Secret supper clubs test appetite for cannabis-infused food ahead of legalization

Chefs are eagerly awaiting pot edibles to become legal in Canada

One of the first questions chef Travis Petersen asks guests as they arrive to his supper club at a semi-secret Vancouver location is how they would gauge their cannabis tolerance. The 34-year-old former “MasterChef Canada” contestant will then dose the forthcoming multi-course dinner with the appropriate amount of cannabis-infused oil.

Eight diners sat around a large wooden table adorned with fall-themed centrepieces and joked about whether they’re a one or 17 on a scale of 10 before falling silent as artfully plated dishes of geoduck, octopus and chorizo tacos, and butternut squash tortellini appeared before them — which Petersen had topped off with an eye dropper of cannabis oil.

Petersen is one of several chefs and companies serving cannabis-infused meals at intimate gatherings in secret locations to test the appetite for fine, high dining. The cooks behind these illicit events are gearing up to expand their operations with catering services, permanent restaurant menu items and more once the Canadian government legalizes the sale of recreational edibles sometime in the next 12 months.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what is going to be allowed and where the sort of culinary industry takes us,” said Petersen, owner and head chef at Nomad Cook, who has run similar events in other Canadian cities.

READ MORE: Are you ready for marijuana to be legal Oct. 17?

He ran his first such dinner party on April 20 this year, an iconic date in cannabis culture. The four days of brunch and dinner events in Vancouver this month marks his 10th cannabis-infused dining series during which he’ll serve his one-thousandth customer on Saturday.

The small-scale meal series attracts a wide demographic, he said. Petersen first expected to see mostly stereotypical cannabis users, but said the majority have never tasted edibles or are infrequent cannabis consumers, and patrons range from 19 to 70 years old.

However, events such as Petersen’s run contrary to current legislation.

Fresh or dried bud, oil, plants and seeds will be legal in Canada on Oct. 17, but edible legalization will take longer. The federal government has said it intends to legalize edibles within a year of that time, but details have been sparse.

Health Canada says that while the Cannabis Act will govern all edible products made from cannabis mixed with food ingredients, it won’t apply for use in restaurant meals.

READ MORE: ‘Lock it up’: B.C. doctor warns parents planning to cook up cannabis

“While edible cannabis products will be permitted for legal sale within one year following the coming into force of the Cannabis Act (i.e. by October 17, 2019), the framework would not permit restaurants to prepare and serve meals containing cannabis to the public,” spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau wrote in an email.

Although a restaurant or commercial kitchen could seek a federal licence to produce edible cannabis products, all such products sold to customers must be packaged and labelled, in child-resistant containers with labels that display a health warning.

“As a result, these requirements preclude the sale of prepared meals.”

Petersen only encountered trouble once while running a series in Victoria after authorities learned about the dinners.

He, and many others who provide such experiences, don’t seem concerned about running afoul of the current laws. Most say they take safety precautions, like infusing the food with small, individualized doses, not serving alcohol, and ensuring guests have a safe way to get home.

Sarah Best founded Dirt earlier this year. The Toronto-based company already has run five cannabis-infused dinners and several other edible events with local businesses, like coffee shops, with more planned for the future.

“I am perfectly comfortable with the way that our business operates,” she said, explaining the events are private and dosing is done in a responsible, safe manner.

“It would be naive for me to say that we’re not all a little bit pushing the boundaries, I guess, at this like current moment,” said Best.

Once legalization and clarity is achieved, chefs and business owners like Petersen and Best, look forward to growing this burgeoning business.

Petersen hopes he’ll be able to move beyond microdosing each guest’s dish individually with cannabis oil after the food is plated.

“It’s not the traditional fun way of cooking with cannabis where we’re infusing it into sauces and into the actual proteins ahead of time,” he said, adding that’s a less accurate dosing method.

He’s also working towards offering online and in-home cooking classes, and publishing a cannabis cookbook.

Best anticipates targeting international and domestic tourists with a space that provides both education and food. She wants to offer infused dining, as well as cannabis-free food with suggested cannabis pairings — more like a wine tasting.

Polina Privis and Tanya Dercach, a married couple who co-own The Kingston Social House, a Toronto bar, and Social Sessions, a company that hosts cannabis-infused dinners, want to add some cannabis-infused items to their pub menu.

“At some point, we can be a cannabis-friendly restaurant,” said Dercach.

Perhaps, one day, they’ll list a Caesar salad on their menu, with the option of adding a dressing containing a five milligram dose that patrons can pour over the salad themselves, said Privis.

At the bare minimum, the duo hope to announce the pub as a cannabis safe space as of Oct. 17 — one where patrons can enjoy a toke during a private event.

But for now, it’s hard to know which of these future plans will be possible as the details around upcoming edibles legislation remains a question mark.

“This is all up in the air,” said Privis. “And who knows what the legalities will be.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sylvan Lake Wranglers. File Photo
Sylvan Lake Wranglers ready for shorten hockey season

The HJHL will have a 20 game season, playing four games in a cohort and then going dark for 14 days

Decorate your vehicle for display at the second annual Trunk or Treat on Oct. 31 . (Blakc Press File Photo)
Sylvan Lake church to host a socially distanced Trunk or Treat on Halloween

Goblins and ghouls can go around to vehicles for their tricks or treats at the Alliance Church

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read