We all use cannabis for different reasons, but the plant's effect on our food intake is undeniable. For some of us, a stoned buffet visit or blazed sushi marathon is exactly why we bought that joint for an after-work session in the first place. For Joel Haas, that's just another day at work.
Haas has documented over 450 high dining experiences at 74 high-end restaurants for his podcast and video series, High Speed Dining, including a week of meals in Denver last year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Haas was aiming to vape and eat his way through every state in the country with legal cannabis; over the past six months, he's had to resort to takeout in order to continue his adventures.
We caught up with the self-proclaimed stoned food critic to learn more about how to fully enjoy a high meal and which fancy Denver eateries were most welcome to his puffy eyes.
Westword: When it comes to smoking pot, there's almost always an aspect of stoned dining for us. How do you share and explore those activities, which are commonly intertwined but not so commonly talked about?
Joel Haas: I've been high for my meals for the majority of my life. The real reason I tried doing a show was because I was looking for a legitimate way to write off all my meals. Straight up, that's it. I was already getting high and eating well, so it was about finding a way to make this work in my life. So I started producing videos, and I had a great time doing it. I've got a radio background and have produced a lot of comedy albums and ringtones, so I knew audio but not video. My High Speed Dining season of Denver, season four, is pretty much made up of photographs that I narrated.
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I did a week in Denver in May of 2019, and did two restaurants a day, for lunch and then dinner. I'd record the podcast at the end of the day — incredibly high, full, and going over my notes. It wasn't easy, but it was fun. Trying to approach the restaurants with a clear head the next day wasn't so easy, either. It can be hard to remember things. After a week in Denver, I went directly to Chicago, came home and then was off to Boston, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It started to burn me out.
How did Denver's food scene compare to that of other cities? Which restaurants stood out to a stoned, hungry Joel Haas?
Denver food was amazing. I have great things to say about pretty much every city I've been to. When I hit the big cities, you don't need to tell me that some of these great restaurants are amazing. When I came here, I researched what some of the best places were, which were the best reviewed, which chefs were hot, which restaurants were new. I tried Acorn, Barolo Grill, Beckon, ChoLon, Fruition, Mercantile Dining and Provision, Osteria Marco, LeRoux, Señor Bear, Table 6, Rioja and Tavernetta, and I threw in an Elway's visit at the airport, because I'm always hungry.
How do you remember all of these experiences if you're stoned and stuffed for most of your visit?
I take a ton of photos. Denver was the beginning of what I call my 4/20 coast-to-coast tour. The goal was to hit every single marijuana state from April 20, 2019, to April of this year, and a few others. I was supposed to end in Las Vegas this March, but the pandemic blew that up. Taking a ton of videos and photos of everything I do, and all the notes I take — I'm just a man with his iPhone and vape pen — that always helps the memories come back. I'm also by myself for most of these meals, and that helps me focus on the food and experience and pay attention to the kitchen. As the journey went on and I went to New York, San Francisco, Chicago and these Michelin-star cities, I noticed that every action the staff makes is for a reason. Being alone in these great restaurants, you're really interested in paying attention.
Great food can really burn itself into my head, and I kind of consider myself the Forrest Gump of stoned fine dining. I remember the buds I smoke and the food I eat. When I was re-watching my Denver videos, I got hungry again and couldn't wait to get back. Certain courses and restaurants stood out to me. LeRoux was so over the top with their style, and it was new in town at the time. But it was very impressive. Then you think of a place like Beckon, which was a tasting menu with at least seven courses — a lot of things coming your way in a small room. I never thought I'd remember the stuff, but when things involve taste, smell and your senses, they're really about your being and enjoyment.
How does dining stoned affect your order or the way you conduct yourself at finer, more expensive restaurants? How much does cannabis tolerance play a role in that?
I'm often asked about pairing strains with meals, and that makes sense for the weekend warrior who only gets high once a week. Chilling, relaxed strains for a late-night meal, or a sativa for an earlier meal like lunch. But it's hard for me to pair things, because I'm used to everything, and all cannabis sort of creates the same nice buzz for me. As a regular with cannabis, most people can't even tell when I'm high, so when I go into these nice restaurants, I probably don't go in like a typical stoner who wouldn't know the etiquette of the restaurant. I'm usually an outstanding citizen there.
When I visited Tavernetta, they told me about when Action Bronson visited one of their locations to film Fuck, That's Delicious. He and his friends were vaping at the table, acting like it was a pot party the entire meal. The Tavernetta people didn't make him stop, but you could tell how difficult and uncomfortable it was for them. When I'm in a restaurant, I abide by the rules. I'm already high, so there's no need to be over the top.
As a regular cannabis user and restaurant-goer, do you think your orders still reflect your pot use? Do you think you'd be ordering less if cannabis weren't involved?
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I'm eating a massive amount of food. If I weren't high, I'd eat a lot less. When I take three days off, I lose four to five pounds because of smaller portions, less food, less desserts and more self-control. I generally walk to and from every restaurant I go to while on the road, as well as hit the gym for an hour a day. It's been 168 days of takeout-only during the pandemic, so now I need to walk more on my own. It's fucking nuts and driving me crazy, but I'm also staying skinny and feeling good. But there's still a tendency to overeat.
So do you think the stoner diet stereotypes are real, or are you able to eat high and healthy frequently enough?
I eat high and healthy all the time. I avoid fried food and prefer fish over fatty meats. A little over six years ago, I stopped alcohol and caffeine because of medical issues. When I quit alcohol, I lost a lot of weight, and I felt great after not pumping crap into my body all the time. Good things happened to my mind, as well.
I manage to eat pretty well while trying not to have a late-night sugar fix. When I order takeout, I'll order ten to twelve things, including several desserts. I need to try everything, but the key is not eating too much of the bad stuff. One reason I only drink sparkling water during all of this and not sugary drinks is because those are liquid desserts. Starting the high guy out with desserts isn't good for your diet.