A decade ago, Los Angeles Chef Andrea Drummer never imagined she’d be on the leading edge of the cannabis culinary scene.
She was born in Hollywood – Florida that is. Her family was conservative, and she started her career working for nonprofits and telling at-risk youth to “just say no.”
“If you smoked cannabis, you might as well smoke crack or do heroin,” she said. “A drug was a drug was a drug, and it was all bad.”
She ended up getting a job as an aide for an attorney, whom she was shocked to learn was a regular cannabis consumer.
“I just thought that all people that smoked were shiftless and ended up on a couch not living their best life,” she said. “To see him – super intelligent and inspiring in every capacity and going to court and winning every case – I really came to see cannabis differently.
“I think that was a part of my journey to understand that propaganda and to come from that to where I am today.”
One night, she ended up cooking dinner for her boss and his family. He was so impressed that he hired her as his personal chef. That’s when she decided to pursue the passion for food she’d had since she was a kid, graduating in 2010 from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.
She got her start in the kitchen at Ritz Carlton. But as she worked long hours on her feet, she developed severe sciatica pain that literally left her crawling to the bathroom.
A friend suggested she try some medical cannabis.
“It completely alleviated the pain,” she said.
She started studying up on cannabis, watching documentaries and reading articles. After she and a friend enjoyed her first batch of infused bruschetta, which left them grinning from ear to ear, her friend suggested she do cannabis cooking for a living.
She’d started a catering company. In 2012, that became Elevated VIP Dinner, which now caters private events and hosts multicourse pop-up dinners at secret locations throughout Southern California.
Drummer admits she was “deathly afraid” to tell her family back home in Florida what she was doing. She’d been catering cannabis dinners for more than a year before she broached the subject with her mom and sisters during their annual retreat.
Her sister, who’s married to a minister, quoted the Bible: “The leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations.” Her mom didn’t flinch. And when she later told her dad, who’d also been in the ministry, he said, “Well, you’re going to be rich one day.”
“That was not the response that I thought I would get, but I will take it,” she said with a laugh.
She said some family members are still a bit apprehensive. But overall, they’ve been very supportive of her new career path.
“I continue to educate them, as I’m educating myself,” she said. “They are open to it and proud of me and happy for me that I am just moving in my truth.”
Being a chef is already a competitive, demanding career. But Drummer also faces the legal and technical challenges of incorporating cannabis into what she does.
She works closely with an attorney to make sure she’s doing things within California’s constantly evolving legal landscape. Elevation VIP Dinner is technically a medical marijuana dispensary. Until November, all diners had to be medical marijuana cardholders and had to become patients at the dispensary before they could dine.
After Californians legalized recreational marijuana with Proposition 64 on Nov. 8, those requirements eased a bit. Now, only the host of the dinner has to be a medical marijuana patient. And, under Prop. 64, that person can then gift up to an ounce of cannabis to diners 21 and older.
Being a cannabis chef has made Drummer focus more on the science of cooking, since dosing has to be exact down to the milligram. She enjoys the complexity of infusing foods with cannabis without making them smell and taste like weed, with Blue Dream one of her favorite strains both to personally medicate with and to cook with. And she likes to introduce edibles to people who’ve been afraid to try them in the past or who have had prior bad experiences.
“It’s a challenge, but I welcome that,” she said. “I want to be on the side of innovation.”
Her infused bread pudding, which has a brulee topping, is in high demand. She gets occasional requests for other particular dishes. But mostly, she said clients let her get creative.
“She is one of the most talented chefs I have ever met – cannabis or no cannabis. Her food is edible art,” said Cheri Sicard, a Long Beach resident who is also a cannabis chef and cookbook author.
Sicard met Drummer last year when she was judging the first Culinary and Cannabis cooking competition in Huntington Beach.
“She had some tough competition, but the sheer artistry of her dish made her the winner,” Sicard said, with Drummer claiming victory thanks to her meal of corn grits with shellfish, fried pork belly and fresh okra. “I have been a huge fan ever since.”
Along with the tastiness and beauty of her dishes, Sicard said she appreciates that Drummer has a story behind most of her meals. For example, in her dinner “Making America Great Again,” Drummer incorporated ingredients from the melting pot of America’s culinary roots.
Drummer has had her share of celebrity clients. But the only one she can talk about is Chelsea Handler, who hired Drummer to cook for an episode of her four-part Netflix series called “Chelsea Does… Drugs.”
“I’m just in a space where everything is in fast forward,” Drummer said. “It is a good time to be in this career.”
Recently, she was featured in an episode of the online series “60 Second Docs,” sharing a bit about her career and her passion for cannabis in the minute-long movie.
She’s set to have a feature coming out soon in Marie Claire magazine. In the fall, she’ll publish her first cookbook, which will blend personal anecdotes from her life with recipes and suggested cannabis pairings. And eventually, she hopes to open a string of cannabis-friendly bed and breakfasts and spas.
“Ultimately the goal is to be a national and international, global brand,” she said. “I would like to be the Ritz Carlton of cannabis.”