Jane West of Edible Events holds a platter of chicken parm lollipops prepared by Three Tomatoes Catering at the Space Gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)

Cannabis-themed dinners: “I can taste every ingredient” indeed

By Kris Browning-Blas, The Denver Post

Editor’s note: The inaugural dinner was Friday, Jan. 24 at the Space Gallery, 756 Santa Fe Drive.

You won’t need to be high to appreciate how the savory crunch of chile-rubbed bacon contrasts with the velvety cream of sweet corn soup at the inaugural cannabis-themed dinner hosted by Edible Events, but the entire menu was created with an “enhanced” experience in mind.

The food won’t have marijuana in it, but at this BYOC (yep, cannabis) event, guests who consume the stuff will find the food especially stimulating, says organizer Amy Dannemiller, a.k.a. her “cannabis name” Jane West, who started the monthly Edible Events series as a more sophisticated alternative to what she terms the “ganja gone wild” parties around Denver.

“So far, I haven’t found a single event I want to go to,” says West, who would fit right in at a PTA meeting or suburban book club. “I want to bring women into this really male-based scene.”

The 37-year-old event planner conducted focus groups in her well-to-do neighborhood, sharing cannabis-infused beverages, granola and chocolate with a variety of female friends — and noting the effects.

“My little focus groups in Cherry Hills are having a great time,” says West. “THC intensifies sensation. It makes you clearer and crisper on certain things. One friend said, ‘I keep vibrating,’ while another obsessed on the food: ‘I can taste every ingredient.’”

So West, who has planned events for non-profits for the past 15 years, had an idea: Maybe the legalized weed scene would pave the way for her to create the parties she had always dreamed of.

The first in her monthly dinner series at the Space Gallery, 756 Santa Fe Drive, will have an end-of-Prohibition theme with food from Three Tomatoes Catering designed to appeal to the stoned (and the sober) palate.

Executive chef Matt Boyington is not a marijuana user but says he enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a “munchies for foodies” menu that includes blue cheese meatballs, chicken Parmesan lollipops and steak-jalapeño poppers.

“From what I’ve heard, people get cravings for snack food,” says Boyington. “So I came up with different flavors, different textures, savory, salty items that people would enjoy anyways.”

Not everyone at the party will be high. West thinks the event will appeal to couples with one smoking partner and one non-user, and she does plan to serve wine, beer and old-fashioned cocktails.

“Marijuana is not the new prescription drug, it’s the new wine,” says West. “It should be paired with meals. Look at the articles on wine: take out ‘wine’ and sub in ‘weed,’ take out ‘grapes’ and sub in ‘buds.’ It works.”

Like any fancy catered event, the munchies, er, hors d’oeuvres, will be served by roaming, uniformed servers and chefs will cook the meatballs, brie quesadillas and shortrib sandwiches at interactive stations throughout the gallery. And to alleviate cottonmouth (or just quench a non-drinker’s thirst), Boyington has created an apple-ginger elixir.

In her focus groups, West found that people’s reactions to being high varied, but they all got thirsty.

“Some were into the food, some were really into the music, others are more visual when they’re under the influence, and so the concept is to all of that together to stimulate all of your senses.”

That’s why she chose an art gallery for the setting.

Gallery owner Michael Burnett has hosted plenty of parties in his urban space with some of off-the-record behavior, but he says West “brings a real class to the event. I think the whole experience will be a visual feast and a feast for the senses, all the way around.”

The first Edible Event will be held in the current Space Gallery, and the rest at the gallery’s new location at 400 Santa Fe Drive, which was built to host art-related private events of all kinds.
To make sure she’s adhering to the new laws, West will not offer any cannabis products to guests. They will be able to eat their own edibles and “vape” inside the gallery (“vaping” is inhaling marijuana through an electronic cigarette or vaporizer). Those who prefer to smoke can do so in a private vehicle parked outside the gallery, to comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.

Coming from a culture in which women freely talk about their need for a Xanax while drinking wine at neighborhood gatherings, West thinks her approach might be a healthier alternative.

“People think, ‘Oh, I tried that once in college and I hated it.’ If you smoked some awful weed 20 years ago, maybe you don’t realize the benefits this could offer you, and when you get over 35, that bottle of wine hurts a lot the next morning,” says West.

“There are so many women who open up a bottle of wine and the cork never goes back in at the end of the night,” adds Abby Schissler, the event planner from Three Tomatoes Catering who designed the party with West. “This market is going to boom come January 1, so why not make it a whole culinary experience?”

Her boss, Riccardo Mazzeo, says he gave the concept some thought before going forward.

“I won’t deny I was a little bit concerned at first, it’s such a hot political topic, but the whole idea is so innovative, elegant and progressive. It’s great to be part of a historical moment. We as the caterer are doing our part to provide an experience,” says Mazzeo, who bought Three Tomatoes Catering from founders Peggy Beck and Joanne Katz earlier this year.

“This whole event is about the food — I am catering to a cultivated clientele,” West says with a wink. “There will be no six-foot bongs at this event.”