Last week, New York’s cannabis illuminati gathered at Fette Sau in Williamsburg to raise a glass—and pass a bone—to a new chapter in marijuana media.
With brown booze in hand and meaty murals as backdrop, the crowd counted down to 10:30 p.m. EST to watch the first episode of Bong Appetit, the Vice web series now rebooted as 10 new half-hour episodes on Viceland.
While this is not the first weed-focused series produced by Vice, the show’s creators have high hopes it will help catapult cannabis into the mainstream. In the words of a glowing High Times review, “This isn’t groundbreaking television: It’s sky breaking—and it’s really well-produced.”
The crowd assembled was certain evidence of how the industry has already progressed in the Empire State. New York’s medical law is just one year old and is widely considered among the most restrictive and bureaucratic in the nation.
In the who’s who of Gotham’s ganja crowd were High Maintenance star Ben Sinclair, High Times Cannabis Cup coordinator Sean Black, High Times owner Matt Stang, the chef behind the monthly Brooklyn pot pop-up Chef for Higher and the city’s premium producer of cannabis edibles The Green Fairy—plus art directors, musicians, editors and citizen activists who worked with Governor Cuomo to activate the state’s medical marijuana laws. Bong Appetit is a production of Munchies, Vice’s food content arm, and harnesses the star-power of executive producers Lauren Cynamon and Chris Grosso, as well as series producer Ari Fishman who produced The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” said writer Abdullah Saeed, standing on a bench and smiling down on the crowd. Slim and neatly coiffed, with dark bags under his eyes, Saeed is one of Vice’s “original weed guys.” His journalism pedigree includes critic columns in High Times, as well as hosting or having a hand in Vice’s current cannabis cannon. His web series Smokeables introduced such viral content as “How to Make Your Own Gravity Bong.” Saeed also starred in Vice Does America, where he takes his Indie punk band sensibility into our country’s darkest corners.
In other words, he’s the perfect guide for navigating the brave new world of marijuana cooking in America.
For the show, Vice rented a mansion in West Hollywood, dubbed it Casa de Bong and invited chefs to create a dinner with cannabis as a main ingredient. The season kicked off with Marcel Vigneron, chef/owner of Los Angeles restaurants Wolf and Beefsteak, working wonders of molecular gastronomy (a main of tuna smoked in cannabis, cannabis ice cream microspheres), and continues with taco night, camping food in Joshua Tree, a Middle Eastern–themed dinner party for Saeed’s birthday and a Korean feast from chef Deuki Hong, who although not a marijuana smoker, was still able to create fried chicken garnished with CBD crystals and a salad of tempura cannabis leaves.
The chefs are assisted by Marigold Sweets baker Vanessa Lavorato, who makes high end infused chocolates, and cannabis specialist and weed sommelier Ry Prichard. They have some understanding of how different cannabis products behave in cooking, and how to properly dose the meal, so that the whole table doesn’t dissolve into giddiness.
And they work from an impressive “million dollar pantry” packed with a veritable cornucopia of cannabis products. The pantry reflects the cream of the crop of California’s cannabis chain, from the buds that most people know as marijuana to all the products now derived from those buds. It includes glass jars of 20 to 30 different types of “high, high end flower,” i.e., big, hairy marijuana buds; traditional mechanical separations, like hashes and kiefs, waxes and shatters; and finally molecular isolates of terpines and cannabinoids and all those phytochemicals that give cannabis its flavor and pharmaceutical functions. “We have stuff in the pantry that no one knows about yet,” says Jason Pinsky, a producer on the show who also in charge of stocking the pantry. “We have isolated CBD that’s been altered to dissolve in water. It’s so fucking cutting edge.”
Even though Bong Appetit will introduce most viewers to ways to ingest weed that they may never use (or seek out) themselves, each episode includes brief how-to’s to help any DIYer roll a plumber’s joint, make cannabis honey or infuse a spirit for mixing up canna-cocktails.
Which again is part of what makes Bong Appetit revolutionary. It’s preparing the watching audience for the coming avalanche of cannabis products in our medicine cabinets. In more and more states, you really can do this at home.
“The whole message right now in cannabis industry is about breaking stereotypes,” says Pinsky, who splits his time between Williamsburg, NY and Boulder, CO. “If the typical stoner is a white dude in middle America, show a more diverse range of people enjoying weed as part of their lifestyle.”
Pinsky has been a patient and advocate for medical marijuana in New York, and hopes new media can be a better ally to cannabis than old media, which was complicit in the fearmongering about “the evil weed” that lead up to making cannabis illegal. (Little known New York fact: Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia was an early pro-cannabis politician. In the 1930s, he was one of the most out-spoken critics of the proposed cannabis laws saying they were laws the people didn’t want and that the government could not enforce.) If the balm of food television can help sway the tide, and start a new narrative, all the better, says Pinsky. “Shit man, we’re cooking with weed in ways that don’t even get you high. No euphoric effect. It’s just for medicinal or aromatic qualities.”
Saeed helps, too. He’s a gracious guide for the audience, bringing to the table a deep enthusiasm of cannabis culture, botany and paraphernalia, paired with a superuser tolerance for cannabis. “He can smoke a ton, ingest a ton of edibles and still carry on a conversation at the end of the night,” a friend said.
The show’s Food Network geekiness is not the only way Bong Appetit is of the American zeitgeist. In the November elections, all nine states passed marijuana initiates with clear majorities. More than half of Americans live in a state with medical or recreational offerings on the books. Even New York, a massive market that has been slow to the national trends, recently expanded its ailments to allow chronic pain sufferers to apply for a prescription.
In the case of cannabis, farm organizations in New York, including state and local farm chapters, have long voted for legalization. Whether in Colorado, Massachusetts or New York, though, the cannabis industry adds to our nation’s agricultural diversity, gives farmers and foodmakers a new crop to grow and sell and deepens our collective pharmacy.
Just as apple farmers gained a new market when the state eased the laws for farm cideries, farmers around the country are welcoming being able to grow and sell cannabis and related products. New York’s current program has distributed just five licenses to growers around the state so far. But in other states, hundreds if not thousands of farmers are now making money from raising cannabis. The national legal cannabis market is due to hit more than $20 billion by 2020. Which would put it in the family of corn, soy, wheat and a few other of the nation’s most lucrative crops for farmers.
When the show ended, the crowd roared. The holiday merrymaking continued as a woman passed around bite-size sriracha Rice Krispies treats and marshmallow-laden Cascada Floats (coffee cherry turned into a molasses and infused with sparkling water, a concoction exclusive to Williamsburg’s Devocion). (Both were medicated at a low level.) And when Fette Sau shut down, the party and paraphernalia moved to Baby’s All Right.
The walk was brisk, but spirits were still high, and conversation got heady about the cannabis politics. “New York is the piece that topples the rest,” said Sean Black of High Times, who has watched marijuana laws evolve over the last three decades. “When it’s legal in New York, it will be legal everywhere.”
Featured photo credit: Facebook/Viceland