Phoenix Chefs Are High on Cannabis-Infused Fine Dining



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Now that recreational adult-use sales of marijuana are allowed in Arizona, Mary Jane is coming to dinner. And things are getting fancy, with four-course cannabis-infused fine-dining menus prepared by seasoned chefs and served in high-end venues.

“In this day and age, we can literally infuse anything and everything, from water to five-star, multi-course fine dining,” says cannabis chef Derek Upton. “I personally love to make gnocchi and infused Bolognese. It’s one of my all-time favorite dishes for comfort.”

Upton has been serving cannabis-infused dinners monthly on the rooftop pool deck at The Clarendon Hotel and Spa in central Phoenix since early spring, as part of a series called “Elevated Under the Stars: An Educational Culinary Experience.” (The next event, slated for Friday, June 11, includes guest celebrity chef Adam Pawlak, as seen on this year’s season of the TV show Hell’s Kitchen with host Gordon Ramsay.)

Territory Dispensary in Chandler will host its first fancy cannabis dinner at a private wedding venue on Saturday, June 26. That event will include mocktails, hors d’ouevres, and three courses cooked by chef Patrick Rusche, who plans to offer chicken, beef, or vegetarian choices for the main entrée, along with several side dishes including toasted wild mushroom risotto with a lightly fried quail egg.

Until recently, these sorts of dinners have been taking place under the radar, necessarily secret events until the decriminalization of marijuana in Arizona. Upton says he’s been doing “underground cannabis dinners for years,” and Rusche says he’s been developing medicated meal plans for more than a decade for a handful of clandestine clients with illnesses like diabetes and cancer.

Rusche says he was inspired by entrepreneur chef Payton Curry, who co-founded Brat Haus restaurant in Scottsdale and the Flourish edibles brand. Curry was an early proponent of cooking with cannabis and hosted some of the first “private” cannabis dinners starting in 2013. These four-course, fine-dining events were usually by personal invitation of the chef, and details were kept off the Internet out of legal concerns.

Even with medical marijuana being legal in the state since 2010, people didn’t want it known that they were indulging, Rusche says. “A lot of people didn’t want their information out there or the knowledge that they’ve done an infused dinner, because of the federal illegality. It could be considered a risk for my clients.”

So, how do these dinners work, legally speaking? Organizers say there can’t be — and there isn’t any — cannabis for sale. All of the cannabis for the food infusions is donated by individuals or a local dispensary, so the events are considered customer-to-customer exchanges. “As long as they’re 21 and older, guests are allowed to consume what we’re serving,” says Kelly Fox, marketing specialist for Territory Dispensaries.

The dinners aren’t just about the medicinal properties of cannabis, but also how it enhances food, says Derek Hauser, kitchen manager for Curaleaf dispensary in Glendale. “My favorite infused items to craft are caramel and mango-glazed shrimp. The shrimp are always a hit with a nicely dosed mango barbecue glaze. Caramel is so sexy – its rich, buttery flavor and texture masks any cannabinoids within,” Hauser says.

Hauser frequents the dinner events at The Clarendon to mingle with guests and promote Curaleaf’s Select Squeeze beverage enhancer products. He’s been cooking with cannabis professionally for about five years and says creating edibles that have delivered medicinal benefits for a range of ailments has been “incredibly rewarding.”

Guests at cannabis dinners are given medicated tinctures they can add to their dishes at the events, which are hosted by the chefs, who talk about the different strains in the infusions, the dosages, and different ways to use them for wellness.

“In terms of the food [at the Territory dinner], we’re going to leave the orders unmedicated, just so folks can pace themselves throughout the night,” Fox says. “The entire meal will be medicated about 15 milligrams. We’re keeping it low dose and we’re also providing the option to do a completely unmedicated dinner.”

Once Hush-Hush, Cannabis-Infused Dinners Are Going Mainstream in Phoenix

Tickets to the Territory Chandler dinner cost $150 per person, and all proceeds benefit The Joy Bus, a local nonprofit organization that delivers healthful meals to people with cancer. It’s a group Rusche has worked with many times. “We hope as a team to show our appreciation through the donations being made to The Joy Bus for what they do for this community,” he says. “The Territory dinner is very important to me because The Joy Bus does what I want to do: provide healthy, delicious, fresh meals to people who are battling illness.”

There will also be a silent auction with proceeds benefiting the charity. “This is not an event where Territory’s looking to make money,” Fox says. “We’re looking to create a really cool experience and also benefit a really worthwhile community organization.”

Upton says the dinners at The Clarendon, which cost $250 per dinner ticket or $50 for a gallery seat sans dinner, aren’t about “a stoner culture,” but about education. “As a chef and cannabis advocate, it’s my duty to show cannabis in a way that people from all walks of life can relate to and that’s food, not munchies, brownies, or candy, but real food cooked with love by a chef,” he says. “It’s about wellness of the body and building a community around that bigger purpose.

“Bringing people together over food and cannabis is a beautiful thing, and I promise the experience is worth it.”

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