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Cannabis-infused foods will be legal for Canadian adults to buy before the end of this year. However, they’ve been allowed to make their own edibles since Oct. 17, 2018. Trouble is, most Canadians lack the necessary knowledge and skills required to properly include cannabis as an ingredient in their cooking.

Enter the Culinary Cannabis Association and the Cannabis Cooking Company: two startups in the process of merging to provide a singular solution to that issue. The teams from both outfits - David Brott and Tamara Lilien from CCA and Joshua Tuck and Vanessa Labrecque from CCC - offered one of the country’s first legal cannabis cooking courses in Hamilton, Ont., earlier this month.

Hosted in a trendy venue near The Hammer’s commercial centre, the course ran from 6-9pm ET on Sept 9. and Sept. 10, and cost $400 a person.

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(Note: after the course took place but prior to publication of this story, the two companies completed their merger under the Cannabis Cooking Company brand).

Cannabis Professional attended the course and offers the key takeaways from the experience below.

THE CLASS IS LEGAL, HOWEVER...

The first thing students are given before the class even begins is a four-page legal waiver they are required to initial no less than 13 times before signing and dating the end. Beyond simply absolving the service provider of liability, the waiver requires students to make promises ranging from being of legal consumption age to accepting sole responsibility for any cannabis-infused foods they might cook using the knowledge and skills acquired in the course.

KEEPING IT LEGAL MAKES IT LOGISTICALLY COMPLICATED

Health Canada regulations prohibit cannabis use in commercial kitchens that also prepare non-infused foods. That means existing culinary schools - complete with multiple cooking stations and proper tools and equipment - cannot rent out their spaces to these sort of service providers. The venue for this course was a 112-year-old building that originally housed a milk company, and while the organizers went to great lengths to set up the space as if it were a proper culinary school - a dozen mobile cooking stations and portable equipment had been brought in - problems quickly arose. The power demand from running so many cooking stations at once constantly tripped the breakers. Fortunately, a warehouse next door allowed organizers to run an extension cord.

THERE IS LOADS OF INTEREST IN THIS KIND OF SERVICE

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A problem with a third-party marketing outfit forced David and his team to scramble at the last minute to promote the event. However, all 20 chairs were filled. One woman even flew in from Florida specifically to attend the course. It was a surprisingly even distribution along gender, age and ethnic lines. Most attendees appeared to be over 40, but there were a handful of 20-and-30-somethings as well, and two very-obviously-married couples.

PROFESSIONAL CHEFS ARE KEEN TO COOK WITH CANNABIS

Nearly half of the students (nine to be exact) were either currently or previously employed as professional chefs. Jacqui Pressinger is a former chef and the current director of strategic partnerships for the American Culinary Federation. She was the one who came all the way from Florida for this course. “The reason I’m here is when people turn to me as an industry expert, I know nothing about the culinary cannabis industry or how to cook with it,” she said, "so I’m here to learn.” One student is a Toronto-area restaurateur and is already offering cannabis-infused tasting menus after regular business hours but wants to learn how to get more consistent about dosing.

MORE SCIENCE THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT

Math is not what you’d expect to be doing in anything cannabis-related, but Josh did a great job of explaining why determining exact and consistent dosing levels are critical. “It doesn’t do anything to help the stigma when people have a bad edibles experience,” Josh notes. "If we incorrectly dose people and they have a bad experience then many people who could really benefit from this might never revisit edibles.” He spent a full 20 minutes explaining how to multiply the weight of the cannabis flower you use in milligrams (i.e. 5 grams being 5,000 milligrams) by its potency (i.e. 14 per cent THC would be 0.14 when multiplying) and then divide that result by the total volume of your carrier liquid (i.e. one cup of coconut oil is 32 tablespoons) to determine the total number of milligrams of THC in every tablespoon of infused coconut oil.

THERE IS A “RIB EYE” OF THE CANNABIS FLOWER

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Dissection of the cannabis bud itself was a fun and informative part of the lesson plan. Each student was given a small bud and a pair of extra-sharp tweezers with instructions to separate the pistil, leaf, stem and calyx parts of the bud and place them in the labelled circles on the provided place mats. The calyx is “especially important” Tamara explains, because it is a green, teardrop structure where all the trichomes (which contain those intoxicating cannabinoids such as THC) are located.

Josh says the calyx is “the rib eye of the bud to me.”

“If you really have the time to pick apart a really nice strain that you really like and want to take it to the next level, just smoke a joint of only calyxes. It is so nice,” he says.

DECARBING IS KEY

When lighting up a joint, the heat of the flame removes a layer of carbon from the cannabis, activating the cannabinoids such as THC or CBD before they are inhaled. Cooking with cannabis requires that process to be replicated, the full word for which being decarboxylation, though it is often referred to as “decarbing.”

There are both active and passive ways to decarb cannabis before it can be infused with a carrier oil such as butter or coconut oil and included in a recipe. Active decarbing can be done by grinding up the cannabis flower, spreading it on a baking sheet and putting it in the oven and baking for 30 minutes at 240 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring halfway. An example of passive decarbing would involve simmering ground-up cannabis flower in a sauce pan of melted butter for about 45 minutes.

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Going with an active decarbing method would activate the cannabinoids but would destroy the terpenes in the plant, which are the chemical compounds that occur naturally in all plants and are responsible for their unique smells. Some believe terpenes play an important role in the effects of cannabis, the so-called “entourage effect,” so for those people a passive form of decarboxylation would be ideal.

TERPENES ARE TOPS

Some people might already know that terpenes are the chemical compounds that occur in all plants and make them smell a certain way. Few of them, however, likely know the full extent of the role terpenes play in the cannabis consumption experience. Pinene, for example, smells like pine and is the most commonly-occurring terpene in the world, Tamara explains. Myrcene produces the most common smell associated with cannabis and gives the plant its “earthy” aroma, Tamara says, and is most often associated with the more stereotypical effects such as munchies and couch lock. Caryophyllene is Tamara’s personal favourite and it is easy to see why. It has a spicy cinnamon smell, like the cinnamon hearts from Valentines Day that smell much better than they taste. It is also the only terpene, according to our little workbook, that displays the same characteristics as a cannabinoid in that it interacts directly with human endo-cannabinoid receptors.

RETAIL IS NOT READY FOR THIS

E-mailed instructions sent before the course started instructed all students to purchase one gram of Tangerine Dream, a sativa strain from Aurora’s San Rafael ’71 brand. This was key to keeping the course itself legal, since students would be arriving with their own, unsealed, legal cannabis and the course simply gave them instructions on how to turn that dry plant matter into a food ingredient. In reality though, most legal stores have little if any single-gram inventory and the closest store to the class venue (Hello Cannabis in Dundas) was no exception. The smallest container they had of Tangerine Dream was 3.5 grams, which led the course organizers to go to every cooking station with a small scale so students could weigh out individual grams. It was a noble effort to maintain accuracy and consistency, but it really should not have been necessary.

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