How to throw a marijuana dinner party with tips on dosing, ambiance and avoiding a buzz kill

How to throw a marijuana dinner party with tips on dosing, ambiance and avoiding a buzz kill

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Throwing a dinner party can be stressful. There’s a lot to account for, what with the RSVPs, food, drinks, music, guest list, etc.

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois brings another possibility, one that many hosts have likely never considered: What about a marijuana dinner menu?

Chefs Manny Mendoza and Tyler Nickson consider this question all the time. The two Chicagoans have planned and hosted cannabis-centered dinner parties during the past couple of years: Mendoza through his Herbal Notes series, and Nickson mostly through private buyouts.

Mendoza’s Herbal Notes series operates on a slightly larger scale: infused parties featuring guest chefs. The format is seated (or buffet-style) or chef stations. Nickson focuses on smaller buyouts through private individuals. The two chefs also pointed out different approaches to these meals: with cannabis infused directly into the food or by pairing different courses with small hits of cannabis flower or concentrates. Some dining experiences employ both.

The events from Mendoza and Nickson are in keeping with the low profile of Chicago’s “underground” cannabis-infused dining scene, which turn mostly on word of mouth and familiar faces and take place in various locations, virtually always secret: someone’s home, an event space — privacy is key. The two chefs, who became friends through cannabis, also regularly work with one another during their respective events.

To help take some of the worries off your plate, so to speak, the pair shared important matters to keep in mind, and some suggestions on how to manage them.

Moderation, more moderation and dosing

Moderation is a top priority, both chefs agreed, given that many guests will be novice users in a newly legal cannabis landscape. That can be exciting, but it can also lead to some ill-advised decisions, Nickson said.

“The next thing you know, you’ve got someone passed out on the stairs,” he said. “One guy’s vomiting in a trash can, you know, like everything’s just gone sideways.”

Start with identifying your dosages, as in, how much THC does one serving contain? Depending on the setup, this could be posted on a menu or the serving dish, but in any case, the dosages should be noticeable for guests.

Depending on the guests’ comfort and experience with cannabis, hosts should explain the dosages as well. A standard serving for one cannabis candy, for instance, is 10 milligrams at dispensaries.

Starting lower and building is always an option. In fact, microdosing — taking 2.5 milligrams to 5 milligrams continually throughout the day — has become something of a trend, an amount that many users feel comfortable ingesting in any setting.

Patience is also key. Eat your THC-infused foods early in the party, if you have the option, since the effect takes at least an hour to set in, and can often take longer.

Mendoza and Nickson said they don’t infuse everything they cook. Instead, they mostly infuse added elements to dishes, such as sauces, dressings, dips, oils and the like. This helps guests moderate and control dosing.

“People can portion it out at their own discretion and add to whatever food they want. That way people coming to the party who don’t want to consume psychoactive cannabis don’t have to,” Mendoza said. “I’m that person sometimes.”

Mocktails

That leads to another consumption question. To drink or not to drink?

Nickson simply says no: “If you’ve been drinking during the dinner and eating edibles, it’s gonna be really funny, because you’re going to be coming down from your drunk, and then get hit with this extreme head high,” he said. “It’s just going to like dizzy you out, and it’s just not fun.”

Opting for mocktails and other creative nonalcoholic drinks means guests can enjoy a beverage pairing without affecting how the cannabis kicks in, Nickson said. Plus, if you’re at a dinner party where courses are paired with specific strains or flavors of cannabis, avoiding alcohol helps maintain the entire cultivated experience.

Comfortable atmosphere and ambiance

Paranoia and anxiety are, literally, major buzzkills when consuming cannabis. Unfortunately, they are not uncommon side effects, particularly for inexperienced users. A bad social setting can also trigger such negative reactions.

Nickson said he takes a number of steps to get the right vibe, starting with the invitation. Beyond the time, date and place, the invites usually lay out baseline expectations, such as whether the meal is sit-down or buffet-style, how the cannabis will be ingested, dosages, etc.

Once guests arrive, he delivers a welcome address that includes reassurances about feeling too high or otherwise out-of-sorts. “You don’t have to feel like a wuss,” he said, and he encourages guests to say something if they are feeling off.

If someone does want a break, Nickson actually has a break room, a low-lit extra room with a fan for air flow and white noise, plus a couch where people can relax.

Both he and Mendoza suggested keeping the number of guests low, and ideally limited to people with whom — you guessed it — everyone feels comfortable.

Don’t kill your own buzz

For the dinner set-up itself, either seated dinners or buffets are the way to go, the pair agreed. The one thing to avoid, Nickson said, is a meticulous, coursed-out meal.

“People can feel that when you’re in a dinner party. If you’re stressed out, people know you’re stressed,” he said.

Music plays a crucial role at all good parties, and perhaps even more so in a cannabis context, a major lesson Nickson took from Mendoza. The soundtrack is integral to setting the right tone, then maintaining it.

“I would say to just hire a DJ, then don’t worry about it. I got that from Manny, actually. It sounds like such a stupid thing to spend money on, but it just adds so much to the experience,” Nickson said. “DJs can read the room, and they can tell where you are, and they can take you to the right place. Just having an extra set of eyes on the environment and the ambiance, which is really important.”

Well ventilated

With smoking, cooking and guests, these dinner parties can become hotboxes in a hurry. Nickson suggests opening windows at opposite ends of your space for ventilation, and adding a couple of box fans if necessary.

Games

Mendoza said board games and card games are one of his favorite items at a party, since they give people something to do that’s fun and familiar. He suggested the Mexican game Loteria — he enjoys the Millennial version — or something cannabis-centric, like the Weed Pack by Cards Against Humanity, a themed expansion set of the irreverent party card game.

Don’t eat it; smoke it

Sure, infused food feels like something of a special indulgence, but Nickson said he prefers pairing different strains and varieties of cannabis with different courses, the way a restaurant would with wine.

“(Different types) all have really strong flavor profiles, and the terroir in how cannabis is grown is the same. Terpenes are found in wine,” he said. “You know, it all has to do massively with where it was grown and how it was grown. And it pairs amazing with food. Everything about it is so much like wine.”

Terpenes are aromatic organic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis and grapes. The compounds are primary determiners of flavors and fragrances.

Too much smoke, however, can blow out your tasting palate. Nickson mitigates that effect by offering a small dab of concentrate (a purer THC burn), or a tiny joint, only two or three puffs, he said.

The substance is different, but Nickson believes the effects of adjacent cannabis pairings offer the same tasting insights and feelings as a quality wine counterpart.

CBD on hand

“If anybody gets too high, that’s like my No. 1 thing,” Nickson said. “I have really small, entirely CBD joints of hemp flower, and it’s mind blowing. People always think I’m crazy for thinking that the solution to being too high is smoking more weed, so to speak, but it is!”

Whether that’s true remains undetermined on a scientific level, but many users say they’ve experienced a calming effect from CBD. The concept is one of the reasons many edibles contain a ratio of THC to CBD as high as 1:1.

BYOC

Bring your own cannabis, obviously. Mendoza said hosts aren’t expected to “try to fill up the party” and that most experienced marijuana users have their own supply that they bring and/or share. Cannabis can be expensive, so outside of the experience you want for your guests, the rest is gravy.

“I mean, it’s not like buying a 30-case of PBR for $15 or whatever,” Mendoza said with a laugh.

As for whether it’s kosher to simply light up at a cannabis party, Nickson said he’s seen it vary by event. As with most questions at a cannabis dinner party, he said, it’s best to not be shy. Just ask.

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