Mary Jane's real name isn't Mary Jane. The City Paper has to use a pseudonym, because Mary Jane is a local chef who utilizes a key ingredient that, while it may sometimes be as local as veggies from Wadmalaw, you'll never find on the menu at any area restaurant. Nor would you spot it at any restaurant in South Carolina, in the Southeast, or almost everywhere else in the country. At least, not officially.
Mary Jane cooks with weed. And she's been preparing dinners for an unofficial underground stoner supper club for more than a year, cooking up beef tenderloin, ribs, mac and cheese, ham biscuits, and poached scallops with a little bit of illegal something-something. As a result, Mary Jane wanted to keep her real name on the down low.
Unlike amateur brownie bakers who are eager to cover up the taste of weed with Duncan Hines chocolate, Mary Jane's not trying to mask the flavor in any of the dishes. "I like the flavor," Mary Jane says. "I like what it does to food. It can go sweet, it can go savory ... anything that you like to eat, there's a way to incorporate that flavor and that experience into the food."
A down-home Southern cook by nature, Mary Jane approaches weed as an herb. Marijuana reacts differently with cheese than it does with beef or heavy cream. With savory dishes, it may have a woody flavor, while in ice cream, it adds a flavor similar to pistachio or green tea. Since it's an illegal ingredient, Mary Jane doesn't grow marijuana herself, so she can't control the flavor just yet. It all depends on where she's getting the pot from.
You can't just sprinkle it on top of a slice of pizza like you would oregano and call it a day. In order to get the effects of weed in your food, it has to be cooked into a fat. Mary Jane prefers butter and cream to oil — she is Southern, after all. One thing she's learned is that when you make weed butter, the chemical makeup of the ingredient changes. So for cookies or other baked goods recipes, which require cold butter, your best bet is to infuse the cream instead, since its makeup won't be affected.
While rogue at-home cannabis chefs may dump their baggie of bud into a pan, Mary Jane uses the trimmings (i.e. the stems, any extra leaves) from marijuana plants. From her dinners, she's found people with connections, and she'll trade whatever she's making for the meal for the ingredient. When you pay $50-$60 for a ticket to one of Mary Jane's dinners, you're paying for the cost of the food, not the pot. She's done five of her parties in Charleston, and another in Charlotte for more than 20 people. One couple even asked her to cook up their anniversary dinner. "It's very comparable to having somebody come in and cater for you, it's just you're getting that added experience," she says.
"When you find stoners who love food, and you can sit them down and give them a five-course meal and everything they're eating has it in there and they start to realize what the flavor can do to food, how it can enhance it," she adds.
Once, a couple of Food Network chefs were in town, and she fed them one of her ice cream sandwiches. They approved. "Being validated by somebody who's actually a chef was pretty awesome, to hear them say this flavor is really good and, wow, I'm going to get high later."
Anyone with experience digesting pot knows that there's a thin line between a good high and a terrifying, trippy, out-of-control high. However, Mary Jane promises that only one of her guests hasn't been able to handle it. And that's only because the person had never eaten or even smoked weed before. Had Mary Jane known, she would have prepped a different plate. She tells diners to keep in mind that everything they're eating has pot in it, and that they might want to pass that mac on over to their neighbor if they're worried about the effects.
Were South Carolina to ever be so progressive as to decriminalize pot, Mary Jane would publicize her business immediately. "No hesitation, yes," she says. "My parents probably would not be very happy with me." She'd find herself a kitchen or restaurant and get cooking immediately. Until then, though, you've got to be in the know to give Mary Jane's dinners a shot.
"It's definitely scary," she admits. "I have to remind myself sometimes I can get into a lot of trouble if somebody comes in and looks at my freezer and sees brown paper bags of trimmings. It's probably not the best thing, but it's a passion and I have a hard time not doing it."