Putting the ‘High’ in Haute Cuisine
Because Proposition 64 is good for chefs, mixologists and vintners too.
I’m parked in a Starbucks lot in an outlet mall on the outskirts of Los Angeles, waiting for Johnny Winton, the brand manager of Know Label wine. The product is a cannabis-infused wine tincture marketed and developed by singer-songwriter-activist Melissa Etheridge. More important, perhaps: It gets you high.
The wine, which requires a medical marijuana card for purchase, contains about 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s psychoactive component, and retails for $120 to $400 for a half bottle. Along with the expected buzz from the alcohol, Etheridge, 55, tells me over the phone that there’s a feeling of “complete sedation.” Marijuana has a special place in Etheridge’s heart: She smoked it daily during her battle with breast cancer.
Here in the parking lot, Winton arrives and presents me with a dark blue bottle marked with a silver sharpie. It’s a 2013 Grenache (Etheridge’s favorite), which she says is full-bodied with a hint of fruitiness — and pairs well with “life.”
Know Label isn’t the only maker to market craft cannabis cuisine in LA. Gracias Madre, a new age vegan and organic Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood (its location in San Francisco does not serve the CBD cocktails), offers cannabidiol-infused (CBD) cocktails created by mixologist and staff beverage director Jason Eisner and numerous Angeleno chefs, among them Chris Sayegh (pronounced sage), who bills himself as “The Herbal Chef” (THC for short). Together, they’re redefining cuisine that allows you to savor your high. In theory, here in LA you can build an entire meal from pot-infused foods and beverages, and — especially in light of California’s Proposition 64 (a state ballot measure that legalized recreational use of marijuana for users 21 years and older) — this could help make the city a new capital of contemporary cannabis cuisine.
Think whimsical adult dirt cups with Valrhona chocolate pudding, lightly sweetened panna cotta, chocolate cookie crumbs, thyme, cherry gummies, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch–soaked milk foam — with THC.
Celeb spotting is always on the menu at Gracias Madre, and floppy hats are de rigueur. But it’s also where Eisner, 38, experimented with CBD before rolling out his three signature cocktails. In the drinks — the Stoney Negroni, Rolled Fashioned and Sour T-iesel — Eisner uses CBD tincture, a hemp-derived solution that you can buy at your local health food store.
Like its fellow cannabinoid THC, CBD can reduce general inflammation, elevate your mood and leave you feeling extremely relaxed. But does it make you feel stoned? Eisner argues that stoned is a “very subjective term” — he says the cocktails’ effect is more like taking a muscle relaxant. I try the $20 Sour T-iesel at the bar, which might be the most photogenic of the three, with a ceremonial matcha powder marijuana leaf stenciled on top of its aquafaba (vegan egg white substitute)-emulsified froth. Light and pillowy, the take on a tequila sour cocktail tastes wheat-y, limey and minty at once. I subsequently feel relaxed and chatty.
Later, I catch up with Sayegh at 2010 Studios in Gardena, a suburb of LA. The 24-year-old chef hosts “infused fine dining” that can run anywhere from $200 to $500 per — and with good reason. These events include not just culinary entertainment, but also live music, like the electronic beats of Kygo and Odesza, and immersive artworks by trippy LA graffiti artist Kenny Scharf. Sayegh attended University of California, Santa Cruz as a molecular cell biology student, completing research on the effects of marijuana as compared to amphetamines and other stimulants, before he dropped out and decided that fine dining was his calling. Sayegh slept in his car and cut his teeth at some of LA’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Mélisse and Providence, before embarking on his cannabis cuisine venture.
Diners hoping to try Sayegh’s meals must have a medical marijuana card and fill out a tolerance questionnaire to guide him in quantities as he infuses his food — think whimsical adult dirt cups with Valrhona chocolate pudding, lightly sweetened panna cotta, chocolate cookie crumbs, thyme, cherry gummies, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch–soaked milk foam — with THC. But that may well change with future legislation: Sayegh is actually working with the writers of Proposition 64 about on-site consumption laws and hopes to open the first cannabis restaurant in LA, to be called Herb, by August 2017.
Among these Angeleno cannabis purveyors, one thing is certain: There is no standard consumer for cannabis cuisine. Eisner reports serving “old ladies and old men” and people who “look like they’re visiting from parts of the country and the world that would see this as super provocative.” As the people dining at Sayegh’s dinners and sipping Know Label wine start to resemble less of a stereotype and more of a universal patron, perhaps some of cannabis’ remaining stigma will dissipate and we’ll start seeing the plant in more places. Eisner hopes to roll out new menus of equally cheeky cannabis cocktails, and Etheridge hopes to have Know Label in restaurants by 2018.
Before that happens, though, you can still enjoy cannabis cuisine in LA — through CBD infusions or with the help of a medical card.