Mike Quigley's first realization that edible cannabis could be so much more than just, well, edible, came nearly 20 years ago when a friend offered him a freshly baked espresso pot brownie.
"I remember thinking there was a radical difference in flavour here from this exact same thing I've had before with the addition of one simple ingredient. It was really good," he recalled.
It was the first time the young cook would conceptualize marijuana in this way, as more than just a substance to get high from, but also as an ingredient with its own regionalized qualities and flavour profiles. Indica-dominant strains tend to pair nicely with more earthy flavours such as mushrooms, chocolate and yes, espresso. Sativas, meanwhile, have more floral notes, pairing well with fresh, vibrant ingredients.
"As I've come to understand, the cannabis grown in, say, Humboldt County, Calif. versus the cannabis grown in the Kashmir mountains of India, they're very different," he said. "You're talking about moisture levels in the air, you're talking about nutrient density in the soil, elevation, proximity to the ocean. Most people don't understand that there is as much complexity to the flavour and the growth of cannabis as there is to grapes for wine."
It's an education that would eventually come full circle, as the longtime Whistler chef has just launched his own cannabis culinary service, The Savoury Stoner, that offers personalized tasting dinners for up to 20, meal prep, and frozen-ready meals and treats, all prepared in the comfort of the client's home.
"Years of cooking, reading and experimenting have led me to this point," Quigley explained.
Now nearly three months out from legalization, Quigley has positioned himself on the ground floor of a burgeoning cannabis industry that is only now beginning to explore the potential of edible marijuana. The Red-Seal chef, formerly of the Hilton, Westin, and most recently, Olives Community Market, wants to dispel the notion of edible pot as just "stoner food."
"I'm trying to stray away from the typical backyard, bush-league stoner making pot brownies and make this a more refined, accepted form of indulgence—as well as a food source," he said.
At the moment, The Savoury Stoner offers five different menus to choose from (although Quigley can also help craft a personalized menu of any kind); everything from a Pemberton Farm to Table-themed program, to an Italian Feast, and even a "Canna-pes" menu, which includes pulled barbecue pork jackfruit sliders, walnut and herb-stuffed cremini mushrooms, beef and mushroom tartar, and arancini balls smothered in the Quigley family's famous tomato sauce—and, of course, cannabis-infused olive oil.
Quigley is strict about dosages, following Health Canada's proposed guideline of not having more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving.
"One of the biggest things I make sure of is that I don't make my own extracts, I buy them professionally made. This results in a guaranteed dosage," he noted.
Quigley carefully curates each diner's meal, first asking them their weight and past experience with cannabis to ensure that the THC dosage is appropriate for each course.
"This is not me pumping out 50 plates with a swoosh of sauce, a dash of starch, a protein, and off you go," he explained. "This is Suzy Q. who likes a glass of wine with dinner, so this course will have one milligram of THC in it. But her boyfriend, Johnny F., a huge stoner who smokes weed every day, he really wants to have a great experience, so we're going to put 10 milligrams into every single thing he eats, so he's going to leave feeling great and she's going to leave feeling great."
THC isn't the sole focus of Quigley's culinary experience, though. He prepares straight CBD dinners, which results in a nice, body sensation without the psychoactive, euphoric feeling of THC. He also tries to cook with different parts of the cannabis plant whenever possible.
"This is not just your typical dried flower that you would roll into a joint and smoke or something that you can make an extract out of. I'm talking about fresh-off-the-plant, still-wet leaves," he said.
"I'm not necessarily just trying to get people high. I'm trying to infuse cannabis into food because it's a plant, it's a flower, it's juicable, it's flavourful, it has medicinal health benefits, and it's also very fun."
Given the anticipated growth in cannabis tourism—some experts predict Canada could eventually generate up to $2 billion in annual revenues from pot tourism—it would stand to reason that Whistler could be a major beneficiary.
Despite his website only being live for about a week, Quigley said he has already garnered interest from a cross-section of Whistler society.
"I've had some of the elite members of Whistler, if I can say that, call to inquire about it. Some of my friends are super engaged and want to be involved. I think I've had up to four different cooks who work in town ... that want to do this and are interested in working with me," he noted. "I've had the breadth of our (community) asking about it."
For more information, visit thesavourystoner.com.