BY MARIE LODI
Before he became a cannabis chef, Christopher Sayegh studied molecular cell biology. He planned to go to med school and become a doctor, but eventually realized his passion lay in preventative health, even though creating edibles certainly wasn’t in the cards yet. “I wanted to cook for people, because food is the first defense that we put into our body,” he says. After stints at Michelin-starred restaurants, Sayegh turned his focus toward cannabis, and learned how to marry his culinary expertise with the medicinal wonders of the plant. Instead of perhaps seeking out a gig at one of the few (but steadily growing) restaurants that cook with weed, or setting his sights on the kitchen of, say, a cannabis friendly restaurant in Denver, he launched The Herbal Chef in 2015, a fine dining experience that specializes in cannabis infusion.
Ahead, Sayegh tells us about the fascinating work he does as The Herbal Chef, how to cook with pot like a pro, and why whipping up one delectable cannabis infused dinner after another became a passion for him.
How exactly did you transition from medical school to being a cannabis chef?
During my studies, I focused on cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, but there were very few papers written at that point. We had one of the most expansive scientific libraries in the United States and it was really difficult to find information on the endocannabinoid system. So the more I dug around, the more I realized that there's more going on with cannabis than just getting high; that our body is literally set up to receive cannabinoids. I realized that if we can incorporate cannabis into a daily lifestyle, then that would be beneficial for humanity, for health reasons. Also, if we can utilize hemp in all of its various ways, that would help humanity on the ecological front. It became really pertinent to me that this plant was so much more than getting high. It provided an incredible path for humans to one, bring health back into their own hands, and two, create some sort of financial independence for themselves as well as help the environment.
What were some of the early dishes that you experimented with?
I remember doing a New York strip steak with mashed potatoes and a red wine sauce, and a lot of baked goods. But then I transitioned into savory dishes because I knew that there was obviously an application there. And then, once I started to gain some actual culinary knowledge, I started to put it in a ton of things—sorbets, ice creams, cakes, crumbles; I'd put it into vinaigrettes, into ganaches, anything oil-based.
Do you concentrate on any specific strains or terpenes when crafting your dishes?
We concentrate on terpene and cannabinoid profile, but strains mean nothing. They can vary between dispensaries, and have wildly different cannabinoid profiles. So, in order for us to use anything from flower to concentrate, it needs to be lab-tested. From there, we take our terpenes and our cannabinoid profile, and then we add it into the meal, where we want people to have those specific terpenes throughout, because terpenes kind of create the mood for our guests. So, we'll have pinene and limonene in the beginning courses, while we'll have myrcene and beta carotene in the last courses. And then, we'll finish the dinner with CBD-infused desserts. It takes you along this journey that gently uplifts you and brings you back down rather than a typical edible, which just fucking knocks you on your ass.
What are some challenges that have stood out during your journey in this business?
Everything from banking, to having to differentiate ourselves in the market, to people that don't quite understand the difference between infusion and dosing. There's a huge problem with that because anybody—literally anybody—can infuse. But dosing takes precision; it takes a scientific method and it takes calculations. It's chemistry and math, and you need to be able to do that in order to make a business out of this.
Tell us more about your work at The Herbal Chef?
I am part of multiple companies, but specifically with The Herbal Chef, there's four pillars. The first pillar being events. We've thrown events for hundreds of people to 3,600 people that we can function within, like festivals or large parties. The second pillar is private dining, where our certified herbal chefs will go to your home and create a dining experience based on the individual who's booking us. Whomever the guest of honor is, we create a menu that's specific for them, between their life experiences, seasonality, and locality. The third is education: We have our herbal chef certification courses for accomplished chefs that want to learn how to cook with cannabis and be part of our team. We've partnered up with Rich Rosendale on that, who's a certified master chef. We also teach; I do presentations for organizations like the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation, and we've been entrusted to bring that information to the culinary world. The fourth pillar would be manufacturing. We have three products that are coming out in the next two months.
What sorts of products?
We've partnered with Cured Nutrition in Colorado to release two CBD products. One is called Immunity, and one is called Recovery. We’re also creating these delicious, no-sugar gummies made with real fruit. The whole idea is to create a line of healthy edibles that isn't putting ingredients in that cause ailments in the first place. Immunity is like a tropical smoothie packet made with coconut and mango, plus cayenne, turmeric, ginseng, vitamin C. I travel so much, so it's very easy for me to get sick if I'm not getting enough sleep and taking care of myself. These are meant to help with that. And the Recovery bar is for people that need a little boost of recovering when they're done with their workout.
Any other upcoming projects in the pipeline?
Yes, we have multiple digital shows out already, and I'm working with Netflix on a few things. We also have our restaurant, Herb, that we're going to be opening fairly soon here in West Hollywood. It's a journey through time and location: Basically, we're starting where the cannabis plant first was written in China, 2737 B.C., and then we follow the places where cannabis emerged, throughout the entire dining experience. It's going to be a multi-course tasting menu, around 15 to 18 courses; a whole encompassing experience.