November 22, 2010

No Reservations on Chefs, Marijuana, and Bourdain,

Marijuana Fuels a New Kitchen Culture - New York Times, nytimes.com



EVEN preschool teachers unwind with a round of drinks now and then. But in professional kitchens, where the hours are long, the pace intense and the goal is to deliver pleasure, the need to blow off steam has long involved substances that are mind-altering and, often enough, illegal.

“Everybody smokes dope after work,” said Anthony Bourdain, the author and chef who made his name chronicling drugs and debauchery in professional kitchens. “People you would never imagine.”

So while it should not come as a surprise that some chefs get high, it’s less often noted that drug use in the kitchen can change the experience in the dining room.

In the 1980s, cocaine helped fuel the frenetic open kitchens and boisterous dining rooms that were the incubators of celebrity chef culture. Today, a small but influential band of cooks says both their chin-dripping, carbohydrate-heavy food and the accessible, feel-good mood in their dining rooms are influenced by the kind of herb that can get people arrested.

Call it haute stoner cuisine.

“There has been an entire strata of restaurants created by chefs to feed other chefs,” Mr. Bourdain said. “These are restaurants created specially for the tastes of the slightly stoned, slightly drunk chef after work.”

As examples of places serving that kind of food, he offered some of David Chang’s restaurants; Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, with its poutine of foie gras; Crif Dogs in the East Village, which makes a deep-fried cheese steak hot dog; and, in fact, the entire genre of mutant-hot-dog stands.

To be sure, substance abuse and addiction are concerns in the restaurant industry, and any restaurant where an employee or owner is caught with illegal drugs could lose its liquor license.

It is also hard to imagine any ambitious kitchen could function safely during dinner rush if the staff were impaired.

And despite what Mr. Bourdain said, a great many cooks get along just fine with no chemical assistance at all.

Nevertheless, a handful of chefs are unabashedly open about marijuana’s role in their creative and recreational lives and its effect on their restaurants.

The chefs and restaurateurs Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo said most of their projects — going to Sicily to import olive oil to sell at their two Frankies Spuntino restaurants; the concept for their Brooklyn restaurant Prime Meats; even a new restaurant planned for Portland, Ore. — were conceived with the creative help of marijuana.

Roy Choi, who owns the fleet of Kogi Korean taco trucks in Los Angeles, likens the culinary culture that has grown up around marijuana to the one that rose up around the Grateful Dead years ago. Then, people who attended the band’s shows got high and shared live music. Now, people get high and share delicious, inventive and accessible food.

“It’s good music, maybe a little weed and really good times and great food that makes you feel good,” he said.

“We’re not like Cypress Hill,” Mr. Choi said, referring to a rap group known for being outspoken advocates of pot use. “It’s not like a campaign to make food out of hemp, but it is a culture. It’s a vibe we have.”

Mr. Choi, who recently opened his first restaurant, Chego!, said he uses marijuana to keep his creativity up and to squeeze in quick breaks in the midst of 17-hour workdays.

“In the middle of a busy day, I’ll smoke,” he said. “Then I’ll go to the record store and hang out and clear my mind or pop into a matinee movie and then come back to the streets.”


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