Fine-dining chefs are throwing THC-augumented dinner parties with locally foraged ingredients
Illustration by Dale Crosby Close
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Your cannabis is served.
As it sometimes does, it took an American to get a Canadian riled up. Earlier this year LA-based Chef Christopher Sayegh, who is professionally known as the Herbal Chef, cooked two sold-out, 100-person, $200-per-head dinners of cannabis-infused gourmet food in Vancouver. The press coverage was huge and local chef Travis Petersen realized nobody else in Canada was doing anything at that level.
Petersen, a private chef, former contestant on MasterChef Canada, and cannabis enthusiast, saw an opportunity to merge two of his passions to serve a hungry market. He promoted his own series of cannabis-infused dinners and served nearly 200 people over 4/20 weekend. “There were 19-year-olds, and singles, and couples, and 65-year-old retirees,” remembers Petersen. “Everyone got along and shared stories, and this was even before the cannabis came out.”
And when the cannabis did arrive, it wasn’t in the form of funky-tasting brownies or a bong and a blintz. Marijuana smoke was piped over a pristine piece of smoked salmon and into a champagne glass chilled with liquid nitrogen. Guests would take a puff off the glass before eating the fish.
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While edibles won’t be federalized until a year after the October 17th legalization of cannabis flower and oil, Petersen and Sayegh are at the forefront of a refined approach to combining cannabis and culinary skills at the highest level.
Petersen has since started a business called Cannacook that hosts roving private cannabis-augmented dinners and runs educational culinary workshops in private homes. He says that while people may think of it as a fad, cannabis culinary experiences are a way of educating people on how to incorporate the ingredient into the way they cook to improve their lives. “I can show people how cooking with cannabis can create a late night snack that can help with anxiety.”
And now Sayegh is coming back, yes with more dinners, but he is currently working with lawyers to lobby for the legalization of cannabis consumption in lounges and restaurants, with the dream of replicating his private dinner party experiences at a permanent location.
Sayegh takes care to work the local agricultural and environmental context into his Canadian events. For a recent meal, he worked with a forager in the woods outside of Squamish, using low-impact techniques to harvest just the right amount of reindeer lichen and licorice fern, and then preparing artfully-plated dishes with sauces that are infused with carefully measured lab-tested extracts so guests don’t get too high. Sayegh sees the events not as fetishizing cannabis, but integrating it. “It’s not just about cannabis,” says Sayegh. “It’s about treating [it] as a healing mechanism and an overall accent to a healthier life.“
Petersen will continue to host dinners in private locations before and after legalization. And soon he and Sayegh are likely to be joined by other worthy competitors. Petersen says, “Ever since my first event I’ve gotten emails from other chefs who are telling me they want to do the same thing.”
This story is part of our Civilized series from our September 2018 issue. Click here for more content from the series.