A Pro Chef Envisions the Future of Brick and Mortar Cannabis Restaurants
Chris Sayegh, also known as The Herbal Chef, has big ideas about the future of cannabis-infused cuisine. While he currently uses his skill set to host gourmet pop-up dinners and cater private events, he’s also working on a concept for a physical cannabis restaurant where infused menu items would rotate seasonally and décor would take cues from the likes of Eleven Madison Park. And while it seems ambitious, Sayegh hopes to begin the build-out for such a place in 2018.
We talked to Sayegh about what a cannabis restaurant might look like, what dishes diners could expect to see on the menu, and why servers would be replaced by cannabis-savvy “guides.” Here’s what he had to say.
Leafly: Tell me about the concept for a brick and mortar cannabis restaurant. How long have you been mulling it over?
Chris Sayegh: [I’m envisioning] a full-service restaurant and lounge. This has been a brainchild of mine since 2010, and it has taken me seven years to work out the logistics and lobby, as well as garner enough attention for people to believe in the project. [It’s required] work with many likeminded people to get the proper legislation in place for 2018. We are still facing many legal battles, as the county has not understood the necessity for on-site consumption licensing until recently. But we’ve been working with people of Frontera Law Group, State of Cannabis, and more to come up with reasonable legislation for Lori Ajax to implement.
I foresee this being a very realistic possibility, even to the point that we have money committed to the project. We have two locations that we are weighing and by 2018 we will know where to settle down. So we are probably 70% of the way there to opening. The next few steps for us would be the buildout and the permits, which will be in 2018.
Any concrete examples of establishments you’ve drawn inspiration from for this project?
I’ve derived quite a bit of influence from the staff at Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park, and Mélisse. For the décor I have been working on a mix of modern and atrium. I like to have plants everywhere, almost as if you are in a beautiful luxury hotel lobby in the middle of a beautiful forest. Something like The Aviary (in Chicago) mixed with Blue Hill Farm (New York). All of these chefs that own these spots are people I greatly admire.
There is a lot of my own influence in what I have turned our event space in DTLA into and what my dining experiences have been so far. A lot of art, natural woods, plants, and natural lighting. [I’m going for] something that will make our clientele feel comfortable and happy, and have a sense of openness to it.
What’s an example of a dish or two that people might see on the menu?
You’ll see a completely new menu with each season. Since we will be using local farms and seasonal ingredients, our menu will change up to four times a year. You can expect to have an incredible vegan tasting menu, as well as gluten-free options for both the regular tasting menu and the vegan tasting menu. As of now we have a couple signature dishes including the Lamb Wellington and the Coconut Campfire. The Wellington has Middle Eastern spices with a lamb jus and a mint chutney. The coconut dish has sticky toffee pudding, bourbon caramel, toasted coconut ice cream, smoked chocolate, and candied bacon.
What would need to be different about a cannabis restaurant as compared with a regular restaurant?
This is a completely new type of dining experience, [and] we want to be a shining example for the federal government to use for on-site consumption. We’ve had to implement strict standards of operation for our kitchen to ensure that we are giving our customers the right infusion balance, offering the correct menu options, and making sure that no one is overwhelmed in the process.
We have begun our training for front of house and back of house to deal with people that are [experiencing] an elevated perception and heightened sense of emotion which cannabis provides. One example is us having “guides” rather than servers. It is important to show people an extra sense of compassion and guidance with this type of dining experience, especially for first timers with cannabis (a majority of our clients). From what I’ve seen over the past seven years of these dining experiences, people really enjoy a bit of guidance and crave a little education.
The ambiance must have a calming effect with the ability to divert focus to a specific area (e.g. a stage). Something special that we offer is a decompression lounge after the meal. Once you are finished with the dining experience and the live music, you can head into the next room that is filled with lounge seating, a massage area, aromatherapy, and CBD petits fours to balance everyone out as they progress through their high. We have gone above and beyond trying to understand the known and unknown needs of a dining patron at Herb.
What do you think diners consuming cannabis will care about most in a restaurant?
I think that this is going to be a bit different than anyone is expecting. If I were to answer the question as the market sits now, I would say people would care about the food and the cannabis most. [But] as the market intelligence grows to make for a more sophisticated consumer, I think people will start to appreciate the nuances of the meal and how we are working on curating the perfect mood throughout the experience through our multiple sensory outputs. We are essentially taking them along a culinary journey … a symphony for the senses.