A New York chef is striving to create a “beautiful ritual” around the consumption of cannabis – using oregano as a substitute in classes he teaches in prohibition states.

Through a series of classes at The Brooklyn Kitchen, chef Michael Cirino of the foodie firm A Razor, A Shiny Knife, is turning amateur cannabis cooks into connoisseurs with what he calls “non-traditional methods” of incorporating the herb into food and beverage. This involves integrating cannabis into carefully dosed alcohol extracts or fat infusions that can conceivably be used in any dish. In other words, this ain’t your traditional THC-loaded tray of brownies.

“What I realized was that wine and cocktails and coffee and chocolate, all these vices that are socially acceptable, have these very elegant rituals attached to them. And since cannabis has been in prohibition for so long… there’s not that same kind of interest and understanding for the consumption and enjoyment of cannabis,” Cirino told Civilized.

“We’re trying to give people another option instead of making cookies or brownies or smoking a bong; to kind of socialize the consumption of [cannabis],” says Cirino, who has been working with cannabis for roughly a decade. 

The only catch? Since cannabis use is still illegal in the state of New York, you obviously can’t use it in class. Instead, Cirino substitutes herbs like oregano, tarragon and wormwood, in hopes that in a few years, his students will be able to (legally) experiment with the real thing.   

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“One of the things I focus on in the class is the idea of best practices, and respecting the ingredient and respecting your guests," he says. "It’s part of thinking through that prohibition, respecting it because that’s the society we live in while still kind of protesting and spreading high levels of knowledge in a way that can actually add value instead of just break the law.”

Cirino says herbs like oregano, tarragon and wormwood, while dissimilar in taste to cannabis, have a comparable moisture level and response rate to the temperature.

“I’m trying to teach people processes and techniques… so they can apply them on their own in a knowledgeable way. I’m not going to tell you I have the best brownie recipe, but I'll teach you how to use cannabis in a way that if you have a very good brownie recipe, you can actually make it better.”

Cirino believes the way that many people have been taught to cook with cannabis is unreliable, and can even end up being quite wasteful. The mission of a good cannabis cook, he says, should not be to squeeze out as much of the THC as possible while obtaining the least amount of flavour – particularly since the dosage in a tray of treats when it hasn’t been properly measured can be all over the map. Instead, cooks should learn to “actually prepare the weed better, [so] you can make it delicious and enjoy its consumption in addition to its effects.”

A lot of this comes down to how the cannabis undergoes decarboxylation, or as Cirino puts it, “the process for turning cannabis on and getting it to a place where you can actually feel the psychoactive effects.” It’s something that happens automatically when cannabis is incinerated, he says, but when you’re cooking with it, “it’s something you have to do thoughtfully” through precise roasting and processing methods.

Make consuming a ritual like drinking coffee

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For Cirino, it all comes down to fostering new and innovative ways to consume and enjoy cannabis.

“There’s so many ways to drink a cup of coffee, and there’s so many ways to make a cup of coffee," he says."People enjoy the ritual of making the coffee, the ritual of consuming the coffee, the ritual of finding expert coffee shops or roasters to go have that process somewhere…and they also enjoy the psychoactive effects of caffeine,” says Cirino.

“For me, cannabis needs to get to that same kind of sociological place over the next 10 or 15 years and be removed from just this small tight bubble that puts it right next to vodka or 151 rum or just trying to get as fucked up as possible.”

You listen to some of our conversation below. He spoke to us from a job site in New York, so our chat is punctuated by the sounds of street. We start by talking about what inspired him to start these these cooking classes.

Cirino’s next class is on Sept. 26 at The Brooklyn Kitchen, 100 Frost St., in Brooklyn. The cost is $95.