Mon, Aug 01, 2016 - Page 14 News List

Cannabis chef takes fine dining to new high in LA

AFP, LOS ANGELES

Christopher Sayegh holds up two syringes filled with cannabis compound, primed to pump tiny amounts into a pomegranate sorbet, or a juicy cut of Wagyu Japanese beef as part of a bold new sensory experiment.

As more US states move to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, the California chef is aiming to elevate haute cuisine to a new level.

Armed with cooking skills acquired while working at Michelin-star restaurants in New York and California, Sayegh said his mission is to redefine haute cuisine with cannabis-infused meals that are becoming increasingly popular as the stigma surrounding marijuana gradually evaporates.

“I am trying to give people a cerebral experience, but I am also really careful in how I take them along on this journey,” Sayegh, 24, said during a recent interview at The Herbal Chef, his Los Angeles-based company.

Sayegh’s foray into edible cannabis comes as more and more entrepreneurs look to capitalize on a new gold rush in California, which is set to vote in November on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older.

Five other states, including Alaska, Colorado and Washington, have already adopted similar legislation and more are expected to follow suit as cannabis moves out of the shadows and becomes more mainstream.

Medical cannabis use is allowed so far in 23 states — including California — and that number is expected to grow, despite the fact that at the federal level, the product remains illegal.

According to the Arcview Group, a cannabis investment and research firm based in California, legal sales of marijuana in the US reached US$1.2 billion last year, a 232 percent increase over the previous year.

By 2020, sales are expected to surpass US$22 billion, the group said in a recent report, with California making up US$6.4 billion of that market.

Such projections are enough to make entrepreneurs like Sayegh salivate and quickly move to stake out their place in the burgeoning market of cannabis-laced cuisine.

The young chef, who was studying molecular biology at university before dropping out to pursue his culinary project, said he has seen a huge uptick since starting his business about two years ago.

His services, for now, are exclusively private affairs for people with medical marijuana cards, but he expects that hurdle to come down following the November vote on recreational marijuana.

His meals, at US$300 to US$500 per head, are aimed at taking diners on a unique “immersive” journey and not just getting stoned, Sayegh said.

“I am literally changing people’s brain chemistry as the dishes go on,” he said enthusiastically, as he displayed the tiny syringes he uses to spice up his cooking.

“By the third course you feel it a little, by the fourth a bit more and by the fifth course, you are starting to hit your groove. So it is like a symphony,” he added. “I have to make sure that as the come-up is happening, the dishes correspond with that and as it is coming down, the same happens.”

Sayegh, who is of Jordanian descent, is even experimenting with cannabis-laced stuffed grape leaves, falafel, chickpea beignets and other Middle Eastern dishes.

His cannabis-infused dishes even include “medicated” oysters.

He said his family was appalled when he entered into his new venture, but they have since come around, even sampling, and enjoying, his creations.

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