Cannabis may join the herb and spice rack in California kitchens as the most populous U.S. state prepares for the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in November.
Chef Chris Sayegh is leading the way by taking haute cuisine to a higher place with his cannabis-infused menus in private homes for as much as $500 a head, or in "pop-up" banquets around Los Angeles for $20 to $200 a person. For now, diners must show their medical marijuana cards.
Sayegh, 23, who cut his teeth in the kitchens of top restaurants in New York and California, said incorporating cannabis into his recipes creates an entirely new consciousness for diners that goes beyond the effects of a fine wine.
"To me, this is a cerebral experience," he said during a demonstration at his Hollywood apartment last week. "You're eating with a different perception with each bite, with each course. You're literally changing your brain chemistry and you are viewing this food differently than you did five minutes ago, 10 minutes ago."
Edible marijuana products are nothing new, and the market for them has evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry. Cannabis dining, on the other hand, is a relatively new concept, and Sayegh wants to bring it to the masses.
Marijuana has been legally permitted in California for medical purposes since 1996, and voters are widely expected to pass a measure on the upcoming November election ballot to legalize pot as a recreational drug for adults statewide.
Sayegh said he began experimenting with cannabis cuisine after growing tired of pot-baked brownies and other snacks.
"It really wasn't until I started to break it down into a science that I realized that cooking with cannabis ... was much, much different than baking with it," he said.
In the kitchen, Sayegh uses oil containing an extract of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, and a "vaporizer" to infuse ingredients with THC.
"You'll never taste the cannabis in my cooking unless I specifically want you to taste it because it's not a pleasant taste. ... It throws off the whole flavor of the dish," he said, adding that he "micro-doses" his dishes to the desired potency of individual clients.
At his apartment last Friday, he prepared an elaborate three-course meal for a friend. Carrot confit gnocchi with cannabis-infused pea emulsion was followed by New York strip steak with parsnip puree and a "medicated" red wine reduction. The finale: a sticky toffee pudding with toasted coconut and pot-infused chocolate.