It may come as a surprise to some, but cannabis has yet to be fully legalised in California – although voters will have a chance to rectify this in November.
California residents have enjoyed access to cannabis for medicinal use since 1996, however, the Golden State has hesitated to make the leap to full legalisation thus far.
The cradle of ‘New Age’ culture, California has long taken pride in its innate magnetism for all things healthy. Everything from spiritual retreats to spinach risotto seems to have found opportunity via the social entrepreneurs that congregate in California, and, come November, there’ll be a new herb heading for the buxom shelves of Whole Foods.
The Guardian has profiled Christopher Sayegh, a wunderkind chef keen to add cannabis to the haute cuisine cookbook:
Sayegh, a square-jawed 23-year-old who cut his teeth in a variety of high-end restaurants, has made it his personal mission to reframe the conversation around edibles. His work as the Herbal Chef allows him to combine his passion for cooking with his hope that the discussion around weed can be normalized in our lifetime.
“What else are we gonna do with food?” he asks rhetorically. “I’m a scientist at heart. I’m an experimenter. I want to learn. I want to grow, and this is how that’s done. By pushing the envelope.”
As far as edibles are concerned, taste has typically come second to potency, with only cannabis completists, one can presume, taking notes on flavour.
But before the general public has the chance to turn their noses up at the prospect of Planet Organic’s aisles growing pungent with pot odours, Sayegh proffers a palatable solution:
His food, he says, doesn’t taste like weed the way standard edibles do. The ingredient doesn’t overpower the dishes, but accompanies them through careful curation and with an eye toward balance. He accomplishes this by cooking with a water-soluble THC solution that dissolves into the food during preparation. In his apartment, he has syringes filled with the stuff – a syrupy, rust-colored liquid – labelled so that he won’t confuse whatever magical substances are contained within them.
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For his tender age, Sayegh is also a scientist and a social entrepreneur, asides from his talents in the kitchen. Adaptable and enthusiastic, he represents the new face of cannabis culture, business minded and optimistic about the potential the plant has, now it is gradually becoming legal across the globe:
Sayegh sees vast economic and social opportunities in legal marijuana consumption and has set up his business so that it can function in the currently complicated medicinal environment, but also so that it might flourish if California’s ballot measure passes.
Not only is he a chef and marketer of frozen meals to medical users, he’s also a growmaster, overseeing the production of marijuana plants. On top of that, he fancies himself an ambassador for the burgeoning pot economy.
Fear of legalization persists, even when two US states, Washington and Colorado, have lifted their prohibition of the drug. “Why was it illegal in the first place? Misinformation. The more information we have, the better off we’ll be. It’ll just take awhile,” he says as he jovially prepares his mint chutney.
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Sayegh infuses his dishes with cannabis extracts with stealth and subtlety, approaching it as a complementary flavour or texture to mix with others. Weed-leaf-shaped, green-icing-slathered birthday cakes these most certainly are not:
The point of the meal, as he sees it, is not to get someone stoned beyond recognition. As any chef will tell you, the point of a meal is to enjoy the food. When the added element of THC is involved, Sayegh has to remind people that it’s not just a gimmick. He doesn’t smoke when he cooks and he doesn’t play up any party boy image with his diners.
“People ask me: ‘Are you high all the time?’ Fuck no!”
The picture he paints of our cannabis-infused culinary future resembles how one would enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of beer with a meal. It’s only to heighten the experience.
Those unfamiliar and anxious around the psychoactive effects of cannabis should find, in Sayegh’s food, an avenue through which to enjoy the plant. Indeed, projects such as Sayegh’s are vital in exposing the opportunities available for entrepreneurs and consumers alike to the greater public.
One can certainly see a place for cannabis cuisine in the UK: imagine what Heston Blumenthal et al. would be able to do with a new supplement in their spice racks; The Great British Bake Off would surely stand to absorb the stoner market, having the perfect programme title already in place.
As Sayegh turns heads and tastebuds over on the West Coast, back in London, this writer readies his next round of ‘munchies’ puns, and hopes this isn’t the last we hear from the ‘Herbal Chef’.
Words by Calum Armstrong tweets @vf_calum
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