Philadelphia chef David Ansill of Pif and Bar Ferdinand fame is hunkering down in his apartment during the COVID-19 pandemic, smoking weed, making candied edibles, and dreaming of when he can do his next cannabis-infused private dinner for a group of partygoers.
“Cannabis cooking is the wave of the future,” Ansill, 61, said in a recent phone interview.
This Cheltenham native has been out in front of that wave for nearly four years now, ever since he left his job as a chef at Philadelphia’s popular Bar Ferdinand. Ansill earned acclaim coming up through the city’s restaurant ranks, eventually owning Pif, the little French Bistro with a daily changing menu, and Ansill at 2nd and Bainbridge. He was – and is – a sort of local celebrity. But Ansill was wearing out.
“I was just getting tired of restaurants,” he said. “I had been in the kitchen for 35 years probably. I was just getting fed up. The money is not easy; the hours are long; the stress is high.”
After an unsuccessful gig in Jamaica, Ansill returned home to work at Bar Ferdinand and found himself sitting there one night, talking to the bartender. “I said I just want to do pop-up jerk chicken dinners, and the bartender said, ‘Chef, why don’t you do weed dinners?’ And it was like an epiphany. Why didn’t I think of that?
“I know how to cook, and I like to smoke. Now I can do both,” Ansill said.
At first, one of his customers hooked Ansill up with a restaurant that was only open for brunch, so he could take it over at night to offer cannabis-infused meals. When that space was no longer available, a connection who managed a bunch of Airbnb sports let Ansill host dinners in his properties. Then there was the guy who had a loft apartment Ansill used until the city’s licensing and inspection department closed it down for unrelated reasons. That’s when a customer introduced Ansill to Instagram.
“People would message me, ‘When are you going to do another pop-up?’ And I said, ‘I have no venue, but you can organize your own venue.’”
So Ansill started cooking dinners for 10 people or more at customers’ homes.
“I guess it’s just to do it ‘til I can’t stand up anymore and to make an income. Survival is my goal. Get it while you can before I’m too old to stand up and can’t cook anymore.”– Cannabis chef David Ansill
As a classically trained French chef, Ansill would often cook themed French cuisine for his pop-ups, such as one dinner he called “Herbs de Provence.” But now Ansill will work with customers to provide what they might be craving – anything from Asian Fusion to Italian, he said.
Ansill infuses his butter and sauces with cannabis, having taught himself to do so mostly through research on the Internet. His wife, Catherine, who is French, makes the desserts, just as she used to for his restaurants. For three courses, the meals start at $100 per person and $25 for each additional dish.
But it’s not like Ansill is doing these dinners every day. If he has two a month, that’s a “busy” month, he said.
“People seem to really enjoy themselves at the dinners,” Ansill said. “By the second course, they’re all smiles.”
Even though he can’t quantify exactly how much weed he is using in each dish, the worst thing that has happened at one of his dinners was that two people passed out, one in between courses and the other afterward, sprawled in a chair in the garden, Ansill said.
For now, because of the pandemic, Ansill, his wife, and their 28-year-old daughter are sheltering in place like everybody else, and his dinners are on hold. He had two he was supposed to do in the near future, Ansill said, but he decided to cancel because he was wary of going out to do all the shopping for them. Each dinner might demand trips to four or five different stores, Ansill said.
He’s nervous about staying afloat during these unusual and trying times, “just like everybody else who’s not working and can’t really work from home,” Ansill said. He is, however, doing a brisk business in weed sales, meeting customers, handing over the goods, and then washing his hands. He gets his product from California, “and that’s all you need to know,” Ansill said.
He, himself, smokes every day and prefers smoking weed to eating edibles or using cannabis in any other form, Ansill said.
“The first time I ever smoked it was the day we graduated from eighth grade,” Ansill recalled. “We went to Larry’s house and hid on his back porch. I took a little puff of a pipe.”
The first time Ansill ever bought marijuana was during his first year in college. He was 18. “And I haven’t stopped since.”
The folks who contact him for the cannabis-infused dinners range in age from the 20s to the 70s, Ansill said. “It’s a real cross-section. The stigma has worn off a little bit, and people can come out of the closet and enjoy themselves and not have to hide it.”
When asked what his ultimate goal is, Ansill said he really didn’t have one.
“I guess it’s just to do it ‘til I can’t stand up anymore and to make an income. Survival is my goal. Get it while you can before I’m too old to stand up and can’t cook anymore.”
David Ansill’s Instagram account is @rasta_squirl. Message him to arrange a dinner.