Photos by Dave Zucker
So Westchester has a confession to make: After we polled you on marijuana usage and legalization, it seems pretty obvious that Westchester does, in fact, inhale. Nearly two-thirds of respondents partake at least occasionally, and more than 75 percent said they supported legalization of all marijuana use, including recreational. (Only a miniscule 4.55 percent opposed any legalization.)
With New York’s limited legalization for medicinal use and a blooming cannabis industry on the horizon, pot use is in sort of a legal grey area: It’s still federally banned, but unless you’re vaping directly into an officer’s face, it seems unlikely it’ll earn you anything worse than a citation.
Still, we were a bit floored to see the online response to our profile of Mount Vernon’s cannabis dinner series INFUSSIONS. The likes, shares, and supportive comments for Chef Charles Grand’s pop-up series rolled in, and, as we found later, so did the reservations. So, we thought we’d don our floor-length trench coat and fake mustache to get you an inside look at this deliciously high-end way to chill out.
Firstly, let’s ditch the shadowy hyperbole. This dinner is set at a gorgeous home in one of Mount Vernon’s more picturesque neighborhoods. The patio is strung with fairy lights, and features two picnic tables draped in fur and tablecloths across from an outdoor bar and brick pizza over. Fresh herbs and tomatoes line the fence between this property and the neighbors.
The clientele is equally refined: a few distinctly upper-middle class couples and friends, all in their 40s or 50s, among them small business owners, health professionals, educators, and artists. The dinner comes with one included cocktail — coconut and mango rums with a splash of fruit juice — but is otherwise BYOB, so several bottles of wine show up with the other guests. During pre-dinner chit-chat and drinks, we learn that everyone in attendance actually learned of the dinner from our previous article, and that Chef Charles has received an influx of new inquiries since!
Before we’re served the first course, our evening is gently explained to us: We will be served four courses throughout the evening including both surf and turf, as well as dessert. Over the course of the entire meal we will ingest somewhere in the area of about 35 milligrams of combined cannabidiol (CBD) oil — perfectly legal — and plain old weed oil, which is uh … well, not really. The ratio is weighted in favor of CBD’s calming effects and we were assured that no one will be tripping out tonight. In fact most of the meal’s cannabis content will be in the first dishes and then peter out. As a result, we’re told we’ll probably feel something maybe an hour in and then just have a really relaxing ride home later.
The first course is crab cake with chipotle aioli and coconut rum-infused watermelon, boasting 15mg of cannabis. The crab cake is about the size and shape of a hockey puck, no lumpy-ball hors d’oeuvres here, and light and fluffy inside with a crispy, flakiness around the edges. It was delicious, meaty, and full of flavor. The aioli was sweet and spicy and tart, and the rum-infused watermelon was the surprise hit of the evening, packing a pretty hefty wallop that obfuscated any immediate or psychosomatic effects we might have felt from the cannabis. Likewise, the rum infusion and aioli completely buried any earthy, “herbal” notes aside from some light, well, herbal notes.
Turf follows surf, in the form of beef short rib (shown above) served on a bed of truffle tostones with a tomato and parsley garnish. The beef is tender and buttery, the tomato is medium diced and bursting with flavor. Tostones are twice-fried green plantains, and much as in the last dish, you can sort of get a taste of full, herbal umami flavor but once again that’s almost perfectly melded with the nose of truffle oil they were cooked in. This was a lighter course, with only about 5mg of cannabis.
Everyone is having a great time chatting and laughing. We’re feeling very calm, but clearheaded, and it’s entirely possible the first course just hasn’t hit us yet (besides the watermelrum, that is). A few guests are reporting that they feel “good,” but they say it slowly and with broad smiles. Between courses, Chef Grand passes around a Mason jar of weed butter he’s been cooking with and everyone takes a deep inhale of the earthy aroma.
The third course arrives and it’s another seafood dish, this time with more of the Caribbean influence Chef Charles is known for: pepper shrimp and fried okra over fungie (pronounced “fun-jee”), what he describes as essentially Antiguan polenta, creamier than its Italian cousin but not as fine a grain as grits. There’s bacon and garlic and hints of rosemary, and somehow the chef has yet again slipped 15mg of cannabis past our pretty well-developed senses.
“High Point” – Most of the guests are finishing their second bottles of wine, and, most notably, we aren’t feeling that nagging anxiety that typically accompanies our every social interaction. We feel slightly unsure of asking where the restroom is, but otherwise everything’s fine. When we do get up we’re surprised to feel a little less coordinated than usual, perhaps a bit floaty. Our pupils, however, under indoor lighting are revealed to be about half their usual size so, yeah, maybe we’re just horribly mistaken.
The final course is dessert: homemade lemongrass-infused vanilla ice cream with a lemon-lavender tart crumble, garnished with fresh lemon zest and sprigs of lavender. It’s light and creamy and floral, and with only 5mg of cannabis it’s a perfect way to segue out of dinner and into discussion.
“I thought about opening a brick-and-mortar for a while,” says Grand. “But I didn’t want it to stagnate me.” Grand, a Bronx native, currently resides in Westchester, but hopes to move to California within the next year or so. Based on the growing popularity of his dinners, however, he still plans to bi-locate a bit to continue doing more pop-up events.
“This is what I like; small, intimate conversations. I can actually talk to you, see how you’re doing.” We’re doing good, chef. Feeling real mellow.