High-end dining: top chef tests SA's hazy cannabis laws with dagga feast
There will be high expectations among diners when they dig in to five-star cuisine at a secret venue in Johannesburg this weekend.
While the menu will include gourmet nosh, the main focus will be on the ingredients — which will have been lovingly marinated in and infused with cannabis oil.
The 60 weed lovers, who have forked out R650 each for a place at the table, will also have a doctor on hand to help them choose their potency.
The evening of cannabis cuisine is the brainchild of chef Joshua Levack, who has cooked for actors Charlize Theron and Denzel Washington, as well as former US president Barack Obama and President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Levack said the food would be infused with a cannabis compound with medicinal properties that does not make people feel stoned, as well as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a cannabinoid that makes users high.
"We have been testing different levels and strains in the dishes. All cannabis ingredients have been lab tested and the dosages are minimal."
Expect from the menu anything from smoked salmon, foraged herbs, lamb roulade stuffed with fig and camembert and dark chocolate, blackberry and rhubarb with vanilla créme. There is also a mystery cannabis-based palate cleanser.
Every dish on Levack's set menu is infused with cannabis in various forms — but diners are not permitted to bring their own cannabis "and no takeaways are allowed".
Levack's legal adviser, Stefan Bezuidenhout from Swanepoel & Partners, said the dinner date was legal, "although operating in the new grey area of the law".
Legal adviser Stefan Bezuidenhout said the event was legal because the patrons were paying for the meal and not the cannabis
He said the event was legal because the patrons were paying for the meal and not the cannabis.
Because the event location had been leased for the night, it was a private venue and patrons would also be asked to sign a nondisclosure document on entering.
Levack, 26, who is the executive chef at a five-star hotel in Houghton, said he wanted to be known for using multiple ingredients.
He said the "high-end medicated dining experience" would focus on the medicinal aspect of the plant.
"Everything we are serving is from farm to table, including the cannabis. All our cannabis infusions will be chemical free and self-pressed," he said.
Levack said he had been surprised by the demand.
"I never thought there would be so much interest. The response has been so overwhelming that we are now going to host one every month at a different location."
He said diners would receive instructions about the venue on the night and a shuttle service would ensure patrons do not need to get behind the wheel.
But advocate James Grant, associate professor of law at Wits University, said there were loopholes in the Constitutional Court ruling which allowed for private use of marijuana, and that Levack's event may not be deemed legal by authorities.
"It's not entirely clear what definition will prevail from the Concourt ruling. But the drugs act [Drugs & Drug Trafficking Act] definition is wide enough to make the event illegal.
"It is possible that they're 'donating' the THC in the food, but even that could cross the line because dealing is so widely framed. The law permits cultivation and possession and for your own use in private, so while they are in the kitchen mixing stuff up for someone else [the law sees] it as crossing the line."
SO WHAT'S THE FOOD LIKE?
Sunday Times Lifestyle Editor Pearl Boshomane did a pre-dinner taste test this week, specifically prepared by chef Joshua Levack.
It included a salmon salad infused with cold-pressed cannabis oil, and a fig- and camembert stuffed lamb roulade, marinated overnight in cannabis oil.
Her verdict:“Levack accomplished his mission; the cannabis did not overpower the meal. Instead it became an ingredient, working well with the food to create a delicious, light, fresh taste. The flavours play beautifully together.
I’ve eaten ‘space cookies’ which usually taste horrible, but this [food] is beautifully flavoured. It doesn’t just taste like weed. “And the after-effects were definitely felt …”