Chef Tom Coohill doesn't drug test his employees because if he did, "I wouldn’t have any employees – including myself." (Via Coohills)

Denver chef Tom Coohill talks pot in workplace, rock club, bedroom

Having sex while high. Cooking while stoned. Understanding prog rock band Rush more thoroughly via altered brain chemistry. That’s what Denver chef Tom Coohill is talking about as he sits in his popular LoDo restaurant’s fashionable bar listening to Radiohead and sipping on a pint.

“I cannot work high,” said Coohill, chef owner of Coohills. “I’ve never tried it, but I just don’t function well when I’m smoking. You know, handling knives and everything … I don’t wanna say I’m clumsy, but I think it could be dangerous and I’d cut myself or burn myself. I couldn’t likely make a grilled cheese.”

Coohill is best known for his contemporary French cuisine, his chalkboard of playful “Chef’s Rules” hanging by the chef’s table, his industrious and business-savvy wife and partner Diane and his well-publicized love of Canada’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll sons Rush. But Coohill is also a fan of Mary Jane. He’s not a regular smoker, but he enjoys it on occasion — mostly as an accompaniment to the music that soundtracks his life.

We caught up with Coohill to chat about that music, his liberal feelings about pot in the workplace and that weird and wild night in 1979 in Bowling Green, Ky., when he smoked his first joint.

Cannabist: So your first encounter with marijuana was … ?

Coohill: I think I was 16, maybe in high school. That was in the late-70s, ’79 I think, and it was pretty prevalent back then. It was the drug of choice. There was opium, LSD and everything else, but there weren’t as many drugs as there are now. Everybody could go to parties, and they’d drink and smoke weed. I never really bought it — maybe a couple times. But everybody I knew always had it.

Weed aficionados: The Cannabist will occasionally profile business and creative leaders who are passionate about marijuana. Pitch ideas to Cannabist editor Ricardo Baca here.

Cannabist: Do you remember your first impressions of pot?

Coohill: Yeah, I enjoyed it quite a bit. But I also knew then that I’m not the type of guy who can smoke pot and drive a car, ‘cos I will totally ignore the fact that there’s a stop sign there. I’m zoned out.

Cannabist: So you’ve been a professional chef for most of your life, yet you don’t mix the two – cooking and pot. What do your most often pair your marijuana with?

Coohill: Music. There are things I hear in music (when I’m high) that I don’t even remotely hear otherwise. It makes me focused, so much. If I’m listening to music when I’m high, I hear everything. And when I’m not high, I hear what I heard. It makes me understand the music, the riffs, everything else. It’s amazing.

Cannabist: How does cannabis differ from alcohol in your opinion?

Coohill: You’re way more focused with marijuana. It’s so relaxing – it’s the most relaxing drug in my experience. When you drink – and I like to drink, too – you’re putting all this liquid into your body. You’re bloating yourself. With pot, it’s a different kind of high. Pot is also cheaper: I can spend $50 and I’m looking at it and thinking, ‘That’ll last a year.’

Cannabist: Have you been to a recreational pot shop yet?

Coohill: No, but I need to go to the pot store and talk with them about what all these different strains do — and find my own. That fascinates me. And I also need to get a vaporizer. From what I understand they get all the tar out of it. If you eat pot, you have to get the right kind and the right amount and dosage.

Cannabist: Do you agree with Colorado voters that pot should be legal?

Coohill: I do. The state can get revenue off it. It’ll keep people out of prison. It’ll get the drug trafficking of that particular drug off the chart. And for most people it’s enough of a drug, and they don’t need to go to cocaine or something else more severe. Some say pot is a gateway drug, but I don’t believe it. I’ve never wanted to try heroin. I’ve never had that feeling at all. It’s going to save a lot of money and a lot of lives.

Cannabist: Do you think all drugs should be legal?

Coohill: I agree that some drugs probably shouldn’t be legal. I did cocaine once, and it was the worst experience in my life. I’ll never do it again.

Cannabist: Now that marijuana’s so readily available, do you think it will impact the way you use it?

Coohill: When pot was illegal, it was too much of a hassle to bother with. If my friend was over and we smoked a joint, it was because he had it. Now that it’s fully legal, I will experiment with cooking at home and thinking about cooking some more.

Read the rest of The Cannabist’s interview with chef Tom Coohill here