Though no restaurant chef will come right out and tell you, they’re probably thinking a lot about cannabis cuisine, and so is everyone else in the food business. There’s serious gold in eating green.

Marijuana-infused edibles are surging in popularity, accounting for more than half of sales at Colorado dispensaries, and possibly half of the estimated $500 billion industry, according to Bloomberg News.

Official statistics on edibles aren’t yet available for local markets, but anecdotally, dispensaries are visibly upping their game, ditching old school brownies and cookies for haute truffles, infused chocolates and snack mixes. Local bakers are, well, baking up pot pies, cookies, and peanut butter cups. Invite-only cannabis meals are also on the rise: This weekend, several chefs will be serving up a serious cannabis brunch and dinner in Santa Rosa charging $175-$195 per person (medical cards are required).

But anyone who’s tripped for six long hours after eating an over-dosed brownie can tell you edibles are a tricky product that can lead even experienced users down a very, very bad path—especially if producers don’t know what they’re doing.

“Not all medibles are created equal,” said Chef Jeremy Cooper, a key speaker at this week’s CannaCon in Santa Rosa. The Seattle-based entrepreneur has spent years studying molecular gastronomy and the science of cannabis, hoping to shed light on the future of edibles. A future that isn’t just about getting people stoned, but creating a pairing that complements rather than detracts from the eating experience.

“It’s the wild, wild West of cannabis when it comes to food. If any chef out there said, ‘I got this all under control’, they’re probably pulling your leg,” he said. “But it’s a pioneering time for us, and the rest of the world when it comes to cannabis cuisine.”

Cooper will present several topics over the three-day business-focused event (April 20-23), from the emerging market for canna-food to dosage scaling, flavoring, and non-psychoactive CBD-infused products. In addition, Cooper founded Bud & Breakfast, a weed-friendly bed and breakfast in Seattle, and is involved with “MagicalButter”, a contraption that infuses cannabis flowers into butter—something that can be very complicated for the uninitiated. Cooper also has a mobile cannabis museum he’ll be showcasing at the event.

Words like fractal distillation, decarboxylation, and linalool pepper his conversation so frequently that it comes as little surprise that he’s run a personal lab for several years, studying the complex chemical compounds found in marijuana.

“It all comes down to research,” he said. “You can directly affect the body, and chefs aren’t really thinking about that yet,” Cooper said. By experimenting with things like THC-A (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, a cannabinoid showing a lot of therapeutic promise), fat solubility or terpene profiles, Cooper looks for what he calls “the entourage effect”, or how all the chemicals in marijuana strains pair up with food compounds. 

“All of us are going to have to be sommeliers of science,” Cooper said.

Looking outside the cannabutter box, he sees things like an infused rum that could be sprayed on chicken for a light 10mg dose), or making creme brulee with cannabis blue cheese. He also advocates for using the whole plant.

“It’s all culinary, down to the central stock. You have a seed with a protein-rich husk, flash fried, and it’s a great protein-rich salad texture,” he said. The fan leaf can be made into stock, added to bread or press into smoothies.

“Cannabis is one of the ultimate ingredients in my cupboard,” Cooper said. “But (chefs) haven’t started treating cannabis like that. You wouldn’t take 2 tablespoons of salt and just pour it on mac and cheese. So, why would you do that with cannabis?” he asks.

The conversation continues, turning from horny goat weed mixed with cannabis being a potential Viagra to the history of cannabis as a popular medicine in the 19th century. For a full 45 minutes, Cooper riffs on cannabis like a tent-revival preacher, effusive in his passion, and eager to share what he’s learned.

“Look, it’s not for everybody, but right now our world needs cannabis, the earth needs cannabis,” he said. “If I can get people passionate about cannabis this way, then I get to tell them where it’s going, what the next step is, and it’s beyond anyone’s imagination.”

CannaCon Santa Rosa

(Photo courtesy of The Puget Sound Business Journal, credit Karen Ducey)