I Got High at a Fine-Dining Cannabis Pop-Up Dinner (Video)

Somewhere between the THC-infused composed plate of curried carrot-confit gnocchi and pea emulsion (paired with the aromatic terpene extract of earthy Blue Dream) and the seared Japanese scallop atop micro-dosed citrus barley (paired with the aromas of Northern Lights and Candyland buds), I realized I was pretty high.

In accordance with state law, I was technically “medicated,” but it wasn’t a sitting-on-the-couch-ordering-too-much-takeout-Chinese-food kind of stoney baloney high. Nor was it a the-cops-have-my-phone-tapped-and-I-think-I-was-followed-here kind of paranoid high.

It was a brilliant and beautiful new kind of lifted state, one that tells of a future where cannabis is recognized as a normal part of functional people's lives — a raise-another-glass-of-wine, hey-do-we-follow-each-other-on-Twitter-yet, will-you-please-pass-the-Visine kind of dinner-party high not normally associated with the heavy marijuana edibles of our high school stoner pasts.

Japanese scallop with micro-dosed citrus barley, Japanese pear, endive, garlic tuile, chive and chili oil
Japanese scallop with micro-dosed citrus barley, Japanese pear, endive, garlic tuile, chive and chili oil
Sarah Bennett

And it wasn’t just me. Most of the 100 or so cannabis-industry professionals experiencing infused haute cuisine at communal tables in a Hollywood parking lot on Thursday seemed to be in a similar head space. The bubbly sales rep for an all-natural weed-extract company got up to change into a more comfy flannel shirt; the woman who owns what she calls “the Getty Images of marijuana” networked, handing out business cards to new potential clients; and a couple who makes gourmet marijuana bonbons cracked jokes with both familiar faces and new friends.

With vape pens and hand-rolled joints circulating throughout the well-connected crowd nearly constantly from the moment everyone arrived, it’s hard to know exactly what it would have felt like to start from stone-cold sober and be slowly micro-dosed with cannabis over the meal's multiple courses. Still, the event — which was co-presented by chef Chris Sayegh and Mary magazine — didn’t devolve into the stoner cliches you might expect. And it showed just how far marijuana users have come in normalizing marijuana consumption.

“These dinners are about responsible dosing and showing that it's not always about getting high,” Sayegh, who goes by the name the Herbal Chef, told diners before bringing out the first course (a shot of fresh-juiced cannabis, peach, ginger and aperol) and its accompanying wine and terpene (aromatic pairings). “You can enjoy an evening of wine and food with friends and ingest cannabis responsibly. That's what the Herbal Chef is about.”

A server pours terpene (aromatic oils derived from cannabis) over dry ice. The aromas were paired with each marijuana-infused course.
A server pours terpene (aromatic oils derived from cannabis) over dry ice. The aromas were paired with each marijuana-infused course.
Sarah Bennett

As California readies itself for the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in November, there is a movement among those in the cannabis space — from the glass-blowing creators of smokeable art to the fashion designers leading a style dubbed “couture cannabis” — to eradicate the stigma of pot and transition it from a stereotyped subculture to an accepted part of mainstream life.

Food plays an important role in that effort.

In Colorado, sales of edibles accounted for half of all marijuana sales last year. Ingesting THC is healthier and more discreet than smoking it, and experts believe that the number of people eating to get high will eventually eclipse those who currently smoke it. This has led to an explosion of gourmet infused products that prove the days of sugary cookies and brownies are over. Local dispensaries now sell everything from medicated fruit slabs to pizza sauces to bean-to-bar chocolates.

But the final frontier for the edible industry, High Times Magazine’s edibles editor Elise McDonough told us last year, is cannabis dining. In California, it’s a relatively new trend being pioneered by chefs like Sayegh, whose private dinner parties, such as the one I attended, can only be hosted by a medical collective of which all diners are a member.

Chef Chris Sayegh preparing dinner.
Chef Chris Sayegh preparing dinner.
Sarah Bennett

An alum of several Michelin-star restaurants, Sayegh has been putting on these immersive dinners around L.A. since 2013; he charges between $200 and $500 per seat. As a former molecular biology student, he approaches his craft as a food scientist and sees his dinners as data-gathering opportunities, where he gets to micro-dose each plate according to a person’s perceived tolerance level and watch their reactions as they get gradually higher over the course of a few hours.

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“No big corporation is doing data on this, so I have to do my own,” he said as he prepped pieces of brioche for the second course, an abstract Benedict prepared inside an egg shell with bacon mousse and micro-dosed hollandaise. He hopes to one day have enough data to perfect his “elevated” fine-dining meals.

I admit I probably shouldn't have been feeling as euphoric as I did by the third course. When the Japanese scallop plate hit the table, the small amounts of THC hidden in our first few dishes began to take a deeper effect, lifting the crowd from high to higher. By the time a serious case of the munchies kicked in, a sous-vide pork tenderloin with apricot gastrique appeared. It was consumed more for sustenance than medication.

To make up for lost time (the dinner, in typical L.A. fashion, ran several hours late), the final two dishes, both desserts, arrived simultaneously: a grapefruit rosemary sorbet with candied lavender atop a green sponge cake that looked like a literal sponge; and a mint, basil and strawberry slush in a mini martini glass.

Sayegh’s dishes are culinary works of art in their own right, composed with as much attention to flavor, technique and texture as those from L.A.'s other great fine-dining chefs. That they are infused with just enough THC to get you floating for a good day afterward is just a bonus.

Confit carrot gnocchi, pea emulsion, wild mushrooms, pearl onion, pea tendril, pomegranate and shiitake mushroom
Confit carrot gnocchi, pea emulsion, wild mushrooms, pearl onion, pea tendril, pomegranate and shiitake mushroom
Sarah Bennett

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