The first time chef Travis Petersen set infused cuisine down in front of his guests, they gazed upon a delicacy which they had no choice but to inhale.
It was the weekend of the last 4/20 pro-pot celebration and 34-year-old Petersen, who goes by The Nomad Cook, had just plated the first dishes of a six-course, cannabis-infused meal in the living room of a Vancouver home for a private pop-up dinner.
Cautious about making a mark during his first foray into the world of pot cuisine, Petersen set out to create something his guests would talk about — and share on Instagram — in the days to follow. At $125 a person their expectations were high, after all.
For the appetizer, each guest inhaled a plume of cannabis smoke, piped into and suspended inside a frozen champagne flute, topped with a skewered chunk of candied salmon and cucumber slices.
“We called it smoked salmon,” said Petersen, grinning.
“It’s what you want when you go out to eat. You want to have this experience. It’s not just about the cannabis, it’s not just about the food — it’s every little aspect going into it.”
His idea worked.
Seldom since has an evening gone by where Petersen isn’t cooking or creating some ambitious plate infused with THC and CBD (the psychoactive and medicinal compounds in cannabis, respectively), pulling his guests into a world he recently described as magical and which, for an evening, turns weary-eyed adults into wide-eyed children.
With federal legalization of recreational cannabis set to come into force on Oct. 17, Petersen is making plans to take The Nomad Cook beyond Canada, and develop his own line of cooking equipment as well as infused oils, butters and other ingredients. He has hosted dinners as far west as Victoria and as far east as Quebec.
The federal government says it won’t introduce edibles to the legal recreational market for another year, but Petersen, the former business manager of an oil and gas firm, believes cannabis-infused food is something that many Canadians will choose over smoking.
A 2018 report by Deloitte found there’s strong interest, with 51 per cent of current and likely cannabis consumers saying they’re interested in trying baked goods, 31 per cent in trying beverages and 21 per cent trying infused olive oil. Deloitte anticipates 60 per cent of likely cannabis consumers will choose edible products, and expects them to comprise 18 per cent of current users’ overall intake after legalization, up from 14 per cent now.
As Petersen awaits the inclusion of edibles, he will focus on building his brand through dinners and educating people about cooking with cannabis with special classes, he said.
“I think the federal government is taking time to get it right,” Petersen said. “We’re the first G7 country to legalize it. I think Canada’s really going to set the roadmap for other western countries to follow in the next decade.”
Meantime, the notion of cooking with cannabis being limited to baking knock-you-out brownies has become stale as edibles have mainstreamed. Amazon lists hundreds of cannabis cookbooks and Netflix is streaming a competitive cannabis-cooking show called Cooking On High.
The Herbal Chef, based in Las Vegas, brought his CBD-based pop-up restaurant to Vancouver in April. Locally, Mary Jean Dunsdon, known to many as “Watermelon,” has been teaching Vancouverites how to cook and bake with cannabis for years.
Petersen said most people think of infused butter when they hear the word edibles, which adds a strong taste to whatever it is added. With the distillates he uses, he has more control.
“We’re micro-dosing each guest separately,” he said. It’s odourless, it’s flavourless, it allows them to enjoy the true essence of what that dish was supposed to be and capture all its original flavours, and still enjoy the benefits of either CBD or THC.”
The distillates, acquired from a Vancouver-based extract supplier, won’t be legally available on Oct. 17 and so, for the time being, Petersen will teach his cooking classes with what is readily available in dried and oil form.
With distillates, guests don’t get the munchies like they do with smoking, and mostly just become relaxed and subdued, he said.
“I always get that joke, ‘Oh, we’ll have to go out and eat afterward,’ and I’m just like, ‘Probably not,’” he said. “It’s good to have a couch nearby. We make sure all of our guests plan a safe ride home, nobody drives. The province just needs to get Uber here now.”
Suffering from a cold during his interview, Petersen offered Postmedia News a short cooking class in which he made himself a hearty chicken noodle soup from scratch, infused with 100 milligrams of CBD and 80 milligrams of THC distillate, which he said helps him sleep.
Petersen said that while developing his career as a professional chef — including a 2015 run on MasterChef Canada — he couldn’t have predicted making edible cannabis as a full-time gig.
But after watching 1,000 infusion dinner guests “relax and their shoulders drop a little bit” as they chat with strangers in the comfort of a private setting, he is convinced his roaming kitchen will always find a home.
“My original thought was this is going to be a fad. You know, we’ll try it once and become a little niche market,” he said.
“My perception over the last months has completely changed.”
Recipe: Infused Chicken Noodle Soup
1 roasted chicken
5 large carrots
1 stalk of celery
4 cloves of garlic
2 cups of baby potatoes
1/4 cup of butter
1 cup of home style egg noodles
100 mg CBD distillate
80 mg THC distillate
8 L of water
Step 1 (Prepare your mise en plus)
Take 3 carrots, 2 leeks and half the celery; rough cut, on to a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and CBD Oil. Turn on oven to 350 degrees and roast vegetables until golden brown.
Dice remaining carrot and celery into equal-size pieces. Quarter each baby potato. Mince garlic. Remove chicken from carcass (keep all the bones, and dice chicken into small pieces
Fill pot full of water and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken bones, and bring to a boil.
Take roasted vegetables out of the oven and add to stock pot. Add bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Let broth simmer for two hours.
Strain and discard vegetables, and then pour broth back into pot.
Heat frying pan, add butter, garlic and diced potatoes. Add THC Oil and fry until potatoes brown.
Add remaining carrots, celery and potatoes to pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add noodles.