The first year of cannabis legalization in California concluded in December with the approval of eight consumption lounges and restaurants in West Hollywood. The premium brand Lowell Herb Co. scored one of the licenses, and the company has already signed a lease for a rooftop restaurant, Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, that hopes to open this summer. Underground cannabis pop-ups are popular throughout all the states that legalized cannabis, but this will be the first brick-and-mortar cannabis restaurant in the state, if not the country. Speaking of pop-ups, Andrea Drummer is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who has hosted culinary cannabis events since 2012 through her Elevation VIP Cooperative, and Lowell Farms recruited the veteran chef to run the kitchen and create a Californian farm-centric menu with optional THC and CBD infusions. PRØHBTD spoke with Chef Drummer to learn more.
Did you plan the restaurant together with Lowell Herb, or did they approach you about being the chef afterwards?
Well, it was very organic. When I started Elevation VIP, it was to educate consumers about ingesting cannabis from real foods. When doing these series of dinners and events, I had a partnership with Lowell Herb Co. As they were providing products for my events, they just organically approached me and said, "Hey, you know, let's build this thing and create something here in the States where it's now possible." Of course I jumped on it because, from day one, I've absolutely loved their brand, the things they are doing and the place they picked for the restaurant. It's just natural for me to partner with an entity that is about all of the things I care about.
The original announcement made a big splash in the local press. Has there been any pushback from the city or any attempts to slow down the development since the announcement went public?
Not that I'm aware of. It's important for us to just be compliant with the city and the state law and to do it properly. More than any pushback, it's about getting it right and setting a standard for anyone moving forward, for any other city, municipality or state that has legalization. I guess, for me personally, I'm just so excited that I'm not focusing on any negativity.
That's a really good point about setting a national standard. This is the first restaurant of its kind that I've known. What kind of responsibility do you feel for setting a good example that would encourage other cities to allow such restaurants and lounges to be open to the public?
I do feel an enormous sense of responsibility. It's like a celebrity being in front of millions of people saying, "I'm not a role model," but, you know, you are. We are setting a standard to something that has never happened in this way. For me, it's always been important to maintain a level of integrity as it relates to informing and educating the consumer, and all of those things carry over into this project, into this café, into our partnership. It's not different for me—that's always been important and it will continue to be so—and we'll continue to grow in it. Anyone who has one of those licenses should feel an enormous sense of responsibility—and there should be—not only to the city of West Hollywood but to the country. There are eyes on us in doing this and executing it. We owe it to West Hollywood to do right by it.
Things will obviously evolve and change between now and the opening, but how do you plan to incorporate cannabis into the food? Will you use cannabutter, oil tinctures or maybe even the plant leaves as an ingredient for flavor?
It's important for us to not only use THC to elevate the experience, if you will, but also for wellness purposes and to educate the consumer about proper dosing. We'll use cannabis in different ways and with different applications, including CBD oils, infused butter, infused oils, tinctures and add-ons. We'll use different ways to apply, but it is important to allow the consumer to have options.
Will it be a regular dish that you just add a tincture to or will there be dishes where it's actually worked into the base ingredients?
Do you know if the space will have a smoking room if somebody wanted to pair their food with a joint or a vape?
Again, the importance for us is that we are compliant with the city and state laws. We are still communicating with them at length to make sure that we are compliant, and we will see what that looks like and how that unfolds.
Your guests will include people who have been smoking for years as well as newcomers to the plant. As far as the newcomers, what would be the most important educational element of cannabis you would want to communicate to them through your food?
Proper dosing, of course. Education is our primary concern, and it means making sure that a person's first time is a safe, comfortable and mild cannabis experience. We're clear about that, and it's something I've been doing since 2012, so this isn't a new concept.
When I was a first timer, my first experience wasn't horrible, but I'm not interested in being elevated for six, seven, eight hours. It's important that that guest has a very comfortable experience. For my first experience in 2012, I made a soup and grilled cheese for myself, and it was a very long, long night. I had to educate myself, and I want that experience to carry over to the guests. I have done that in all of my dinners with Elevation VIP so it's just an extension of me. This partnership evolved, but it's still just a continuation of what I've been doing.
Do you know what type of cuisine you will focus on?
Well, I am classically trained. I love French techniques, and I am from the South, which features a lot of that technique. I just learned more about it and where it's derived from and so I became more versed when I went to culinary school. Also, a lot of California farm-to-table fare, which is apropos, is locally grown and seasonal. The food won't be all over the place, but I want to introduce culture as well because I feel like cannabis and food are so communal, and it's important to include community and what that looks like here in California.
One of the things I want to implement is a cultural night once a week or once a month to introduce a cuisine from a different nation or culture. More or less, it will be what my guests who dine with me are familiar with: an interesting take on French-inspired Cajun and Creole but with some extras thrown in as well.
On your Instagram feed, you seem to work with many diverse styles, including Middle Eastern. Your falafel looks amazing. Do you think you will have some of those dishes on the menu as well?
Yes. I think that is so important. Food bridges the gap between any differences that we may have. It's so important to experience each other through food. It makes us more compassionate. It makes us more understanding, more empathetic and more open to experiencing each other.
You come from a very spiritual family that includes ministers. Were they open to cannabis before you got involved in it or were you a major part of their evolution?
Absolutely they were not. It wasn't even a consideration, and it took about a year and a half before I got up the nerve to share with them what I was up to. Yes, I am a major part of their evolution, and seeing that possibility and seeing my own evolution, I know that it's plausible for the rest of the country. Yeah, so, they have come around. I mean, no one is smoking or ingesting edibles, but at least they are open, and I have gotten some family members to at least try CBD, which they are fans of.
Can you describe that first conversation with your family?
I was so nervous. My sisters, my mom and I do a girls' retreat every year, and we were talking about natural remedies, which has always been a thing with our family. My mom has a garden of aloe plants and different things around the yard that she would boil for home remedies. We were talking about natural remedies, and I was like, "Okay, here's a good segue way. Speaking of natural remedies… I am infusing cannabis.
My sister said, "Well, the bible says, 'The leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations.'" I was completely taken aback, and that was when we talked about it. For the duration of that trip, they had questions, and we had conversations about it, and I explained the things I had learned since I've been in the industry. I think there is still an association to cannabis being a gateway drug, and once we dispelled that myth—we continued to dispel it as an ongoing dialogue, not just one conversation—we crossed the threshold. I'm grateful for their openness.
If you were speaking to somebody outside your family, how would you argue that responsible cannabis consumption is compatible with Christian-Judeo values? What is the argument for a church-going, bible-reading Christian to smoke cannabis without it being a violation of their faith?
It's not for me to judge. I feel like I could make the argument that cannabis is safer than some of the medications they're prescribed by their physician or practitioner and that would be the argument. I wouldn't feel comfortable arguing anyone's religion or personal belief. I would argue and advocate for the cannabis plant.
For a lot of culinary cannabis, people isolate either THC or CBD for the infusions or the add-ons. Do you plan to isolate other cannabinoids or terpenes as well for different dishes?
I do, and I will in my test kitchen. I look forward to that experience of having a kitchen and testing all these different recipes and different terpenes and cannabinoids.
Do you already have a sous chef and line cooks in mind, or what would be the process for staffing up the kitchen?
We're a bit away from that, but I do currently work with a sous chef. She has been a complete godsend, and she's an amazing young lady who actually sought me out. She was working in Oakland at the time, but then she was working with me on a project in New York when I introduced the CBD menu to the James Hotel in NoMad. Other than that, I'm over the moon about being able to hire people in this industry and do something they are passionate about and that just isn't heard of. Who would have thought that you could be employed in this culinary industry in this capacity? Every day I get people messaging me on Instagram, "Are you hiring?" or "When are you hiring?" I look forward to the day I post, "Hey, we're hiring now!" That really warms my heart.
One of the amazing things I saw you were doing on the medical side is creating food for cancer patients. Would you have any bandwidth to be able to continue doing that through the new restaurant?
Oh, absolutely. I want to introduce liquid food and recipes that support cancer patients. Again, it's all an extension of what I have been doing, and Lowell is so onboard with it. Like I said, that is why they asked me to be a part of this. I just want to add things on [to what I've been doing] that will make it even better.
The renders of the space remind me of Catch, E.P. & L.P and the other popular restaurants in WeHo right now. Were you blown away when you saw the renders?
Yes. I thought, "Oh my god, it's a thing." I'm still excited. I'm also nervous because I feel the weight of it all and how much it matters to the community. I did a panel the other day at UCLA, and the response to those renderings was overwhelming. I went through all those different emotions all over again. I'm excited about it, and I know I have to do right by it.