Stoner chefs: Are they starting a new culinary trend?


Well, there's five minutes of my life I'll never get back: First, The New York Times has me reading about how "Chefs Using Marijuana Create a New Kitchen Culture," which is basically an open mic for Tony Bourdain to spout his boilerplate about all the drug use in kitchens, including this bon mot, "If you're stoned in a restaurant, you don't want to deal with six layers of tableware."

Okay, so a lot of kitchen workers use drugs--and a lot of them don't. Tell me something I don't know, right? That "something" is the Times' recent "discovery" of a new culinary concept: haute stoner cuisine.

For example? Some of David Chang's joints, Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal (poutine of foie gras), all the new-wave hot dog stands, Bourdain says. Roy Choi, owner of the Kogi Korean taco trucks in L.A., says the cult of "haute stoner cuisine" is this generation's Grateful Dead, and offers this less-than-enlightening quote: "It's good music, maybe a little weed, and really good times and great food that makes you feel good," he said.

So casual, affordable, fatty food is now the exclusive realm of stoners?

Then, a few hours later, Slate's Jack Shafer decides to jump into the fray with his Bogus Trend Story of the Week, attacking the Times article's premise that pot not only inspires the consumption of a certain kind of food but that it inspires creativity in the kitchen. He offers five ways in which the story undermines its own thesis:

1) The pastry chef behind "cereal milk soft-serve ice cream" says the dessert appeals to a stoner's appetite. But, she explains, she devised it while totally sober. A patron consuming the concoction agrees that it's the perfect dish for a "totally baked" diner, but she says, No, I'm not stoned.

2) Marijuana "has long been part of restaurant culture," which undercuts the notion that only now are its effects being felt on the food scene.

3) Even people who don't smoke pot love alleged stoner dishes, like the breakfast burrito pizza at Roberta's in Brooklyn. But unless breakfast burrito pizza was invented by a guy while seriously stoned, its existence says nothing about marijuana fueling a new kitchen culture.

4) The Big Mac's taste range--savory, sweet, tart, and crunchy--appeals to the stoner palate because it "hits" so many of the senses, as a source tells the Times. Is this meant to imply that Ray Kroc was a secret stoner? Sara Lee, too? Col. Sanders? Papa John? If a Big Mac qualifies as stoner cuisine, then can we agree that every entree that mixes taste and texture is stoner grub and that the category is meaningless?

5) An important San Francisco chef says stoner food is just another version of comfort food. In other words, there is no stoner cuisine. Pot isn't fueling anything much in American restaurant kitchens except a big marijuana buzz.

Slate makes another point the Times doesn't: Some chefs have always used pot. It's just that now, if they have a doctor's prescription, they can speak freely about it. A more interesting marijuana-in-the-kitchen story, I think, was our local MSP/Shefzilla spat about Landon Schoenfeld feeding his staff pot cookies.

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