Chef Unika Noiel, canna-cooking connoisseur
Chef Unika Noiel, canna-cooking connoisseur Unika Noiel

Seattle’s Unika Noiel, head chef of the Pioneer Square Italian restaurant Che Sara Sara, is also one of the city’s foremost experts on cooking cannabis-infused food. Whereas most retail edibles are sweet, like cookies and gummy worms, Noiel’s infusions are more of the soul food variety, ranging from fried chicken to catfish to watermelon salad.

Using a combination of traditionally made weed butter and an infused flour, which she invented, Noiel has hosted what she calls “Luvn Kitchn Fellowship” dinners for much of 2017, inviting guests to her restaurant and cooking private, invite-only, multi-course cannabis-infused meals. However, after Seattle Weekly reported on Noiel’s dinners, officials from the city told her to cease and desist last month. But with Thanksgiving—or, as she calls is, “Danksgiving”—fast approaching, Noiel has been trying to figure out a way to keep up her momentum cooking with cannabis for friends while also steering clear of any violations with the city.

We spoke to Noiel about the Fellowship series, as well as her upcoming “Danksgiving Day” menu, which will be hosted at an undisclosed location for friends and family. (You can find her recipes for weed butter, candied yams, and cornbread here.)

When was your first weed-infused Thanksgiving?
Three years ago I made my first weed-infused peach cobbler and the following year I took one of those to my family on Thanksgiving. But as far as a big weed-infused dinner, I haven’t done this before. This year will be my first!

What’s on the menu?
It’s going to be the Thanksgiving staples my family and I usually enjoy, like mac and cheese and cornbread dressing, which is like traditional stuffing that hasn’t been stuffed inside the bird. I like to make mine with cornbread instead of breadcrumbs or bread cubes. I’m also going to make candied yams, collared greens, and a dessert. I’m still finalizing the menu. Thanksgiving is harder than other dinners because there’s so many courses!

What advice would you give to a home cook trying to spice up the holidays with a little weed infusion?
Moderation is key. Don’t get too excited and eat too much too fast. That’s the best way to bring your night to an early end—because you’ll be asleep. I always tell people, “You can always consume more, but you can’t undo the damage once it’s been done.” I also like to tell people to wait at least 30 minutes before going for round two, especially if you’re new to edibles. Get a little bit and wait 30 minutes or so and see how you feel. Some people take up to two hours for it to kick in. It depends on what you’re eating and how your body metabolizes it.

Are there some foods that digest quicker than others?
THC gets trapped by the fats when you cook it, like oil, coconut oil and butter, so the more fat you consume, the more it absorbs in your body quicker. And if you mix alcohol with cannabis, your body processes it different as well. At dinners, I don’t like to combine the two because it becomes a totally different animal.

Got any easy tips for cooking with weed or making weed butter?
When cooking, I personally prefer using oil because I just end up cooking more with oil than butter. But either is fine. People should know that you could burn the canna-butter if you get the butter (or oil) too hot. That’s why I stress cooking it on low and keeping it on low. If you raise the temperature, it raises the possibility of you browning the butter and burning the weed, which would give a different taste to everything. And you can cook out the THC if you cook it on too high of a temperature for too long. For recipes that call for butter, you can sub canna-butter one-to-one or cut it depending on how strong you want your final product.

What’s the latest with your Luvn Kitchn Fellowship dinners?
The city came in and gave me a notice saying basically where I messed up was that I was hosting the dinners under my business, Luvn Kitchn. I’m using my business license at Che Sara Sara, so I’m an active business. And as far as the city is concerned, an active businesses without a 502 license means I can’t do anything cannabis related, operating as Luvn Kitchen, in a public place. So what I’ve done is scale back and I’m going to host my dinners in private settings for people who are interested in hosting them and attending a private dinner.

Did the city send you a cease and desist?
There was an email chain that was forwarded to me about the story that appeared in the paper. Then two to three days later, two representatives from the City Finance Office came to Che Sara Sara and delivered me a letter that was very technical. But he said there was “no framework for what you’re doing, so we’re going to have to ask you to cease and desist.” The only rule the city or state has is that cannabis in edible form has to come from someone with a processor license who sells those edibles in a state sanctioned store. There are no other provisions.

How do you feel about that?
I think it’s not great [laughs]. To see the number of chefs cooking with cannabis and doing these dinners all over the country and being someone who is trying to bring the same thing to Seattle, it bothers me. Being that there are so many people moving to Seattle and they’re already used to this idea makes us seem behind the times— especially when it’s something the state hasn’t even considered yet. I’m very interested to help change the current state of cooking with cannabis. I’ve been doing research on what other states do—there are different rules but it seems like lots of chefs have been able to create a bit of a model. There’s even people looking into opening weed cafes in places like California and Colorado. I’m just hoping we can open up that conversation and join the momentum. There’s no reason for us not to.

Have you ever considered moving from Seattle because of all this?
I’ve considered it more and more recently. Mostly out of jealousy and seeing what it seems like the freedom is people are having in places like California. On Instagram, I’m seeing the same tools I was using for my dinners, but the city told me to stop growing that part of my business.

What’s your hope for the relationship between weed, cooking, and the city?
I’m hoping that it becomes something we don’t have to do behind closed doors. As a chef, I’m always looking for something new, a place to be creative. I would love to be able to invite the public to competitions with other chefs or offer different cooking classes and not be afraid of something because I’m facing a fine of some ridiculous proportion.

Wait, let’s get back to Danksgiving! What are you going to bite into first?
Probably the cornbread dressing. I’ll have a little bit of cranberry sauce next to it.

How do you plan your attack for seconds?
I try not to load up on plate too much in the beginning. Instead, I just go for what I want the most. Then I go back. But I try not to get myself too stuffed. Once I’m full, I’ll chill for about 30 minutes. Then I’ll just start snacking.

Are weed-infused leftovers good?
Oh, yes!