine, the Chenin Blanc from Habit Wine I’ve been nervously clutching seems to be doing just fine in the pairing department.
Once we’re seated, Flow Kana’s CEO Michael Steinmetz addresses the large crowd of now- blissed out beautiful people. He talks at length about Mendocino County (the northern California county home to many of Flow Kana’s farmers) and the importance of small batch. “I would say that Mendocino is really poised to take the center stage for quality,” he says. Much of the vocabulary could be interchanged with that of a wine maker: “terroir,” “small-batch,” “curated genetics,” and “microclimate.” But will cannabis be the new wine? Everyone here seems to think so and this is my chance to find out.
“We’re fourteen days away from legalization!” He yells to wrap up his speech. The crowd breaks out into massive applause and cheers over Proposition 64—the California prop that would legalize recreational pot. We still have to vote, but polls show strong support around the state.
The meal comes out family style and the first course is a seaweed salad with butter lettuce, Korean pickled cucumbers and sesame soy vinaigrette. A server places Blue Dream, Blue Racer Ranch Sativa vials on the table and explains in the kind of sweet voice you might use to address kindergarteners, how it should be divided. I am told that the Setiva will be “energizing.”
Next they bring saku tuna tataki with Fair Hill Farms compressed apples, Yasutomi Farm celery with black truffle vinaigrette and crispy fried Spanish onions. Habit Wines has switched to their Gruner Veltliner.
I’m seated among other journalists. All of whom I respect, admire and don’t actually know very well. I feel socially paralyzed and every time I force myself to speak I immediately regret my words. I blurt out something to the writer to my left about how I feel simultaneously like I cannot stop talking and painfully self-conscious.
“I have to write that down!” She laughs, looking down for her phone. She looks back up at me, eyes narrowed, “Do you remember what you just said?”
At one point I walk to the restroom. I stand in line for about 20 minutes only to realize there is no line. The whole thing leaves me wondering about cannabis’s value as a “social lubricant.” I understand that each strain is meant to suit a certain part of the evening, but it seems like the effects and flavors of each strain are mixing with the next and everyone at my table seems dissociative.
But then Chris Oh’s “KFC” 8-piece “bucket” of Korean style fried chicken with heirloom apple and cabbage slaw is placed in front of us and everything starts to make sense. The large platter, piled high with glistening gochujang-slathered bright red fried chicken is so beautiful. I wish that everyone would leave so I could eat the whole thing all by myself. Every bite is so crunchy and satisfying. I never want it to end.
They also give us Lemonhead OG, Green Mountain Farm, Indica. I was told that it would be “relaxing.” But all I can think about is eating 10 more pieces of fried chicken.
At the end of the night, the two chefs, admittedly under the influence at this point, take the microphone. Chef Fretz explains that his dessert course of brioche doughnuts is meant to pair with the “Diesel, kind of aftermath flavor profile…It was paired with brown butter so that burnt kind of flavor profile.” This accurately describes the state of my palate at this point in the evening.
Chris Oh takes the mic and yells “Let’s be real. My fried chicken was the best fuckin’ dish of the whole fuckin’ night!” The entire room of 150 roars in agreement.
When the huge plate of sweet brioche donuts with triple-fermented brown butter glaze is placed in front of us, there are enough for everyone to have just one and I don’t know how I will be able to restrain myself.
By the time I head outside to call an Uber and get some fresh air, I’ve met three different people who are very excited to tell me they have edible chocolate cannabis companies. I’m not entirely sold that weed is the new wine. When you pair wine, you sip as you eat. If you were to smoke a joint with every bite you would become extremely high and extraordinarily hungry. I’ve now eaten my weight in fried chicken, developed cottonmouth and yet when I hear a woman saying that with legalization this will be the next “California gold rush and many people are going to get VERY rich,” I believe her every word.