Netflix’s ‘Cooking On High’ Is A Low-Brow Look Into The Cannabis Cuisine Scene
Debuting on June 22 as television’s first-ever cannabis cooking competition show, I was optimistic as I settled into the couch on Friday night for a “Cooking on High” streaming session. From farm-to-table feastsin Boulder to pop-up warehouse parties in downtown Los Angeles to wine and weed pairing dinners in San Francisco, the cannabis cuisine scene has reached an unprecedented level of sophistication. But after only one episode in (and making it all the way through to the finale), all hope was lost.
Where Viceland has succeeded with “Bong Appétit” and “Weediquette,” Netflix still hasn’t figured out exactly how to program pot. Following the already-canceled comedy “Disjointed,” this Stage 13-produced original series is only its second foray into the subject.
If you’re a fan of “Chopped” on the Food Network, the format is familiar. In each of the 12 episodes, which have a maximum runtime of 15 minutes, two chefs go head-to-head in creating one cannabis-infused dish to present to a panel of “celebrity” judges (rappers and comedians that you’ll likely have to Google and who just happen to consume cannabis in their daily lives).
YouTube vlogger (to the tune of 2 million subscribers) Josh Leyva plays the high-fiving host and while his bio states he “combines his love of comedy and weed culture to guide each chef through culinary challenges,” he’s had no official connection to the cannabis industry until now.
Enter Ngaio Bealum, the competition’s resident expert. A self-proclaimed “chronnisseuer,” he at least writes about cannabis in California’s leading alt-weeklies, hosts his own cannabis-focused podcast and is a frequent guest on Doug Benson’s “Getting Doug With High.” Bealum is on hand to introduce the chosen cannabis strain the cheftestants are to use (i.e. Girl Scout Cookies: “a super popular strain that’s a cross between OG Kush and Durban Poison, which is a classic old school landrace South African, super high sativa.”). FYI, the average viewer has no clue what any of this means.
First up are Andrea Drummer, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate and notable private cannabis chef for clients like Chelsea Handler and Luke Reyes, an actual Chopped champion and head chef and co-owner of the private cannabis dining concept La Hoja. Sadly, their commitment to the cause and unmatched expertise in infused cooking is overshadowed by a shoddy production value, stoner judges and way too many weed puns.
Bealum’s knowledge is underused, too, with the show skipping over the entire process of how to make what they call “weed oil” for cooking (he does effectively explain decarboxylation). “Weed 101” infographics interrupt the already disorganized show structure instead, while the chefs prepare their dishes using what I’m assuming is an infused olive oil pre-placed on their anxiety-inducing, small stations.
But the lowest low of the premiere show comes at the very beginning when musician Mod Sun, one of the two judges among a rotating roster of 15 for the series, proudly proclaims, “My mom smoked when she was pregnant, and so I’ve been high since before I was born.”
Wow. Thanks, Mod Sun, for undermining an entire movement in a single sentence.
Later, he says in all seriousness after tasting Drummer’s cod cake creation, “I like, never ate fish before.” If you’re producing a cooking competition, you might want to enlist a judge with a slightly more diverse palate.
In a “THC Timeout,” judge Ramon Rivas is asked how high he feels. It’s an answer to which he can’t really explain, admitting to “coming into the shoot kind of high.” There are a lot of questions, a specific timeline to follow and wellness benefits to experience when consuming cannabis. Someone should talk about them.
If you can make it to the end, “Cooking on High” culminates with the presentation of scores, shared with the flash of a dirty spatula revealing a numbered decal to determine the winner. The prize? A pot leaf stamped sash and a pot spray-painted gold for a trophy.
Do cannabis better, Netflix.