The dank diplomat
SN&R columnist Ngaio Bealum’s new Netflix show has him Cooking on High
When Ngaio Bealum got the call to serve as the resident expert for Netflix’s new weed cooking show, the answer was obvious. With more than 30 years of cannabis know-how to his name, the stand-up comic, activist and columnist (for SN&R’s weekly Ask 420 column, of course), just might be the best thing about Cooking on High. The 12-episode reality competition show is hosted by YouTube celebrity Josh Leyva, and each 15-minute episode features celebrity judges and two chefs blazing up the stove with cannabis-infused dishes. Top Chef, it’s not. Bealum took a few minutes from his busy schedule as a weed ambassador to discuss all things cannabis, such as the best ways to light up a dish and why it’s important to remember legalization’s activist roots.
How would you describe your role on the show? To me it’s like you’re the Tim Gunn of weed.
I’m the Tim Gunn, the Ted Allen, the Alton Brown. I talk about how to cook [with weed], how to decarbonate it; how cannabis is metabolized in the body.
The show features a disclaimer stating the cannabis used is only for medicinal purposes—is that because it isn’t legal at the federal level?
Because of [the feds] and because this show has international viewers, too. People are also still skittish about using it.
Are there still a lot of myths and misconceptions about weed?We’re still fighting 70-some years of bad propaganda and racist propaganda [but] people are more open to the idea of it being no big deal—it’s like booze or aspirin. We haven’t gotten a lot of pushback on the show … although I have received a few notes about how we’re glorifying the more playful aspects of weed and I’m like, “What? You don’t hear anyone criticizing Drunk History for that same thing.”
Is that something you’ve ever worried about—playing up the so-called “playful” aspects of stoner culture?
Definitely, for a time I’d [think], “Stop giving weed a bad name … stop playing into stereotypes.” But as I get older and think about things, and am involved in activism, I realize that the people who hate weed are going to hate weed no matter what. You can dress it up, but you’re not going to change their mind.
Anything about making the show surprise you?
I was super pleasantly surprised at the caliber of all of the chefs on the show. Brandon [Coates] can cook his ass off; Andrea [Drummer] is a savage beast. There was also a true variety of meals presented—from French toast to French onion soup or quinoa.
Some of the judges commented they liked the way a dish tasted when they couldn’t taste the weed, while others said the weed taste is what they liked. Where do you fall on the taste spectrum?
I’m a proponent of being able to taste a little weed because I want a reminder that I’m eating weed. I know that it can have a cumulative effect and then all of a sudden I’m high as a kite. It’s the same reason I prefer hard alcohol to those sweet and fruity drinks.
On the show, the chefs generally use cannabis butter or oil in their dishes—are there are other ways to cook with weed?
There are other ways to cook with cannabis: you can sprinkle some hash on a dish, like an herb, or pour hash oil into the batter. But, generally speaking, cannabis oils and butters are the most assured way of getting a good high. Back in the day, you’d just pour a bunch of marijuana into your brownie batter and your brownies would taste like hay. We’re more refined now.
How much food did you actually sample on set?
We’d shoot three or four shows a day, so you don’t see me eating a lot. I’d sneak a few bites, but a few of the [judges] were maybe passed out in the green room. We had a couple of couches, so there were naps.
I’ve found that recommended dosages on edibles can be misleading.
Some people are more sensitive to it; it goes through the liver and there are so many different factors in regards to absorption: whether you’ve had a lot of food to eat, or is your liver full of fat? It’s so hard to judge what a particular food will do for you. I recommend 5-10 milligrams for 100 pounds of body weight.
Is it possible to overindulge on edibles?
I had an existential crisis on a Greyhound bus from eating too much weed! My tip for new cookers and new weed-eaters is to have fun and be yourself. Eat a little bit at first, you can always eat more but you can’t eat less. And have coffee on hand. If you have some high-CBD flowers as well, it counteracts the effects of the THC.
Each episode is only about 15 minutes long—why is that?
We’re stoners; we have a short attention span.
I just got back from the International Cannabis Business Conference where I was an emcee. We were also in Berlin and Vancouver and we’re going to be in Barcelona and then Berlin again. The Seattle Hempfest is coming up and then we’ll be doing a “Comedy Burger” show at the MoMo Lounge [upstairs at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub] on July 22. This one’s something dab-a-licious; we’ll talk about weed more often than we usually do.
It’s like you’re this weed ambassador, traveling the world to educate others …
I have managed to carve out a career, but it’s taken a while to become the dank diplomat. I’ve been a standup comic for 30 years so [talking about weed] was already in my act … Now I’m in alt-weeklies and I travel around and talk about weed. I’ve dedicated my life to this.
Let’s talk about the activism aspect of this.
I think we need to remember that cannabis legalization started in the social justice movement; it was started to keep people out of jail, to keep small growers solvent without fear of jail. We didn’t start legalization so that random people can show up with a million dollars and corner the market. We need to keep social justice in mind and remember to do good.