Cooking with cannabis has evolved beyond the edibles of our youth, which were often viewed as a delivery vehicle for an intense high rather than a legitimate culinary pursuit. While marijuana hasn’t yet been legalized on a federal level, recent developments, including the legalization of industrial hemp, have ushered in a more subtle approach to cooking with cannabis—one that focuses on using the herb to enhance a meal rather than overshadow it.

Chef Miguel Trinidad says the gradual de-stigmatization of cannabis has had a measurable impact on people’s openness toward experimenting with it in the kitchen. “I’ve seen a massive shift in the way people perceive cannabis,” he explains. “More people are open to exploring it.”

“I’ve seen a massive shift in the way people perceive cannabis. More people are open to exploring it.”​​​​​

Trinidad is best known for his Filipino cuisine at Maharlika and Jeepney, both critical darling restaurants of the New York dining scene. Along with partner Doug Cohen, the Dominican chef launched 99th floor as a series of secret marijuana-infused dinner parties in 2015, and four years later, it has evolved into a full-fledged edible enterprise that he hopes will help make cooking with cannabis become the new normal.

“We not only provide a great meal for like-minded individuals who believe in the forward movement of de-stigmatizing cannabis, but we also create an experience for people,” Trinidad says of the private dinners.

Trinidad shared his thoughts on the rapid transformation of the edible scene, gave us some insight into the science behind choosing the right strain for your meal, and revealed the secret to saving yourself from the abyss if you’ve overindulged.

Choose a strain that suits the flavor profile of your dish.

Chef Trinidad Dish
Image via Stefen Ross

Trinidad insists that each strain of cannabis should be understood as a unique ingredient, just like any other herb.

“Whenever I’m cooking a meal that involves cannabis, my menu is determined by the strain that I'm using, so I take it and I make that the star,” he explains. “It's just like if I picked a bunch of basil and I was going to make pesto, or I got some thyme and I was infusing that into chicken breast so I could get a nice flavor out of it.

“I determine what the flavor profile is by doing some research on the bud—going to Leafly, tasting it, smoking it, and seeing what it pairs well with it. We just don't see it as, ‘I'm gonna make a chicken and throw some infused olive oil on it.’ That's not the way I cook.”

Decarbing is crucial to getting the full benefits of the plant.

Decarboxylation, or decarbing, is a chemical process that removes carboxylic acid from cannabis, effectively activating its psychoactive benefits. There are several methods to achieve this, the simplest of which include heating the raw bud in the oven.

chef-trinidad-soup
Image via Stefen Ross

Trinidad believes decarbing is a crucial step when cooking. “If you're not decarbing, all you're doing is providing anti-inflammatory food,” Trinidad bluntly notes. “You're not really releasing the medicine in the plant.”

Overdoing it on the decarbing can be just as damning. According to Trinidad, cannabis should be decarbed for several minutes at most. “If I’m making butter, I melt the butter, I add the flower, and I toss it for about five minutes. I pull off the flower. That's gonna pull out my THC. If I wanna incorporate some flavor and get more of the terpenes out, I'm gonna let it steep for a little longer so I can pull out some of the plant matter. But if your butter is green, you overdid it.”

Construct your meal with the desired mood in mind.

Your culinary efforts can be quickly derailed by faulty dosing. If you don’t want to be caught under the dinner table, aim to deliver a slow build (a crescendo, if you will) rather than a higher dose that might hit like the onset of a panic attack.

Chef Trinidad Dessert
Image via Stefen Ross

“We direct people's moods,” Trinidad says of the dining experience at 99th Floor.

“We want people by the third course to feel really nice. We start off with a cocktail that's infused with a tincture, that adjusts to kickstart your endocannabinoid system. And then we bring in the first course, which I'll use an oil or fat or some method that will kick into your system a little quicker than the third course, which will slow everything down. So, by the time you hit course three, you're feeling nice. Your cheeks hurt a little bit because you're smiling too much. The people around you are laughing.

“It works because I'm using science to understand how the endocannabinoid system works and how I can get into your system much quicker, but still providing a low dose so you don't feel uncomfortable and you're enjoying the experience.” At the end of the day—and meal—that’s what matters most.