Bong Appetit: Cook Off and the Rise of Marijuana Cooking Competition Shows
I’m a chef and I don’t love cooking competition shows. I don’t want to watch one, I don’t want to be on one; I live my own version of a competition every time I cook for a client.
One says, “I know you said to give you a twenty-minute warning but we want to eat now.”
“Five more people have arrived, I hope you have enough food.”
“Oh, I know I said to put the fish on but we are actually going to wait for another hour to eat.”
So no, I don’t come home after a long shift and wish to watch my life unfold for the chance of either $10,000 or ultimate humiliation. I sit down with a box of macaroni and cheese, a big glass of wine and I fall asleep to Family Guy; sometimes with that bowl in my lap and that glass still in my hand.
Pass the Ingredients to the Left-Hand Side
Bong Appetit: Cook Off has changed my mind. This isn’t some high-stress (ahem) show that leaves viewers with sweat running down their brows. No cruelty or trickery or faux alliances with double crossing here. This is a show about cooking, with weed, for an audience of pot connoisseurs. Everyone is happy to be there.
The rise of marijuana cooking shows is yet another nail in the coffin of the War on Drugs. As the country moves away from this problematic policy and tries to untangle weed from the snarl of the “drug” label; states pass laws to lessen the crime or eliminate it completely, authors write books, and people who make TV shows make TV shows. The renaissance of Mary Jane has arrived.
Originally presented as a fancy cooking show on Vice TV, Bong Appetit has been revamped as a competition show for season three, which began April 2nd. B-Real of Cypress Hill is accompanied by Vanessa Lavorato, founder of Marigold Sweets, and restauranteur-chef Miguel Trinidad. About mid-way through the show a celebrity guest judge, who I found to be underused and way too high to add anything to the show, joins them.
Bong Appetit has all of the elements of a good cooking competition: three trained chefs, restricted cooking times, beautiful food porn, and knowledgeable judges who are super high. The premise is simple; cook a dish with a specific marijuana strain, infusion, terpene, or CBD, with a catch, of course. No one has ever really cooked with weed before, at least not like this. When time is up in the first round, the contestants present their dishes to the judges while sitting down! The “losers” get to sit with the judges and smoke out if they want to, an excellent consolation prize. But, as B-Real says, “There can only be one winner.”
The judges assess each dish on both flavor and composition, but also how well the chefs incorporate marijuana. The winner gets the opportunity to select their favorite ingredient from a list of three from the “hot box.” Again, an opportunity for generosity rears its head.
“I know Josephine wanted the chicken so I’m going to choose the eggplant,” said a high competitor who’d just won the first challenge.
Josephine, an Italian-Nona type, she takes to the stove and says, “I have an open mind and everything, I’m not an old-fashioned girl.” Her son serves as her official flavor taster, as she does not partake.
I get the sense the producers take pride in having people like her on the show. As much as this show is about cooking and getting high, it’s also about changing the minds of Americans and freeing us from our puritanical fear of marijuana.
But where Bong Appetit works to elevate the conversation, Cooking on High from Netflix, is not, as they say, “high art.”
My notes tell the viewer all they need to know; “fucking stoners,” is my take away. I actually took the time to draw an eye-roll emoji.
The show is much like any competition show, with short cooking times and surprise ingredients. But in Cooking On High, only one of the competitors has cooked with marijuana before. I like this twist, but functionally it makes things a little awkward. Cooking On High is awkward in general. It has low production value and does little to assuage the stereotype that pot smokers are moronic.
I have a relatively open mind about marijuana, but I was raised by a mother who insisted that my father wasn’t around because of that reefer madness. It made him irresponsible and unavailable, she told me. Then I grew up and learned that his marijuana intake was a symptom of a larger issue. Like wine or food, it was a crutch that some people use to help them through life. Sometimes they take it too far and like all things good, there’s the chance of having too much.
But Bong Appetit celebrates this new golden age of almost-legal marijuana. In two out of the three episodesI watched, the winner declared, “I never win anything!” Ultimately maybe this is the reason I love this show; the losers win. It’s not about who competed more aptly, who was a worse person—this show is about peace, love, and the munchies. All the things that make weed great.