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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is Kim Severson Blowing Smoke About the Rise of Stoner Cuisine?

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 3:14 PM

click to enlarge The Ritz-Carlton's Ron Siegel serves quail eggs fumigated with cedar smoke ― from a bong. - PETER DASILVA/NEW YORK TIMES
  • Peter DaSilva/New York Times
  • The Ritz-Carlton's Ron Siegel serves quail eggs fumigated with cedar smoke ― from a bong.
When cozy, all-consuming, pipe-induced hunger pangs ripple forth, tokers both midnight and morning favor foods with lively texture, voluminous flavors, and, more often than not, a high-calorie content. Common solutions include reaching for a bottomless bag of Doritos, ravaging a leftover pan of cold, crumb-topped macaroni and cheese, or drifting down the street for a round of tacos. However, according to Kim Severson in this morning's New York Times, a new wave of chefs is re-imagining stoner food as something loftier ― high-end, ingredient-driven cuisine designed to supremely satisfy:

"Today, a small but influential band of cooks says both their chin-dripping, carbohydrate-heavy food and the accessible, feel-good mood in their dining rooms are influenced by the kind of herb that can get people arrested."

Severson quotes a few chefs willing to support the assertion for a few paces, and a few more ready to expand the scope of the conversation. Roy Choi, proprietor of the Kogi Korean taco trucks in Los Angeles, articulates the larger point: "We've shattered who is getting good food now.... It's this silent message to everyone, to the every-day dude. It's like come here, here's a cuisine for you that will fill you up from the inside and make you feel whole and good. Weed is just a portal."

click to enlarge At last year's Mission Stoned Food at Lung Shan, snack foods accompanied onion-foie gras dip. - TAMARA PALMER
  • Tamara Palmer
  • At last year's Mission Stoned Food at Lung Shan, snack foods accompanied onion-foie gras dip.
We like feeling whole and good, but we're immediately skeptical of Severson's proclamation. Yes, chefs get high. So do stockbrokers, teachers, and doctors. You wouldn't guess from this article's tone, but the drug has long since emerged from jazz clubs and grubby dorm rooms. A chef who smokes pot and later, perhaps the next day, cooks, may or may not do so with those wafting trails of smoke still curling around his brain. Marijuana undoubtedly changes one's frame of mind, but it's reductionist to overstate the connection. A chef who cooks with dedicated smokers at the forefront of his mind is probably selling himself short ― a real Spicoli, in other words. To draw music parallels that inevitably appear when marijuana is being discussed, Bach sounds (and feels) pretty grand after a smoke, and no one is characterizing his fugues as stoner jams.

In truth, the "portal" of pot could steer a diner in another direction altogether, away from so-called comfort food, towards edgier fare. Severson also speaks with Ron Siegel, chef of the Michelin-starred Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francsico, who serves a truly mind-expanding special he calls the Lincecum, after the Giants pitcher, of course:

"To serve slow-cooked quail eggs and caviar, he places them atop plastic film that tightly covers a white porcelain serving bowl. Then he fills the vessel with smoke from grated Japanese cedar packed into the bowl of a fan-driven bong he buys in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The smoke escapes when the diner lifts a small spoon covering a hole in the plastic."

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