I Went to Colorado for a Gourmet Cannabis Pairings Dinner
Kendal Norris is the woman throwing Colorado's high-end cannabis events.
My high sets in some time between the serving of the intermezzo and dessert. I barely notice it. But the euphoria; the escape from anxiety; the feeling of content; the canna-bliss––really takes its place next to my bones, as the Colorado sun begins to retreat behind the surrounding flatiron foothills. The stone isn’t intense or overwhelming. I’m not spun out of my mind, or paranoid, or giggly. To my right, a diverse group of people from all corners of the cannabis industry are laughing, and joking, and smoking, and vaping, and dining on gourmet, chef-prepared food. And to the left, a lone cloud in the distance rids itself of any rain long before it would join our Longmont party. I’m at the Catalina Wine Mixer of Colorado weed dinners.
Let’s back up a bit.
“It came to me in a dream,” Kendal Norris tells The KIND. Norris runs Mason Jar Event Group, a Boulder-based company founded by the early-40s event planner in 2015. Norris says Mason Jar is on a mission to “align cannabis with foodie and yogi culture.”
“There’s something in the cannabis plant for everyone. In some shape or form, it could benefit everybody," says Norris. "But navigating that can be hard.” Norris sees her company's food and yoga and weed events as an access point for the baby-boomer cannabis consumer. "Some of our guests are canna-curious people, that would otherwise be hesitant to attend. But it’s really about the whole sensory experience," says Norris. "My parents will be coming tonight,"
We're in Colorado for, "Summer"––a farm-to-table, cannabis-pairings dinner, put on by the group.
Norris tells us the curated menu of high-end dishes, and super dank weed products, is inspired by and celebrates the season that has the morning air outside these cold-pressed-juice-serving walls turning up well past 80 degrees. The dinner is Mason Jar's eighth event bringing together cannabis and chef-driven cuisine since its launch. Other gatherings have focused on the mental health and physical recharge elicited from the relationship between weed and yoga.
"Dabs and yoga are like peas and carrots," Norris tells The KIND. “The weed leads everything."
The food and ambiance of Mason Jar events is no afterthought. Dinner is imagined and prepared by Chef Hosea Rosenberg––a former "Top Chef" contestant, now a Colorado-based restaurateur. Our dinner was held at the picturesque Shupe Homestead––a wedding venue and seemingly perfect location for a Taylor Swift video, in Longmont, Colorado, about an hour outside of Denver.
"Starting with the flower, I give Hosea the sample, and then we talk about flavor profiles," Norris tells The KIND of her planning process. "We’ll pull information from other sources. We love using strains with storied histories," she says. "People are afraid of indicas. They don’t want to be couch-locked. But the products we curate in the goody bags are usually low dosage.”
Norris's passion for rebranding weed as something akin to wine; a wellness and quality-of-life product, is felt in her enthusiastic demeanor, and further evidenced in all previous press coverage her group has received. She tries every product that her guests will consume before it hits the menu.
But just how legal are Mason Jar's pot parties?
Colorado voters approved adult weed usage via Amendment 64 in 2012. The Rocky Mountain State has since served as an experiment for it's contiguous (and non-) contemporaries to learn from, as more states enact their own forms of legal pot governance. The Colorado weed industry seemingly wants to be legit. A budtender seated at our "Summer" table tells The KIND she receives full health coverage from Livwell––the local dispensary chain employing her. Some Colorado bud businesses even store their money with a local credit union––basic financial services not typically afforded to the majority of the weed world.
But in 2016, public and open consumption of the herb remains illegal for Colorado medical marijuana patients and recreational enthusiasts alike. Though listings for private pot clubs are posted openly online, they are not strictly speaking legal. For Norris's company to remain in compliance of state law, guests to Mason Jar events purchase the curated "goodie bags" from a partner dispensary beforehand, thus bringing their own bud. Norris also works closely with venues to ensure that dessert isn't interrupted by a DEA raid.
"In Colorado, we can’t necessarily market our events like other businesses," remarks Norris.
The regulatory laws on the books bar weed companies from directly advertising medical and recreational cannabis to anyone under 21. Our adult-contemporary weed dinner goes down within a legal gray area, despite Norris' good-natured intentions and the enchanting glow of a golden hour sunset.
Forgetting about the complicated hurdles weed has yet to leap before it can become fully legal, and focusing instead on the here and now––we scooped our bags from Sweet Leaf, a downtown Denver retail marijuana store, and one of the presenting sponsors of the event.
The hour-long shuttle (re: party bus) ride goes by fast. As we exit city limits en route to Longmont, three stripper poles stand unused, separating end-to-end leather seating. Smartly dressed, 420-friendly, dinner guests occupy each seat. It's hard to tell if the mix of seemingly upwardly mobile millennials, weed-tech bros, dispensary owners, budtenders, journalists, and a family of three that falls asleep like, five minutes into the ride, is as curated as tonight's menu; or if this is just what Denver's cannabis community looks like.
Baker, a software company whose mobile app connects cannabis consumers and medical marijuana patients with dispensaries stocking their favorite strains, brought its entire staff to the dinner, to cap-off a company retreat.
The bus arrives at the venue, and guests are handed a cold "Arnold Palmer" lemonade tea, infused with a low dosage—2.5 milligrams—of THC.
"It’s been fun trying to find more refreshing, or ‘energetic’ foods to pair with the indica strains," says Norris.
The evening's herb pairings: O.G. Kush and Berkel, are pre-loaded into Pax vaporizers and passed around to sample. Catering staff attend to guests with trays of ornately constructed hor d'oeuvres. We pack up a one-hitter from our party bag (which comes with a lock-and-key I misplace periodically throughout the night) with some Berkel, and consume it openly. I light a blunt for a man old enough to be my dad. I can't tell if background music from the onsite band is meant to placate him or soothe me.
A dinner bell rings, and guests take their seats around two long community tables. Norris, and reps from the sponsor brands, are introduced by Jane West––a longtime proponent of women in the weed industry, and an early supporter of Mason Jar Event Group. As Norris tells it, West's organization, Women Grow, which champions women in leadership and executive roles within the nascent industry, was inspirational and instrumental in her own company's launch.
“We’ve evolved in layers,” Norris tells The KIND. “Each event, there are more layers to figure out––the venue, music, kitchen staff––we’re taking this idea and just building on it each time. We started with 50 [guests] at our first event, and have inched our way up. Tonight has 90 guests.”
Taking the microphone, Norris tells guests of Mason Jar's dreamy origin story––a clear vision not so far off from our current surroundings. Her words are met with a round of applause. The band starts up again. The sun falls a little lower in the sky. A puff follows a puff. A pipe is passed in my direction. And dinner is served.
Grilled pork with couscous and farm-fresh vegetables pair well with Norris's weed selections, but the meal would stand on its own, even if served sans dank nugs. The other thing about food this good (and actually weed, too), is that it brings people together, lowers inhibitions.
Which is when it hits me. Yes, I'm high. Of course. The budtender with better health insurance had to show me how to open a CBD-infused chocolate bar. The state's child-proof packaging also keeps out 27-year-old weed writers from East L.A. But I'm not blazed in the traditional sense. I'm riding the wave of one of those revelatory, weed-induced moments where sensory overload is a stone's throw away from desired stimuli. Moments later, I hardly remember the 5 to 10 seconds it took me to eat dessert––a fruit cobbler served on vanilla ice cream––but I know I enjoyed it.
Can cranberry and apple cobbler cause a person to black out? Was I just successfully marketed to? Or does Norris just know the right thing, or two, about throwing a cannabis pairings dinner party?
I answer the latter of the three questions a resounding yes. Put away my camera. Light a cigarette. Listen to the band. And look out over the vast Colorado landscape.
It isn't until we're halfway back to Denver in a seemingly mobile T-Pain video, that i fully appreciate the rave on wheels. After dark, allegedly, and while us weed-dinner guests were getting lit, our shuttle got turnt as hell––Strobe lights and a Top 40 playlist playing over the surround-sound, make the situation feel less Magic School Bus, more Magic City ATL.
Even though the napping family from our trip out here is nowhere to be seen, the shuttle is again out of open seats. I sit on the top stair, at the entrance, just behind the driver; and spend the next 45 minutes getting lost in the previous six hours.
All photos by Silas Dunham and Ben Parker Karris for The KIND.