Chris Sayegh: Fine Dining The Herbal Chef Way

Chris Sayegh is also known as “The Herbal Chef”. Chris is a one-time science and biology student who has utilized and adapted his skills to making some of the best food around, medicated or otherwise. Chris is a bit of a pioneer in the art of making cannabis-infused dishes, and is one of the first of a handful to start combining marijuana with fine dining. Chris is in process of concocting an interesting THC-infused water soluble and already has a CBD water soluble that can be used in cooking and measured properly.

We’re all about making edibles with consistent cannabinoid ratios here at Leafwell, and who better to ask about this sort of thing than a person who has knowledge of both chemistry and cooking? So, without further ado, here’s more on what Chris has to say (although, sadly but understandably, he won’t give up too many of his secrets) …

Alfresco Dining with Chrish Sayegh
Dinner party with Chris Sayegh.

Could you tell us your cannabis story?

As much as I love cannabis – and I do love this plant – I think it truly has the chance to change the way that humans live their lives on Earth. I look at it [cannabis] as an accent to what my main purpose is. With that, I’ll go into my background …

Basically, I was studying molecular cell biology at The University of California, Santa Cruz, and I didn’t really smoke before that. In high school, I tried smoking weed maybe once or twice and I thought, “It’s OK.” Then I used cannabis maybe once every month. The I go to UC Santa Cruz, and it’s a bunch of potheads and psychedelic users there. So I just dove into the culture, dove into cannabis, and started smoking everyday!

So then I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m going to smoke everyday. I want to understand what’s happening to my body.” So, through my studies, I would write all my papers on cannabis and what it was doing to the human body. The physiology, how it was broken down etc. Being lipid-soluble wasn’t good enough for me – I needed to know what was happening on the molecular level.

I started to uncover the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and the more I uncovered about the ECS, the more it just didn’t make sense to me that this [cannabis] wasn’t more widely-available. So I started to research the socioeconomics of cannabis and really where it all went wrong. And then I saw that, due to special interest, it was basically banned from being used by regular people. Before that, it was found in literally every type of medicine. It was even in our produce till it was bred out. Thanks to big tobacco, cotton and oil at the time, it was really looked at as a rival cash crop.

The more that I read and uncovered, I just felt that it was my duty to bring this to light. Through my background, being Middle Eastern, food was the biggest way we would all come together. You know, one day I was just sitting in college and thinking, “God damn, there’s no good food anywhere!” And I’m just dying, because the food I grew up with in a family of amazing cooks and amazing food, wasn’t there. So I kind of took that and sat on it, and then realized what I was supposed to do with my life.

At that very moment, at the end of my sophomore year, I made the decision to leave, and never looked back. I left to pursue my dream of becoming a professional chef. And then, I started to incorporate cannabis from my understanding of how it was soluble in the body and what the ECS did and how to dose things properly. So it just became a passion of mine. So I turned that into a business, and that business started to blow up because no one was really close to that or really doing it in the same way. It kind of just took off, and “The rest is history”, as they would say.

Do you use specific terpenoid profiles to match the food you cook?

Yeah, but it’s not so much about matching the food. I think it’s more about matching the mood and honing in on what you want the clientele to feel. If everybody’s zonked out of their minds, then all the food that we forged for, got locally and spent so much time preparing, really doesn’t matter. At that point, you could be serving chicken tenders that were fried, and nobody would care, because they’re not conscious anymore about what they’re eating.

So we try to keep everybody at this light, euphoric level throughout the dinner, rather than overwhelming them. So the terpenes really play a role in their effects. So, for instance, myrcene would have a more calming effect, so we would have some myrcene towards the middle-end of the meal. That way, everyone ends in a blissful state of euphoria rather than getting too high and dizzy. Limonene would be at the beginning of the 10 courses. So, the typical dinner is a 10-course tasting menu, made from all local and seasonal ingredients, wherever we’re making a dinner.

So you have a pattern or a way of going through the terpenoids?

Yes, exactly, and with cannabinoids as well, and obviously THC.

Do you use raw cannabis?

No, we use an extract. The only way that I’ve found to give actual merit to using raw flower is if we vaporize it, in lieu of an extraction. For instance, course 3 in a 10-course meal might have the extraction taken out of there. We’ll just put cannabinoids into the dish, and then we’ll have them vaped on something that works with the flavor profile of the dish. When you use an extract, you’re essentially stripping away what gives cannabis its flavor, which are the terpenes.

We basically concoct what we want the person to feel throughout the 10 courses. With the vapor, you can actually taste the cannabis. We’ll never give someone a joint or anything like that – that is complete bullshit. If anyone is pairing with a joint, you can only taste one hit before your tongue gets covered in soot in the carcinogens from the paper, as well as burning your cannabis at 500+ degrees, so you’re not getting anything out of that.

Have you found this way of cooking an interesting application of your skills as a biologist?

In my opinion, cooking is just chemistry. It’s tiny micro-explosions, over and over, that are cooking your food. So, to understand how to use certain things, like using a hydrocolloid to smoothen out a puree or aerate a substance to make a foam … It’s all just chemistry, basically. My studies coupled with actual application in Michelin-starred kitchens where they were using all these different scientific methods, was just perfect and right up my alley. It was exactly what I wanted to do with my life.

I would love you to elaborate on how you get the right dosage to get the right effect …

Everything I use is lab-tested. The extract has to be lab-tested for me to understand what I’m using. So, when we get the lab test back, then we use our algorithm to make measurements. It’s all weight and volume, but once you understand how to extrapolate information from a given source, such as the extract and the percentage of THC, then you can start to understand what else you can add in there, as well as how to dilute it so you can have an accurate dosage. Then you can put that dosage into whatever you’re cooking.

Logistically, it’s a nightmare. It’s just wild.

Do you find different cooking methods change the cannabinoids or terpenoids?

I mean, there’s only 2 things you have to pay attention to, and that’s heat and homogenization. With heat, you can degrade the cannabinoids, terpenoids and THC profile, so you cannot overheat it. Homogenization means that it’s dispersed evenly throughout the liquid or emulsion. So if you are not dispersing it correctly, then you’re going to have one bite that’s stronger than another, which is not going to serve your purposes.

That’s a huge problem in the edibles market at the moment …

Exactly.  Lot of people don’t understand the lipids and really how to homogenize it properly.

So what sort of improvements would you like to see out there in the edibles market? Any methods you’d suggest?

Just general education for people who make edibles. Dispersion methods. When to add it in a recipe and how to add it. They’re coming out with multiple different ways, using nanotechnology. We have a nanotechnology CBD, and that allows you to put it into any liquid, and it disperses evenly and maintains its structure while you’re adding it to your recipe. So, it really just comes down to education, I suppose. As for the methods, I’m not willing to go into that yet!

Pot Brownies with Cannabis Leaf
Marijuana brownies

Sorry, it’s just the scientist in me that’s going to try and probe for this sort of information … !

… Of course, I love it! Trust me, as soon as we release our book and the things we’re working on, I’ll be happy to dive into what the best way is in going about making consistent edibles. Truthfully, we’re in the middle of trying to figure it all out. We’re trying to make a standard of operation that makes sense for everyone.

Are you involved with regulatory agencies and labs or anything at all?

Yeah, we have some lab partners that we work with. We’ve been in the regulatory side for I don’t know how long now. Lobbying for proper regulations so we can get real, genuine regulations in the market so we can get rules that make sense for everyone rather than people who have no idea what cannabis is making the regulations and making it difficult for people to operate. So I’m heavily-involved in the regulatory side, alongside many other companies.

I kind of feel that chefs and cooks are often forgotten about in this part of the industry, especially with the sorts of skills they can bring to the table …

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, there’s a large difference between a chef and a cook, but they can definitely help in the processes that we are already doing for food and making sure they’re homogenized. Otherwise, our souffle wouldn’t rise if it wasn’t homogenized and mixed properly. There’s just natural crossovers.

Could you tell me what a typical cannabis-infused dinner looks like. Is it mostly done in group settings, or is it done in intimate gathering and things like that as well?

I think we’re the only people to have done this, but we have done from 2 people to 24, and I would say anything from 12 to 50 is our average. We’ve done up to 3,600 people.

Sunday Dinner Party with Friends
Dinner parties with friends.

Have you found people tend to drink less or anything like that during their infused dinner?

Yeah, but we’ve also found a really nice balance between about 6 – 8 ounces of wine [approximately 170 ml – 227 ml, or 1-2 small glasses] and 10 mg of THC, alongside the entourage effect of the terpenoids and other cannabinoids. The alcohol helps the THC metabolize a bit quicker, so we see this nice graph throughout the evening with everybody.

How different is it to cook with cannabis, in comparison to non-infused dishes?

It is 1,000 times easier to cook without cannabis. I have to think way less when I’m making a non-cannabis-infused catering event.

So could you tell us something about the process you go through when making a dish infused with cannabis?

It all starts off with the dish. The way I’ve positioned my company is that we are a food-centric company with an accent of cannabis. So we like to make it all about the food, with an added experience level. So how we’d go about making an infused dish is very similar to any other chef making a dish. It’s what inspires me.

For instance, I came back from Italy very inspired in multiple different ways, with structure and with some other methods that I picked up from that chefs we were working with. So, you’ll start to see more and more dishes inspired by that come out next. We’ll sit and brainstorm ideas. It always starts off with, “What’s in-season and available to us?” Then it goes to, “How can we take this ingredient and manipulate it, so we can make it either better or something that the person wouldn’t expect?”

And then, we go into “How is this going to look on the plate? How can we do this? If we’re going to do a custard, how are we going to set it? If we’re going to flambé something, how are we going to put it on? How can we make this more interactive? How are we going to inspire somebody else? How are we going to make this meal memorable, so it carries with them?” Then we start to build our dish and move forward, depending on the flavor profiles and what we can do.

A Cnnabis-Infused Foof Dish by the Herbal Chef
A dish made by the handiwork of the Herbal Chef.

Did you learn much about food chemistry from going to the Fat Duck?

No, we didn’t get a chance to pick their brain properly, unfortunately. And a lot of it is stuff that we’ve worked with or seen before. Their techniques, imaginative ability and how they structure the evening is nothing short of breathtaking.  They are geniuses. But for instance, the centrifuge. There’s this picture of a clear gelatin for a clear pumpkin pie. So there was the crust, then some clear pumpkin pie, and then some whipped cream. And they held it up and told us it was “Clear Pumpkin Pie”. And a lot of people were like, “Oh, they just used pumpkin spice and water and made it into a gelatin.”

That’s not what they did. They basically took a pumpkin pie base, put it into a centrifuge and then they mashed it with alcohol, evaporated the alcohol out of it and made pumpkin spice alcohol out of that. Then they got a puck of plant cellulose – the pumpkin matter. That separates into three parts, and what’s left is the clear essence of what that pumpkin pie tastes like. They take that clear essence, jellify it, and then they set it. You wouldn’t know that, unless you knew about this equipment.

It just reminds you that, “Hey, there’s other stuff you can keep pushing.” You know, making these insane dishes that you don’t necessarily think about or forget about. Especially with what we do, travelling around so much. We’re not able to bring so much equipment with us. So what we are able to do has to be toned down quite a bit. So, going to the Fat Duck makes you remember all of these techniques that can be used to push menus far and above beyond what you may think of it.

Finally, what makes the cannabis plant so special to you?

I believe that, even if we were to ignore the medicinal side of it for this example, there’s still so much that hemp and cannabis can do for humanity, is that it is asinine that it’s still illegal and regulated to oblivion. Regulated to the point where people can’t have access to it. If you add in the medical component, it makes it a sheer atrocity that cannabis is still federally illegal and a schedule I drug.

This plant has the ability to not only heal people, but to help create jobs and clean energy jobs, like growing agricultural produce using fewer resources than we are doing now. And if we can grow hemp using less resources and create more with it, then we are in essence helping our Earth survive longer and taking less from it. That, to me, is a substantial reason why I’m in love with this plant.

Cannabis Indica
Cannabis indica plant.

Well, we hope all that food talk didn’t make you too hungry! If you want to hear more from Chris Sayegh and chow down on all his juicy brain-knowledge, then tune in to Elevate the Conversation on Wednesday 20/12/2017, UBN Radio or Facebook Live at 6 pm!

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