America's top 10 cannabis chefs
Weed is no longer something that chefs just smoke outside the kitchen door. Now that cannabis is out of the alley, chefs are, too, developing award-winning edibles, staging schmancy cannabis dinners, and pairing pot with food in a way that’s more haute than hippie.
So who are cannabis cuisine's chief innovators? GreenState combed California to New York for chefs who've moved beyond elite culinary schools, Michelin-starred kitchens, or even taken a James Beard award and now cook and bake cannabis edibles and infused meals; plus we found one self-taught cook who emerged from the underwear industry to ascend to the heights of cannabis cuisine. (Note: A valid medical cannabis card is required for all dinners and events mentioned below.)
Where: San Francisco
Culinary chops: Magallanes trained on the job, cheffing at San Francisco Michelin-starred restaurants Mourad and Aziza.
Style: Molecular gastronomy meets NorCal vegetarian
Cannabis fame: Magallanes left the restaurant industry last summer to launch Opulent Chef, staging cooking workshops and private dinners, including cannabis and non-cannabis feasts. He’s working with Baron Lutz, one of his former chefs at Mourad and the founder of Humboldt County hashmaker Nasha Extracts, who supplies the ice-water bubble hash Magallanes cooks with.
About the hash: “The hash is just a flavor you can taste on the back end, but it complements what I'm using it with. It's not a strong flavor because with hash, I use just a little bit compared to using whole plants.”
Examples of dishes: “I make cannabis powder with coconut oil and sprinkle that on top of a rice cracker topped with carrot verjus, pickled Fresno chiles, cilantro and yogurt. I do a little milk sphere infused with cannabis, licorice and juniper berries. I do a French toast stick infused with cannabis, topped with sea urchin and pickled rhubarb. I do coffee-roasted carrots with savory chocolate ganache infused with hash coconut oil and dried chiles, like a play on mole.”
On creating personal doses: “Each person tells us their tolerance level, and we cater the meal to their tolerance level so everyone gets their own personal experience. I could make a dish 5 mg for one person and make the same dish 250 mg for another person. I try to load people up toward the beginning of the meal because it takes some time for the effects to set in.”
Why no booze is allowed: “We don't allow people to drink alcohol at our events. We're trying to show people you can get a cerebral experience, going on a journey with a chef through his food but with THC rather than alcohol.”
Recently: Magallanes staged a $150-per-person cannabis dinner at a private space in San Francisco’s Mission district on June 24.
More info: www.OpulentChef.com
Where: Berkeley, Calif. and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Culinary chops: A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Curry is a veteran of Michelin-starred kitchens, including Quince and the late Ame in San Francisco and now-shuttered Martini Bar in St. Helena. He’s taught at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale.
Style: Whole plant comfort food.
Cannabis fame: Curry founded Flourish Cannabis, a whole-plant edibles company in Arizona in June 2016. He brought his brand to Berkeley in March, producing savory and sweet medical cannabis products in a 9,000-square-foot facility that includes a testing lab. In addition to numerous dispensaries in Arizona, Flourish’s edibles are available at Urban Pharm in San Francisco, Blum in Oakland and Purple Lotus Patient Center and Natural Herbal Pain Relief in San Jose.
Savory and sweet edibles: Flourish’s edibles would be right at home on Whole Foods’ shelves. Savories include onion and dill dips, marinara and wing sauces, ketchup, mustard and ranch dressing. Sweets include fruit jam, chocolate taffy, caramel chews and Flourish’s top-seller, a low-glycemic brownie bolstered with dates that weighs in at 100 calories.
Where he honed his skills: After opening and closing Digestif, a short-lived fine-dining restaurant in Scottsdale, in 2008, Curry opened The Welcome Diner, a tiny pop-up in Phoenix where he refined his cannabis cuisine skills in the diner’s off-hours, having given up alcohol.
On treating pot like a vegetable: “We try to maximize the whole plant — the leaf, the bud, even the root ball, which can be cold-pressed to make a syrup. Flourish is in a partnership with a cannabis grower on 162 acres in Northern California. I test my soil for minerals and nutrients before I test my cannabis. It's important that we know our soil like we know our farmer.”
On the future of cannabis dining: “One of the goals of Flourish is to socialize cannabis cuisine. Restaurants don't want somebody consuming a $44 infused chocolate bar instead of coming in and having dinner with them. Restaurants want to start selling cannabis dinners for $600. It's hospitality. It's entertainment.”
Recently: On July 4, Curry hosted an all-inclusive event for medical cannabis card holders at the Clarendon Hotel and Spa in Phoenix, featuring cannabis, cannabis-infused food and cocktails, and fireworks.
More info: www.FlourishCannabis.com
Culinary chops: A James Beard Award-winning pastry chef and best-selling author of the cookbook Cookie Love, Segal attended Kendall College Culinary Arts School in Chicago and worked in some of the Windy City’s best restaurants over the past 30 years, including Michelin-starred Charlie Trotter’s. In 2005, she opened Mindy's Hot Chocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar.
Style: Culinary-quality candies
Cannabis fame: In 2016, Segal was recruited by Cresco Labs, Illinois’ largest cannabis cultivator, to create medical cannabis edibles. Her line includes chocolate brittle, caramels, and what she calls “sucking candy” in 10-mg and 25-mg doses, some strain-specific and some without terpenes, the compounds that give cannabis distinctive flavors and aromas.
What drew her to cannabis: “I'm new to the market but I'm not new to marijuana. I wasn't like one of those mad-scientist chefs creating my best way of extracting marijuana. I dabbled in it for fun. I felt I could apply my baking experience to marijuana edibles. My motivating factor was helping people. It’s what I do in my industry anyway: I make people happy.”
On cannabis’ continued stigma: “To be recognized in the food world, marijuana would have to be federally legal and right now it's not. There's still stigma, and I've gotten it in my regular business, which I never thought I would. I've had business turn away from me because I am involved in marijuana, and very disappointingly so.”
Coming up: Segal and Cresco Labs are courting local kitchens to launch lines of medical and recreational edibles in California, Nevada, and Washington by the end of the year.
More info: www.MindysEdibles.com
Where: New York
Culinary chops: A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, Trinidad was fresh off a rookie stint as executive chef at Soho hotspot Lola. There, he opened Maharlika, a modern Filipino restaurant that garnered a rave write-up in The New York Times 11 months after it initially launched as a pop-up in early 2011. The following year, Trinidad opened Jeepney, a Filipino gastropub, earning a two-star review from Times restaurant critic Pete Wells.
Style: Strain-specific world fusion.
Cannabis fame: In 2015, Trinidad launched 99th Floor, a promoter of private cannabis dinners planning a line of edibles for the California market. Five-course dinners have been staged in Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles, featuring dishes like infused steak tartare, infused lobster risotto, infused bouillabaisse and sweet-and-sour diesel fried chicken.
His cooking philosophy: “I treat the cannabis as an ingredient itself. Each strain has its own flavor profile. I study the bud and find what its flavor profiles are and develop the courses from that. I’m not trying to mask the cannabis; I want it to come out. The strain determines how the menu is going to develop. Our ice creams are very popular. One I call The 4 Cs: chocolate, cherry, cayenne pepper, and cannabis, using Sour Chem and Girl Scout Cookies strains, which both go really well with chocolate and spice.”
His dosing approach: Five-course dinners are dosed at 15 mg maximum. “I want people to be in an environment where there's good food paired with great cocktails and great conversation and they can still get up and go home.”
Why he cooks with cannabis: “I would like to destigmatize it. I grew up on the Lower East Side in a Latino family where my mom was so against it. If you smoked weed you were considered a drug addict. Her mind has changed because of topicals and CBD. Once we understand more about the plant and the medicine that it provides, we'll be able to get rid of pharmaceuticals and all the side effects that come from taking cholesterol pills and pain medication. The public needs more knowledge. My goal is to bridge that gap through food.”
More info: www.instagram.com/99thfl
Culinary chops: Named one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 culinary rock stars in 2013, Jagger entered the restaurant business at a sushi bar in the San Fernando Valley in 2004 and worked stints as a pastry chef at Town Hall, Salt House, and Anchor & Hope in San Francisco before moving on to a sous chef job at Craft, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s formerly Michelin-starred farm-to-fork restaurant, and pastry chef jobs at Muddy Leek and the private club Soho House, all in the Los Angeles area.
Style: Farm-to-table fabulousness.
Cannabis fame: A longtime cannabis grower — “honestly, it was the way I paid my bills because $10 an hour as a pastry cook in San Francisco doesn't cut the cheese too well,” he said — Jagger co-founded Altered Plates in 2016, staging cannabis-paired dinners.
Why he prefers pairing over infusing: “I am actually less drawn to infusion and far more drawn to pairing cannabis, smoked in joints throughout the meal. We do a three-step tasting process. The first step is sniffing the cannabis as you would a glass of wine. The next step is a dry-pull where you put the unlit joint to your lips and taste the flavor of cannabis. The final tasting point is when diners smoke the joint. I've actually smoked a number of joints and tasted a number of base elements of these meals. That's where these pairings come from.”
On the importance of sourcing: “I’m a cultivator. I’m focused on sourcing the best ingredients and supporting small farmers. What I find is lacking in this conversation with cannabis and cooking is the link between the small farmer and the chef. It's the language that we should use to educate diners.”
About the strains he uses: “Last season I grew a strain of cannabis called Wish Mountain, which had a wonderful cherry and lime experience and toasted nut flavor. It was like walking through the spice market in Marrakesh and pairs with Middle Eastern dishes. One of my other favorite strains to grow is called In the Pines. It smells like pine needles and pairs wonderfully with gamey meats. A fruit-forward Pineapple strain with over-ripe tropical fruit notes goes well with desserts, fish, and ceviche.”
Coming up: Jagger is launching an outdoor dining event space near his home in the Malibu Hills, featuring meals prepared from ingredients he grows in his cannabis and vegetable gardens and served on tables he made from reclaimed wood.
More info: www.AlteredPlates.com
Culinary chops: “I’ve been a chef since I was 6 years old,” said Durrah, who, as an adult, has launched five restaurants, including The Jamaican Cafe in Santa Monica in 1991 and, in 2012, Jezebel's Southern Bistro & Bar in Denver, which he closed last year to focus on cannabis.
Style: Health-conscious Carribean
Cannabis fame: In 2009, Durrah and his wife, Wanda James, opened Denver’s Simply Pure, the first black-owned cannabis dispensary in the United States. In 2010, Simply Pure launched a line of savory and sweet edibles, including organic, gluten-free and vegan products such as marinara sauce, mango chutney and apple preserves. Durrah and James created Cannabis Global Initiative, a consultancy that worked with the Jamaican government on cannabis decriminalization over the past two years. Durrah stages private cannabis dinners. He also cooks for retired professional athletes suffering from pain, making edibles and infused meals as alternatives to prescription drugs.
His approach to pot: “When I create products, I look at it from a chef's point of view — a healthy point of view, what people like to eat and what works. I look at cannabis as a flavor. I don't run away from it. Think of any herb, whether it's basil or mint. I cook with cannabis as I would with garlic. One of my favorite recipes is sativa onion soup. I really like using a lemon-flavored strain like Lemon Skunk to enhance the flavor.”
How he doses: “We try to do a four-course meal. We like to keep it controllable at about 25 mg total.” Durrah wants cannabis to complement the mood of the meal. He’ll place infused olive oil on tables for guests to drizzle on their food or use as a dip for bread. “It allows everyone to enjoy the meal and add the level of THC they need versus everyone being forced to eat the same dosage.”
Coming up: Durrah is working on launching Simply Pure edibles in California next year. Later this summer, he’ll host a five-day all-inclusive event, including cannabis meals and cooking classes, at The Caves, a private resort in Negril, Jamaica.
Location: Los Angeles
Culinary chops: After studying molecular cell biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Sayegh turned to molecular gastronomy, learning to cook on the job in Michelin-starred restaurants, including Mélisse in Santa Monica and 11 Madison in New York.
Style: Expansive micro-dosed soirees.
Cannabis fame: Sayegh launched The Herbal Chef in 2015, staging private cannabis dinners that cost as much at $500 per person. Sayegh recently appeared at the National Restaurant Association conference in Chicago, speaking about cannabis cuisine and the edibles market.
His approach to dosing: Sayegh’s fancy feasts can run up to 25 courses but typically top out at 10. Potency ranges from 1 mg to 5 mg per dish. Later courses contain calming non-psychoactive CBD instead of THC to taper diners down. “We don't want to scare anybody off. As the leader of cannabis cuisine, we need to make sure that we're taking this mainstream very responsibly and not ruin anyone’s evening.”
On cooking with cannabis: “Most of the time cannabis tastes rather unpleasant and can't balance out. I've become really skilled at masking and maneuvering the flavor. What I really care about is the ingredients shining through. As everyone has said, from Escoffier to Thomas Keller: You want to let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Finding inspiration in his background: Sayegh draws on his Lebanese heritage for his seasonal food — lamb tartare with crispy puffed quinoa; shaved white asparagus with grapefruit, blood orange, and sumac; hamachi with yuzu green goddess, caviar, and hemp-rolled asparagus; and grilled white-bean cake with shaved heirloom carrots.
Why he doesn’t allow smoking: “With all due respect to people who are pairing cannabis outside the food, the integrity of the food is the most important thing for me. This is a culinary experience with an accent of cannabis rather than a cannabis experience with food thrown in. When you pair food with a joint or a blunt or a pipe, you're getting a ton of carcinogens, you're getting the butane from the lighter and undesirable soot on your palate that degrades the food you're tasting. The only way I would pair cannabis with dinner is to use a vaporizer or a clean dab rig so people get a clean flavor pairing.”
Coming up: In July, Sayegh will open an events space in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, where he’ll stage cannabis dinners. In addition to working on a line of infused frozen food, he’s also working on opening Herb, a seasonally focused restaurant in Santa Monica that he hopes will become the first Michelin-starred cannabis restaurant after it launches in early 2018.
More info: www.TheHerbalChef.com
Location: Los Angeles
Culinary chops: A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Drummer cooked at the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles and under noted chef Neal Fraser at Redbird and Vibiana in Los Angeles.
Style: Custom-catered French-inspired cousine.
Cannabis fame: After being introduced to cannabis butter in 2012 — “I made my own cannabis butter and I haven’t turned back since” — Drummer started cooking with cannabis and eventually launched Elevation VIP Cooperative, hosting private dinners and chef’s table tasting events in the Los Angeles area.
Catering to clients: “My menus vary. My client base is so broad. I cater to them. I give them what they want. I view it like doing a wedding. I sit and talk to clients about what kind of food they like and then do a menu tasting. And, yes, I have done cannabis-infused weddings.”
Sample dishes: Drummer’s repertoire features Bayou shrimp infused with Blue Crack, buttered sweetbreads infused with Sour Diesel, butternut squash ravioli with brown butter infused with OG Kush, seared duck with blueberry gastrique infused with Blue Dream, lemon-cacao bark infused with Lemon Kush and vanilla bean cake pops infused with CBD oil.
Her approach on flavors and effects: “I want the flavor profile of the cannabis to pair well with the food. I’m also looking for effects, whether it's a sativa or an indica. And proper dosing. I want the guest to have a good food experience and not feel uncomfortable. Generally I do four courses, sometimes five, including a cocktail — no more than 80 mg total. That's high. That's for like the staff of High Times. Generally, it can be as low as 30 mg for four courses.”
Coming up: Drummer is working on a cannabis cuisine cookbook.
More info: www.ElevationVIP.com
Location: San Francisco
Culinary chops: A graduate of the San Francisco Cooking School, Carroll taught at San Francisco Cheese School and worked as a butcher at old-school meat mecca 4505 Meats in San Francisco.
Style: Buzz-free seasonal.
Cannabis fame: In 2014, Carroll co-founded Madame Munchie, a San Francisco maker of medical cannabis macarons, the colorful French-style meringue cookies, and won a High Times NorCal Cannabis Cup award for best edible the same year. She sold her interest in Madame Munchie in 2015 to launch the Cannaisseur Series, monthly three-course and four-course brunch and dinner events in San Francisco that pair smokable cannabis with mostly non-infused foods, course by course.
Grower-chef: Carroll grows her own cannabis, which she infuses into appetizers like polenta cakes with goat cheese and tomato jam or house-made fromage blanc on crostini.
Non-psychoactive approach: Among Carroll’s favorite ingredients to cook with are cannabis leaf and cannabis bud that she does not decarboxylate so the cannabinoid THCA stays in its non-psychoactive form and does not turn into high-inducing THC. She mixes chopped leaf into a pâte à choux batter that she boils to make gnocchi and then fries non-decarboxylated bud in pancetta fat and tosses both with parmesan.
On her pairings with joints: Carroll pairs strawberry-endive-blue-cheese salad with a berry-forward Strawberry OG strain “because the OG has a funkiness.” She likes Gorilla Glue No. 4 with desserts around the holidays for the strain’s warm cinnamon and cardamom notes.
How she uses CBD: “I love CBD and love infusing it into my middle courses because that's when people hit peak euphoria from the infused appetizers that I serve at the beginning of a meal.”
Coming up: Carroll will stage Summer High Tea on July 16 ($119 per person) and Summer Dinner on Aug. 6 ($149 per person), both at a private location in the South of Market neighborhood.
More info: www.CannaisseurSeries.com
Culinary chops: A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco, Lewis interned under chef Laurent Gras at the late, legendary Michelin-starred restaurant Fifth Floor in San Francisco. She also cheffed at luxe supper club Bix and Southern sensation The Front Porch, both in San Francisco.
Style: Low-dose French fundamentals.
Cannabis fame: After making white-label edibles for San Francisco medical cannabis dispensaries, Lewis moved to Denver, where in 2009 she founded Mountain Medicine, a maker of medical and recreational edibles, which received four honorable mentions in the 2015 High Times Cannabis Cup in Denver. Her line includes a cinnamon-apple pie bar based on her grandmother’s recipe, plus fruit leather, toasted cheese crackers, and s’mores.
On cannabis’ healing appeal: “I've always been a huge fan of cannabis. A San Francisco dispensary operator asked me to create edibles for AIDS and cancer patients. I became really passionate about producing something that could give people quality of life and make them feel good. Cooking is like that. It's a very intimate experience. Then you add in this nurturing, medicinal value. I was all in at that point.”
Why she doesn’t infuse every dish: Lewis occasionally throws cannabis dinner parties at home, preferring to cook with sativa strains. “I like cooking meats and layered braises. I generally don't cook with cannabis in everything. I've learned that the hard way. There's an art to going slow. I do a charcuterie plate with candied bacon braised in infused butter. There's something about eating an infused appetizer and then eating an amazing meal 30 minutes later. It's great for a chef because you get the heightened palate to really enjoy all the hard work that you put into the meal.”
Coming up: “Do I think I can have a cooking show on the Food Network talking about ways to make infused coconut oil? Not any time soon, but they will eventually embrace it.”
More info: www.mtnmeds.com
Location: Los Angeles
Culinary chops: A self-taught cook, Danzer, aka Jeff the 420 Chef, said he’s always been a “food hacker.” His background is in the fashion industry, where he spent more than 20 years as a senior marketing executive for an underwear company.
Style: Purified pedigree canna-oil based.
Cannabis fame: The author of The 420 Gourmet: The Elevated Art of Cannabis Cuisine, Danzer developed a process for creating cannabis-infused butter and cannabis-infused coconut oil that are light in flavor and light in color while still packing heady punches. He said he leaches out chlorophyll and impurities in cannabis flowers that will taint infusions. Danzer teaches his process in classes in medical and recreational cannabis states and prepares edibles and cannabis-infused meals for private clients and promotional events.
Why he washes his cannabis: “Just like you would wash your fruits and vegetables, you need to wash your cannabis. I came up with a process of soaking it in distilled water for two to three days, changing the water every 12 hours, then blanching it in boiling water. Now you've got the cleanest plant matter on the planet with trichomes attached to it but none of the extra stuff that you don't want in your food.”
A sampling of his dishes: Danzer’s infused dishes include Asian chicken salad with strawberry dressing, purple Peruvian potato puffs, a vegan burger, cherry-glazed ham, watermelon gazpacho, and show-stopping apple rosette pastries. Danzer likes African sativa strains such as Durban Poison and Red Congolese that contain THCV, a cannabinoid that suppresses the munchies.
Coming up: Jeff will present the Northern California Cannabis Cuisine Experience, a cannabis dinner for 420 guests on a Sonoma County farm on July 22.