As California prepares for the possible legalisation of recreational marijuana in November, Los Angeles-based chef Chris Sayegh is on a pioneering mission to take haute cuisine to a higher place with his cannabis-infused menus. Sayegh who, at only 23, has cut his teeth in the kitchens of top restaurants in New York and California, explains that infusing cannabis into his recipes creates a whole new experience for diners.
"To me, this is a cerebral experience. Whether you are choosing to intoxicate yourself with wine and have a different perception, which is what alcohol does. And then cannabis is doing the same thing − 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," he says. "It's a whole experience that keeps evolving with you as the courses go on."
Edible marijuana products are nothing new and the market for them has evolved into a multi-million dollar industry. Cannabis dining, on the other hand, is a relatively new concept and Sayegh wants to bring it to the masses, or at least for now, those with medical marijuana cards.
"I was tired of eating brownies and Rice Krispies and stuff and I was like, I cook all the time, why wouldn't I just put it in this? Why wouldn't I put it in this? So I started experimenting and it really wasn't until I started to break it down into a science that I realised that cooking with cannabis in a savoury application was much, much different than baking with it," explains Sayegh.
To infuse his cooking with marijuana, Sayegh uses cannabis oil containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive element of cannabis that has been extracted from the cannabis plant. He also uses a "vaporiser" to infuse some of his ingredients with THC.
"You'll never taste the cannabis in my cooking, unless I specifically want you to taste it, and it's because it's not a pleasant taste. And also, tasting that oil, you really... it throws off the whole flavour of the dish," explains Sayegh, who micro-doses his dishes to the desired potency of individual clients.
At Sayegh's apartment in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, he prepared an elaborate and "medicated" three-course meal for his friend Keilani.
Keilani was treated to a first course of carrot confit gnocchi with cannabis-infused pea emulsion, a main course of New York strip steak with parsnip purée and a medicated red wine reduction. And for dessert, there was a sticky toffee pudding with toasted coconut and medicated chocolate.
Sayegh stages pop-up banquets around Los Angeles and further afield with a cost per head of between $20-$200 (£14-£138), depending on the menu, according to his website. He also cooks privately for clients at their homes, with such banquets costing up to $500 (£345) a head.