A cannabis chef discusses her craft

Since its decriminalization and legalization in parts of the country, cannabis has spawned a robust industry that includes tourism and food—well beyond gummies and brownies. Los Angeles–based chef Andrea Drummer runs Elevation VIP Cooperative, a medicinal marijuana dispensary that specializes in infused haute cuisine. This summer, Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café will open in West Hollywood, with Drummer at the helm. Furthermore talked with the chef about the origins of her business and how she approaches cannabis cookery.

What is your culinary background?

“I always say that my first chef instructor was my mom. I used to sit in the kitchen and watch her cook as she’d explain the process. My dad, too, played a prominent role in my becoming a chef. His lessons were fun and adventurous, like the times we’d pull off to the side of the road to explore and eat berries and plums. Lessons from my parents were ingrained in me and showed up in a tremendous way when I was at Le Cordon Bleu. Moving into kitchens adds layers as you learn from your superiors and colleagues. I’m still building on my ‘culinary background.’”

How did you get started in cannabis cookery?

“I discovered cannabis as an alternative way to manage my own pain from sciatica and a few friends nudged me into creating simple edibles. But, after a night of indulging on infused bruschetta and becoming more knowledgeable of how the body processes cannabis, it simply made sense to me to initiate a business.”

What were the challenges and triumphs of opening the restaurant?

“I have a partnership with Lowell Farms to brand one of the first on-site consumption cafes in West Hollywood. The challenges of becoming a licensed entity were that it was a new market and somewhat of a fantastical idea. Not many were engaging in it and certainly not many were licensed. There wasn’t a template, so essentially we had to create one. Beyond that, the challenges are as expected. I’m a black woman in two male-dominated industries: culinary and cannabis.”

What are some unique benefits of cooking with cannabis?

“For as much as we’re hard pressed to admit it, it’s trending right now. That alone is a benefit. The work will be in keeping the audience interested and coming back. That will come with creating great food and educating the consumer on the health and wellness benefits of the elevated cannabis-infused dining experience. For a few of my clients and friends, it’s a matter of restoration and recovery, as they are triathletes, performers, and gymnasts.”

How do you balance flavor profile and potency of the cannabis?

“As a chef, it’s innate. The approach to this natural herb is no different than the approach to any other herb or inspiring produce. The balance comes in understanding the flavor profile and the terpenes the organic compounds that produce taste and smell in plants. It also comes in being knowledgeable about converting the levels of THC to proper dosage. That’s culinary 101—even if you’re not a cannabis chef, you learn to convert cups to ounces and ounces to pounds. Beyond that, we smell and taste different strains and become inspired.”

How can home cooks incorporate cannabis?

“The home cook should use the same, if not more stringent, approach to cooking with cannabis and assessing these products as they would when purchasing quality fish or other food products. Be knowledgeable about the origin of the product, how it’s processed. Assess the THC levels the same way that you would count calories, carbs, or sugar content. Unfortunately, it’s a new market and many of the products are not properly vetted or regulated. Be aware and informed.”

What can cannabis cuisine bring to the dining world?

“Well the obvious is that food should be approached and ingested as medicine, or else we end up ingesting medicine as our food. Cannabis cookery is an iteration of that philosophy. Cooking with cannabis is more about wellness and lending to the existing healing properties of our food.”

Speaking of holistic wellness, what’s your fitness routine like?

“I cycle. After a failed relationship, I found that riding scenic routes was cathartic. That became a regular practice; 15-20 miles a day, 50 on the weekend, and monthly centuries. Exploring nature will definitely continue to be a part of my fitness routine.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.

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