For most people the idea of mixing marijuana and food still centers on either edibles or being high and getting the munchies. But that was before the pre-cannabis boom of recent years that is turning marijuana into a more than six billion dollar business in 2016. Marijuana and all attached with it is becomingly increasingly sophisticated and cultured.
That is never more evident than dining on the remarkable melding of cannabis and gourmet food created by Chris Sayegh, known as The Herbal Chef. A gourmet chef trained at Michelin restaurants like Santa Monica, California’s Melisse, Sayegh, who also is an avid weed connoisseur, turns cannabis-infused food into an art form.
At a recent dinner he hosted for attendees of Summit L.A. the ten-course tasting menu included oysters, beet gnocchi, beef, all infused with weed and all magnificent. It is an experience, one he intends to turn into Herb, a restaurant opening in L.A. sometime next year.
Given Sayegh says his catering business has grown a staggering 350 percent this year, there is absolutely no doubt his fusion of marijuana and fine dining will be one of the most talked about experiences in L.A. next year.
Steve Baltin: How would you describe this dining experience?
Chris Sayegh: We’re creating a new dining experience. That’s what we’ve been doing since I started this company. We don’t want to overwhelm people, we don’t want to get them too high to enjoy the experience. It doesn’t serve anybody. You can imagine this line being sober, this line being overwhelmed and then right in here is the euphoric zone.
Baltin: That’s very tricky balance to find.
Sayegh: Right, but it’s what we’ve been doing over the past four or five years now. That’s like a psychedelic trip when you eat too much of an edible. I’ve done many psychedelics and I believe in using psychedelics responsibly for spiritual growth. And I had never been as distraught, paranoid, uncomfortable as when I ate too much of an edible. I was floored. So this is essentially what we’re doing: the first three courses you’re spreading things out and we keep everybody in that euphoric zone, that’s our goal. That’s what we’ve gotten really good at doing and we’ve found just a slight mixture of THC with the prober canaboid profile and a little bit of wine keeps everybody talkative, conscious, in the experience, which is what we want.
Baltin: That is such a host mentality. When did you realize you were a host at heart?
Sayegh: I think that came about in high school, I remember doing like a cooking competition with my friends. I just wanted to cook and we battled out in my backyard at home. And then I remember getting to college and having this epiphany. I had all these life experiences, I went out, I had done some psychedelics with my friends and I had these pathways open where I wasn’t thinking about things the same anymore. And all of a sudden it dawned on me I love cooking for people, I love having people over at my house and it was due to my family. I’m Jordanian and growing up in the Middle Eastern culture everybody comes over to grandma’s house and has a full spread of food on the table. I thought, “This is the most important thing to me in my life. Why am I not doing it?” And that was when I changed everything about my life.
Baltin: You can love to cook though and just want to do it for yourself. Looking back do you see that host mentality always being there?
Sayegh: It was definitely engrained. What happened is the psychedelics allowed me to see it, it showed me myself. And I was like, “Oh s**t,” this is what I really love out of life. I love bringing people together, I love making people happy, I want to improve everybody’s day after they meet with me.” After somebody comes in contact with me it’s my mission to have them leave a little bit happier.
Baltin: Where were you at school?
Sayegh: I was at UC Santa Cruz studying molecular cell biology. I was studying chemistry and biology and physiology and doing my studies on cannabis. I thought, “If I’m gonna smoke weed every day I want to know what I am doing to myself, what I am putting into my body.” So I started to research it and it just fascinates me. So I kept with it, kept researching, kept writing all my papers on it and then at the time I was like, “I need to go cook, I’m wasting my time here not following what I want to do.”
Baltin: What year of school was that?
Sayegh: It was after my second year, then I started working at Melisse, which is a two Michelin star restaurant here in Santa Monica. And I was just the kitchen bitch. I just worked my ass off learning as much as I could. I lived out of my car for a while, my parents did not want anything to do with me. They were so ashamed and they were like, “My son is a devil, he’s smoking weed and he dropped out of school, he has no idea what he’s doing.” They’re traditional Middle Eastern and Italian parents. I understand it too, what they were thinking.
Baltin: How is the feedback to working so publicly with weed?
Sayegh: You should see the internet comments. Oh my god, dude, unbelievable.
Baltin: But even those who are negative seem to see the financial viability.
Sayegh: Yeah, this industry is already looking to be a 20 billion dollar industry by 2020 and in my opinion it’s gonna grow way more than that. You factor in all the ancillary businesses too, it’s just crazy.
Baltin: So the restaurant opens next year and it’ll be called Herb, yes?
Sayegh: Yeah, most definitely always a dream. My dream, and Gary’s [Nguyen], he’s my right-hand man, is to have a Michelin restaurant. If we can pull that off then all of our grueling work shows for itself. When you come in everything is preset. So you do everything on line. you say, “I want this package, comes with an Uber, comes with a medial card, comes with the 10-course tasting and the wine pairing. That’s package number three.” Number one is five-course tasting menu, you have your own transportation there and you have your own medical card already, so it’s a hundred dollars. Package two comes with a few more things, it’s 150, package three comes with all that stuff, it’s 250. We have different packages for everything, but we want to have everything all-inclusive and everything is done beforehand. So when you say the five-course tasting menu, you want a non-medicated, then we know one medicated, one non-medicated for this reservation and you can kind of choose your own adventure. Overall, we want people to come in and not think, just experience.
Baltin: Is there a restaurant that is a template for what you want to do?
Sayegh: I don’t see many places doing this online packaging. I think Alenia is a good example of how they package things, but this is a whole other logistical issue. And the reason we’re doing things so strict is because it has cannabis. So we are the role model, we are setting the standard for how all cannabis restaurants are gonna function after us, to make sure they’re safe, make sure that people are properly dosed, people are taken care of and any overwhelming issues are mitigated properly. We have a decompression lounge where they go after the meal and they go and get ice cold eucalyptus towels, massages, they can hang out in the lounge seating, aroma therapy, a yogi is there. There are all these things that help people transition into this nice blissful relaxed state, which I think is gonna be the future of service. The service industry is helping people become more holistic, more in tune with themselves what they want, especially with this plan.
Baltin: This is more of a lifestyle than a restaurant, which makes sense since weed is a lifestyle.
Sayegh: I started this by myself. I was the only person doing this up until last year. So it was tough and I was trying to figure out all these logistical issues. So it really didn’t dawn on me until about mid last year, where it was like, “I can’t have this be a normal restaurant. We need to take care of them through the beginning to the end and show them this can be a seamless experience because a lot of my clientele was people that have never tried it before.” I love that because we are the gateway into understanding. And, for me, that means we’re a trusted brand in the industry. That’s what I always wanted. The Herbal Chef is quickly becoming the gold standard and that’s what I was hoping it would become because we use the best ingredients, we know how to properly dose, we know how to take care of our guests, we know what to do in most situations. So this is a reflection of that. Herb is gonna be the culmination of everything we’ve learned, all the data that we’ve gathered over the years.
Baltin: When was your first dinner?
Sayegh: My first dinner was 2013 for a childhood friend who loves weed and found out what I was doing because I was posting it on Instagram. And she hired me for her and her boyfriend’s anniversary dinner. I charged $500 a person because that was the only way I could make money and that was what happened. We did it, they loved it and they booked me ever since. They’re trying to book me for their wedding too. That was my first dinner and then from that day I was like, “There’s something here, I’m gonna keep going.” People were chirping in my ear, “What the f**k are you doing? That’s crazy.” All the normal stuff you hear from someone up and coming. And then every year I’ve been growing the company at least 300 percent. This year we’re on track to grow 350 percent.
Baltin: What do you want people to take from their experience with The Herbal Chef?
Sayegh: The whole reason I started the Herbal Chef was to create a positive impact on the world, and sometimes we are able to make that a reality while doing what we love. Every year, we create a huge Gingerbread Village that benefits a cause we deeply care about. This year we are benefiting Cannakids so they can give medicine to children who truly benefit from this plant. We can’t always do much, as we are a smaller business working our way up, but it’s really nice when we are able. Last year we had an edible alien crash site, a chocolate swamp, a Jello lake, a huge tree, and more. This year we’ve collaborated with Natures Lab Extracts and are going even bigger. Check out our IG: The_Herbal_Chef to stay updated on the process and the final piece.