I’m sitting next to chef and Philly culinary icon, David Ansill, as he puts out a rather large mason jar of weed and other plant-based party favors onto a coffee table in a stylish studio apartment in South Philly. The location, which was kept secret until the day of the event, was volunteered by a friend of David’s and provided plenty of space and ambience needed for a dinner that, as of only a few years ago, would have been held in a more secretive manner. Sunken into the couch, he gives in to the forces of gravity and lets out a noticeable sigh of relief that’s all too familiar to those who’ve worked a dinner shift in the industry. His dreadlocks, which telling by their length, are surely older than I am, drape over his shoulders down to his waist after he unties them; a self-congratulatory signal of yet another successful dinner under his belt. Behind us in the dining area of the apartment, a party of 11 strangers conduct small talk as they digest their desserts over a blunt. David’s only server, Lindsey, washes dishes as she picks at one of the remaining desserts. Just for kicks, she adds another dollop of infused whipped cream on top and invites me to join in.
As a follower of his work and genuine admirer of his past contributions to the Philly food scene, I met David this summer through social media and asked if he wanted to meet for a chat and a handshake. Admittedly, my familiarity with his work primarily stems from the now closed Spanish tapas spot (and one of my all-time favorites), Bar Ferdinand. Of course, anyone who knows him would be quick to tell you that his impact on the Philly food scene is much broader than that. As the creator of the groundbreaking and well-missed French bistro, Pif, he’s credited as a pioneer of the early Philly restaurant industry who brought iconic dishes to the local food scene before it was even close to becoming the now daunting subculture that it is today. Before the likes of Food Network, jaded-celebrity-chef culture, and social media influencers took over; before it was cool to score imaginary internet points in the form of Instagram likes and followers, David was churning out dishes that were, for lack of a better or lesser used term, ahead of their time. Now, after having left the industry that may or may not have left a bad taste in his mouth, David’s career as a chef has taken him to a place that not many in this line of work would expect to be on their 60th birthday: hosting cannabis dinners for stoners of all ages and backgrounds with high-end ingredients and dishes reminiscent of his days in the industry.
It goes without saying that everyone in the room is pleasantly stoned with the exception of David, who stated such in a matter-of-fact fashion. It’s not that his tolerance wouldn’t allow him, mind you. He just didn’t take any significant bites of his infusions throughout the six courses he served tonight. A few dips of the finger here and there to ensure quality, but nothing that would otherwise send him skyrocketing towards the ceiling. Say for a cig break in between courses, David is all work tonight. It’s his dinner guests, or clients, as some would say, who get to relax this evening.
David’s management of private weed dinners is not much different than the way he ran his kitchens in the past from his time at Pif – which Eater.com still refers to as “one of Philly’s most revered and beloved restaurants of all time.” His sous-chef, Randy, who he originally hired at Bar Ferdinand and still works with on occasions such as this, explained with sincerity his devotion to David’s work methods throughout the night.
“He’s the absolute best [to work with].” he confidentially said within an ear’s shot from David across the room.
When I asked if he preferred this style of cooking to the fast-paced, chaotic environment that’s often synonymous with commercial kitchens, Randy explained how it wasn’t much different than his days with David at Bar Ferdinand as he had a strict, no-fuckery-allowed approach to working.
“He never let us get too crazy.” he explained. “If he stepped out in between shifts and it got too rowdy or if people were fighting or arguing while he was away, he quickly shut it down when he got back. He’d play some Rasta music, tell us all to chill out, and that’s about it.”
Lindsey, who also worked with David and Randy at Bar Ferdinand, fills in as David’s server and hostess when she’s not working her corporate job. Telling by her laid back and hospitable demeanor, comforting familiarity with the environment, and overall chipper rapport with everyone in the room, it’s safe to say that she feels the same about David and his operation as Randy does. Much like that friend we’ve all had who, out of sheer experience, volunteers to “guide” you through any kind of drug experience, she’s an ideal person to make sure that your ascendance goes according to plan; whether it be by keeping your wine glass full or by engaging in some friendly conversation.
“Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night!” She said with a laugh while running a dish.
By the time the first course is served, everyone at the table is well into getting to know each other and exchanging pleasantries. Before each course, David gives a brief explanation of the dish and, more importantly, how it will get them high. They are as follows:
First Course: Tuna Crudo with cannabis infused chili oil, hempseed, and scallion
Second Course: Salmon tartare with white anchovies and a cannabis infused bottarga vinaigrette
Third Course: Roasted Figs with saba, parmesan, pine nuts, and cannabis infused olive oil
Forth Course: Pig trotters brunette (pigs feet) with mustard oil, pickled mustard seeds, and cannabis infused butter on toast
Fifth Course: Roasted lamb chops with cannabis infused olive oil, tomato and cucumber salad and a curried eggplant purée
Dessert: Chocolate mousse with a blueberry praline Florentine cookie and cannabis infused whipped cream.
Before you ask, let me settle your concerns and explain that you most likely won’t be leaving a dinner such as this with racing mental images of “getting caught” (whatever that means these days) or other anxiety-inducing thoughts of your sinful use of the Devil’s lettuce. Yes, each course is infused with cannabis, but not so much that it becomes the headlining ingredient. Because of the amount of courses and duration of the event, David is mindful of the “slow and low” rule that all savvy partakers advise when feeding someone edibles. Don’t forget; this is just as much about good food as it is about eating weed. Instead of making each dish a one-way ticket to Mars in terms of potency, the entire menu is intended to gradually bring one into orbit with intervals between each course. By mid-way through, you’re feeling the onset and, depending on your tolerance, slightly more social and giggly. By the end of the meal, you’re not so much worried with how high you are as much as you are in finding a suitable couch to land on.
Don’t forget; this is just as much about good food as it is about eating weed.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about cannabis-infused food in Philly, nor is it the first time someone has written about David’s cannabis dinners. But being that the social and legal climate towards pot use in the city has seen a cultural evolution of sorts in recent years (with Philly’s first medical marijuana dispensary now open in Fishtown and possession of an ounce of flower and private use now decriminalized), I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to show those who would be interested that the days of sandwich-bag-wrapped brownies, unlabeled cereal bars of unknown potency, and otherwise shady treats of the black market are becoming less relevant as the overall cannabis culture of the city (and country) evolves. This is an exciting time to be a cannabis user as the culture is going through somewhat of the same renaissance as the food industry has been going through via social media and niche Internet content. David’s dinners and their ongoing popularity are proof of that if nothing else.
Like a rock star after a gig, David is approached by his guests one by one with thanks and praises of an exceptional meal as he relaxes after a job well done.
“I just wanted to thank you for one of the best nights of my life.” Said one guest in her early fifties and, telling by the redness in her eyes, a newcomer to “high-end” dining. Resembling my grandmother after a school choir recital, she fumbles to get her phone ready and asks for a selfie with David before thanking him again.
Other guests are clearly in a higher state.
“You guys are like Jesus and Jesus Jr.” another said to David and Randy as he approached. “Are you guys related?”
It goes without saying that in addition to his own dinners, David’s services are available to anyone who would be interested in hosting a dinner of their own, whether it be cannabis themed or not. You can contact him, as I did, through Instagram (@rasta_squirl) where you’ll see his past dishes and updates on how you can attend one of his next dinners.