Cooking with weed has made the journey from vaguely-dosed baked goods made in your friend’s kitchen to casual baking guides and walkthroughs on YouTube. This evolution takes a lot of the mystery out of dropping cannabis in with tarragon and other spices from the rack. For a long time now chefs have shown us their unique relationship with food and the way to work with ingredients on a scientific level. This perspective has given us a chance to better understand how to experiment with flavors and opens up a new way to share meals with others by redefining the term “dinner sesh.”
One voice helping to advance the space has been Leather Storrs. You might have caught him on Vice’s Bong Appétit, or watched him alongside musician Kelis as the hosts of Netflix’s Cooked with Cannabis. Storrs is a creative chef, restaurateur, and Portland native that has crafted countless recipes with the devil’s lettuce. Nowadays, he holds private dinners at The Mahonian, his latest space in southeast Portland, where he prepared a few infused selections during our conversation. His approach to cooking with cannabis may have gotten more refined over the years, but he’s quick to point out that it always starts with trying to find fun ways to reinterpret a dish—usually with some humorous twist surrounding the combination. As he put it, “a weed dinner should be fun and rewarding.”
But what does he mean by fun?
“The proper application combines dosage and flavor with something that challenges or amuses your mind,” Storrs said. “That’s when a community experience happens and you make something greater than just getting high.”
The kind of meals and services he thinks are best start with an infused 5 mg cocktail, followed by an appetizer with no more than 3 mg.
“The goal is to serve people a small amount starting out so there’s a buoyancy to the room before you even sit down,” he explained. The next two dishes usually carry 8-10 mg each and after that, it’s an inactive THC dish and a CBD closer.
You might wonder “Why not close with a big finish of THC?”
“When you dose is just as important as how much,” Storrs said. “Ending the meal with just CBD or inactive THC lets you show off a little in terms of creative cuisine and makes it so people aren’t leaving the table and going right to bed.”
For some, 28 mg over a five-course dinner might seem like a low dose but that’s really part of what Storrs feels is missing in the advancement of cannabis cuisine. It’s not about the cannabis or the cuisine, it’s about how the dining experience brings people together.
“So much of the modern experience, and the modern cannabis experience, loses the communal aspect in favor of personal experience,” he said while popping some fresh 4 mg mango gummies out of a mold. “I find, as a person, as a chef, and as a stoner, that we’re often confronted with the hurdle of how to get people to slow down and share an experience.
“I think these low-dose, dynamic, inspirational meals are a really great way to introduce people to a casual way of consuming cannabis. When you’re doing a lower dose. It’s easier to have that common experience. When you eat 15 mg and the person next to you eats 80 mg, all of a sudden you’re on different wavelengths and we go back to living in solitude, sitting right next to each other.”
While he usually offers something to garnish and supplement the dosage of a dish, often a chili sauce or creamy dip, it’s not enough to vastly skew each diner’s total. Like guiding a hiking trip, you want everyone to have a great experience but also stay around the same elevation.
As I popped a gummy, Storrs explained one of the major challenges of cooking with cannabis.
“As most people will tell you, it only takes one bad edible experience to swear you off of medicated morsels forever,” he said. “We all know somebody who has overindulged and ended up passing out for a whole day or worse. These types of experiences add to the stigma that cannabis, and in particular weed food, built up during the War on Drugs. The American government did a really good job of making this notion of consuming cannabis a bad thing, and that stain is still on a lot of people’s minds. As long as eating weed still represents that scary experience we’ll be alienating a lot of people.”
From his perspective, anyone who’s going to serve THC in their dishes has a responsibility to be a good shepherd as well as a good cook.
“A cannabis chef proves why you don’t just eat a gummy or put a dropper of tincture on your tongue before dinner,” he said. “It’s not just weed butter mixed into everything.”
This goes back to the notion of the chef’s perspective on using cannabis with food, and not just in food. While pulling two tubs of bud down from his ingredients shelf, Storrs described how the plant can be a challenging ingredient.
“Most cannabis terpenes are overt in a way that can make them hard to pair,” he said. “Pinene is one that behaves a lot like eucalyptus so you have to think about this while you’re bringing together ingredients. We have to look outside of the box on how to [incorporate cannabis] without overpowering the other flavors. Often that means using lower doses.”
While heating an infused caramel sauce for dessert, Storrs related that always putting the dish before the dose is advice for anyone looking to cook high cuisine for friends.
“The responsibility of the chef is paramount,” he said. “You shouldn’t just get a Michelin star just for being able to create a dish with 1,000 mg. Even though there are new challenges to work through, this plant also gives us a way to reintroduce dishes that have a lot of presentation, to an audience that’s all about being wowed.”
One example of this is a signature dish that only works because of the presence of weed, his Lucky Charms soup. This is his take on a Tom Kha soup that turns the sweet Thai chicken soup into that classic American breakfast cereal. The dish includes cut herbs like oxalis and Thai basil, as well as cabbage for the hearts, clovers, and stars that are surrounded by toasted Rice Krispies and served alongside a chicken and coconut broth infused with THC. Once you pour the milk-like soup into the bowl, the toasted Rice Krispies start popping and the punchline, much like dinner, is served.
It’s a dish he developed years ago at a concept restaurant. As fun as it was to come up with, he admitted there wasn’t enough payoff without the signature ingredient.
“There was too much prep time and not enough appreciation for the little joke of having to pour the broth in yourself to experience the popping sound,” he said. “Once you add in the cannabis angle, it becomes a food joke that’s funnier, because it’s delivered while you’re high. So it’s one of my signature dishes but it only works because of the presence of weed.”
For anyone wanting to try their own hand at cooking with cannabis at home, Storrs has a couple of simple suggestions and ideas to follow. If you live in a state with access to cannabis tinctures, he said they are a wonderful way to mix in your dosage with the food quickly and with lab-tested ingredients, but he cautioned that simply dosing your food after it’s cooked isn’t really getting the point of challenging your skills and your diner’s palate.
“A cannabis chef proves why you don’t just eat a gummy or put a dropper of tincture on your tongue before dinner,” he said.
To get everyone started, Storrs shared another of his signature dishes that stirs together a little bit of humor, a dash of presentation, and a whole lot of flavor. His recipe, called a “Bowl of Stems & Seeds & a Bag of Green” is one he served to the table after our interview and the fresh, savory taste had me immediately asking for seconds.
Leather Storrs’s Tips for Cooking with Cannabis
Be a Good Shepherd
You’re in charge of everyone’s experience. Plan your menu and spacing of THC beforehand and remember to test it first. A good cook should always be willing to be a guinea pig.
Put the Dish Before the Dose
What you want to achieve here is a marriage of flower and flavor. Don’t be afraid to choose an off-the-wall way to include cannabis that highlights CBD or THCA.
Find a Way to Make it Fun
Infusing dishes with weed gives you a chance to play with your food! Reimagining classic comfort foods like Frito pies, gummy worms, or pizza bites activates people’s minds and their stomachs.
A Bowl of Stems & Seeds & A Bag of Green
Recipe by Leather Storrs
Serves 6, as a side
This epitomizes my take on infused food. It’s silly, it’s both foreign and familiar, it encourages community, and it’s delicious! For stoners of a certain age, stems and seeds means untangling brown bricks in a frisbee and headaches from popping seeds in the Proto Pipe. So to be confronted as a diner with a dry bowl of charred stems and seeds is an affront, like giving back the old Frisbee… dirty! The punchline arrives in the form of a Ziploc baggie, pulled from boiling water, that is filled with a suave mixture of caramelized onions and braised greens. Your job is to dump the steaming green infusion into the stems and seeds, mix it well, and start the ball rolling with “that one time, in San Jose, you paid waaaay too much for an eighth of oregano.”
Stems and Green
3 bunches sturdy greens, carefully stemmed (I like kales and rainbow chard, for pretty color)
2 medium yellow onions, diced small
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cannabis-infused olive oil
Pinch of chili flakes
Salt and pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, put the onions, garlic, chili flakes, a pinch of salt, and oil in a wide sautée pan. Cook on medium heat until light golden in color. Season with salt and pepper and dump into a medium sized mixing bowl. (This is the “vehicle” for your infusion. In my version, I’ve added 7 mL of an infused olive oil that is 6 mg THC per mL, 42 mg of THC = 7 mg per person.)
- Set a bowl half full of ice water near the stove. Drop the leaves of sturdy greens into the boiling water, wait a minute, then add the stems, and stir. After another minute, drain the greens and stems and plunge them into the ice water to stop them from cooking, and set the color. Pat the stems dry and set aside. Squeeze the water from the greens. Chop them finely and squeeze them dry again.
- Add the chopped greens to the infused onions and mix well. Salt to taste, then pack the greens into a Ziploc bag, squeeze out the air, and seal it well. Set aside.
- Turn on the broiler. Put the stems on a sheet pan with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. The goal is to get them charred, not wrecked. Burn the stems as fast as you can. (I heat a cast iron pan in the broiler to get it screaming hot and apply directly to the stems to get the burn that way, but I haven’t seen your pans.) When they’re cool, cut the stems severely, so it looks like you mean business.
½ cup hemp seeds, hulled
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 egg white (or 1 tablespoon of olive oil)
2 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Whisk the egg white with the salt, sugar, and sriracha. Add the seeds and coat them evenly.
- Place them into an oven safe dish and toast for 10 minutes. Mix the seeds around and toast for 10 more minutes. They should be golden, a little clumpy and glassy from the egg white (which you can replace with a tablespoon of olive oil, but I like how it makes seed nuggets). Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
- Set a pot of water to boil. Cook the Ziploc bag of greens for 6 minutes, plan accordingly.
- Build the stems and seeds carefully in a handsome serving bowl, big enough that you can mix the greens in without spilling everywhere. Put more seeds in a separate dish to pass around.
Present the Stems and Seed bowl mysteriously. Exit. Return with serving utensils, seeds, a grin, and your greens. Mix. Bow.
This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.