Culinary Cannabis: Chris Sayegh’s Michelin-Starred Background Inspires Gourmet Cannabis-Infused Cuisine
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Chris Sayegh didn’t always know he wanted to be a chef – though he had cooked his entire life, he was already on a pre-med track in college before an epiphany led him to pull a 180. “Everyone in my family cooked, and anytime we would gather for any event, we gathered around food,” says Chris Sayegh, better known in the cannabis community as The Herbal Chef. “I learned to associate food with community…and having an amazing time.”
Sayegh left school to pursue his passion. He landed a job in a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, and then a three-starred one. After plenty of time spent cutting his teeth in high-pressure kitchens, Sayegh began to open his own businesses. And approximately six years ago, he got hooked on the idea of gourmet cannabis-infused cuisine.
Creating a Gourmet Experience with Cannabis
“I didn’t smoke until college,” says Sayegh of his relationship to cannabis, “but when I was there I smoked every day, so I needed to know exactly what I was putting into my body.” He began researching the endocannabinoid system, and became fascinated by the topic. “I developed a deep love and admiration for [cannabis],” recalls Sayegh. “When consumed properly and with respect, it will enhance your life in many ways.” As The Herbal Chef, he embraces his involvement in the cannabis industry.
Sayegh’s business is multi-tiered; he offers gourmet edibles, frozen CBD-infused meals for medical patients, ticketed public events, and private fine dining experiences – “ridiculously intricate meals,” as Sayegh describes them. He’s gone so far as to rent out one of the largest art galleries in the world for a dinner, and bring the LA Philharmonic String Quartet in for a special performance. “I’m a huge fan of art and music and I want to incorporate that into the experience. Since cannabis is psychoactive it can enhance all of those things.”
Sayegh’s process for developing the events he hosts is as elaborate as the food he serves. When he receives an inquiry, he asks dozens of questions – about the number of courses, drink pairing requests, the kitchen and dining spaces, and more. He’ll also send out a detailed questionnaire to each individual attendee, asking about dietary restrictions and tolerance level, as every diner will be individually dosed. He then begins exploring the area surrounding the location of the event a month in advance, calling farmers and fishermen to see what’s available, and sometimes hunting and fishing for ingredients himself. “I go foraging around the area. I use the land. It’s about showing people what’s around them,” he explains.
Sayegh also frequently cooks for cannabis industry events, which is how a partnership with Herbalizer came about. Sayegh and the Herbalizer team connected through the Direct Cannabis Network’s Seed Series, and began talking about the possibility of using the Herbalizer to enhance Sayegh’s events. “When we were designing [the Herbalizer] we didn’t think of infusing food,” says Herbalizer’s CTO Bob Pratt. But Sayegh’s experience with cutting-edge molecular gastronomy techniques provided the perfect jumping-off point for experimentation. Soon, Sayegh had developed a unique cannabis vapor infusion technique utilizing Herbalizer’s table-top vaporizer, and he began to work on recipes that incorporated cannabis through vapor infusion.
The Art of Cannabis Vapor Infusion
“It is a sensory experience,” says Sayegh of cannabis. “You start to lighten up and really pay attention to certain flavors…if you sit there and eat a pecan and really taste it, it is a different experience than eating it sober. It’s an overall enhancement, just like how a glass of wine enhances a dinner.”
The vapor infusion process doesn’t actually provide the high; that comes from cannabis-infused elements incorporated into the meals, or from cannabis consumed concurrently with the meal. In fact, the psychotropic effects of vapor infusion itself are virtually nonexistent; instead, it enhances the aromatic elements of the cuisine and accentuates certain flavor profiles without compromising the integrity of the food. “I’ve been using extracted terpenes and putting them with CO2 and having that aroma as the centerpiece of the table,” explains Sayegh. His favorite strains to work with? “Right now I really love the Presidential OG I’m using,” he says. “Super piney, very sweet on the end – it’s very pungent. I also love Jack Herer. And Amnesia Haze is my all-time favorite.”
Sayegh’s prowess in cannabis gastronomy is evidenced again and again by rave reviews from diners, and there is no denying that enjoying his cooking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “My whole mission as The Herbal Chef is to leave a positive impact on people,” says Sayegh. “And it’s so fun! It’s about elegance, it’s about finesse. Anybody can get you super-stoned. What’s really fun is getting someone perfectly stoned so they can see the beauty in what you’re doing.”
Chris Sayegh’s Recipe for Cannabis Vapor-Infused Beef Tartar with Mushroom Tuile
Special equipment: Herbalizer table-top vaporizer.
Ingredients for Tuile
5 Tbs Butter
3 Large Garlic Cloves
¼ C Button Mushrooms
1 Tbs Chives
½ Tsp Pepper
¼ Tsp Cayenne
⅓ Tsp Salt
¼ C All-Purpose Flour
2 Egg Whites
⅕ C Powdered Sugar
½ C Dehydrated Shitake Mushroom Powder
Ingredients for Beef Tartar
10 Oz Beef
2 Tsp Capers
1½ Tsp Dijon
2 Egg Yolks
2 Tbs Red Onion
2 Tbs Parsley
4 Tsp Olive Oil
½ Tbs Horseradish
½ Tsp Lemon Juice
1 Tsp Lemon Zest
Salt To Taste
½ Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs Chives
½ Gram Favorite Cannabis to Use with Herbalizer
Method For Tuile
Preheat oven to 320˚F. Sautee the butter, garlic and mushroom together until mushrooms are starting to crisp, turn off the heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Add the pepper, cayenne and salt to the mixture. Blend thoroughly and pass through a fine sieve. Put into a large bowl and gently fold in the cut chives. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy and then slowly add the powdered sugar until it starts to hold its shape. Mix the flour and the dehydrated mushroom powder together and set aside. Gently fold the egg white with the blended mushroom mixture until just combined. Slowly add the flour mixture and fold in until completely combined. You will need to make a rectangular cut out of a thin plastic and then spread the mixture on either parchment or a silpat using an offset spatula. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the middle of the oven rack. You will need a cone shape to roll the tuile around to hold its shape. (You can use any shape if you don’t want a cone but let it rest in that shape until it cools and hardens.) Set aside for filling later.
Method for Beef Tartar
You will need a paddle attachment for your stand mixer for this recipe. Cut the beef into small cubes, crush the capers, brunoise the red onion, chop the parsley and add everything besides the chives into the bowl at once. Start mixing on a slow setting and gradually speed it up until everything is incorporated and the color is a little lighter. Make sure to scrape down the sides. Add the chives and fold in. Now put this tartar into a flat pan (I used a 9-inch baking pan with deep sides) and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Puncture the plastic wrap with a small knife, just big enough for the mouthpiece end of the Herbalizer hose to fit. Fill the bowl and set the Herbalizer to 375˚F on the vaporizer function. When the vapor starts to come out, put it inside the slit you made and cover completely with another piece of plastic wrap. When the pan is cloudy, take the hose out and keep covered in the fridge. Keep doing this every hour for 5 hours. Then leave in your fridge for at least 5 more hours and up to 2 days. Make sure you don’t burn the cannabis or use the already vaped cannabis, it will impart a flavor and aroma that you don’t want into the meat. Put the tartar into a piping bag and use it to fill the tuiles. Serve and enjoy!
For more information on Chris Sayegh, the Herbalizer and vapor infusion, visit Herbalizer’s website.