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At $250 apiece, the meal wasn’t cheap, but for Vancouverite Kris Barnholden, the eight-course menu was irresistible.

The West Coast chef had never been to a cannabis-infused dinner, but when the invitation came his way, he jumped at the chance to partake in the high-end event.

“I’m not personally a big user,” says Barnholden, 41, who attended the dinner for 60 at a secret location in Vancouver’s historic Gastown neighbourhood last April. “But I love food and I’m always looking for new trends in elevated cuisine. People were laughing, less guarded. The conversation was spontaneous and easy. And not one person was checking out their phone.”

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Up-and-coming cannabis chef Chris Sayegh of Los Angeles flew up to cater the pop-up event, just one of the hundreds of private, cannabis-curated dinners he’s prepared since launching his company, the Herbal Chef, three years ago.

Up-and-coming cannabis chef Chris Sayegh

Hanna T. Park

More than hash brownies, in this milieu, cannabis is used like any other herb or vegetable. And it’s done with precision and care to enhance the food and overall enjoyment of the dining experience. In Vancouver, for instance, Sayegh and his team used local ingredients. For Barnholden, the highlights of the meal were local spot prawn served with ramps, morels and fiddle heads, as well as the chef’s take on Canadian back bacon (pork belly with smoked apple jus, cornmeal and potato galette).

“It was a magical night,” Barnholden says. “You can feel the effect rather quickly after the first course. [But] I couldn’t smell or taste it [cannabis]. You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t told.”

Sayegh is part of a vanguard of cannabis chefs who are bringing panache to the pot cooking sector. They cater exclusive, often underground, dinners for inquisitive diners who already appreciate – or are eager to try – food that is dosed with cannabis.

“I want to bring this plant medicine to the world. So there is no stigma, no barriers to use and where all that matters if that you and I are sitting across from one another, breaking bread and having a really good time,” says Sayegh, 26, who studied molecular cell biology at University of California, Santa Cruz before starting Herbal Chef. “The integrity of the food is the most important thing for me.”

With the legalization of cannabis imminent in Canada, Toronto chef Guy Kramer is also preparing for increased demand for this haute – not hippie – dining experience.

"Bagel N Lox" with goat cheese, shallots and pine needles.

Hannah T. Park

“I love working on an open fire, so I’ve catered barbecues with cannabis-infused marinades and sauces. I’ve made a chocolate fudge birthday cake for 35, cannabis souffles and people really love our Crunchie bars [sponge toffee covered milk chocolate],” says the chef/sommelier who co-founded The Green Chef with partner Michael Morgan three years ago.

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Business has been slow to build, given the issue of legality, but Kramer says interest is picking up. A few months ago, he and Morgan catered a 40th-birthday dinner in a private home in Toronto where the six guests received 100 milligrams of cannabis each over a six-course Thai meal.

The infused menu included vegetable spring rolls, mango salad, a curry, Szechuan chicken and coconut-flavoured cotton candy for dessert.

Kramer worked at Chef Allen’s Farm to Table, a popular eatery in Miami, before becoming interested in cannabis and holistic medicine. “A lot of people have negative views on cannabis and think the only way to consume it is through smoking," he says. "Eating it is the best way to enjoy this wonderful plant, without the adverse health effects.”

Amanda, who asked that her last name not be used, attended the Thai birthday, which cost $100 a person. It was the 41-year-old’s first “dosed” meal, and she says it exceeded her expectations in regards to both the quality of the food and the experience overall. “We had quite a lot with our meal,” says Amanda, who describes herself and her friends as regular users. “It was simply an amazing time. And when it was all over, we weren’t hungover, just a little foggy.”

Local dungeness crab, aerated burrate and prawn powder.

Hannah T. Park

Sayegh, who hopes to open Los Angeles’s first cannabis eatery later this year, says it’s rare for him to offer guests such a heavy dose. Most of his diners will receive 10 mg of cannabis over a 10-course meal: 5 mg in the first course, with the remainder tapered over the rest of the evening. The later courses contain calming non-psychoactive CBD, instead of the “high”-inducing THC, so guests can come down gradually at the end of the meal.

“There’s an art to going slow,” adds Sayegh, who learned to cook at Michelin-starred restaurants such as Melisse in Santa Monica and 11 Madison in New York. “We’ve had a lot of stigma to overcome. Society has been skeptical because of the huge amount of misinformation that’s been out there for years.

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“This is a culinary experience with an accent of cannabis rather than a cannabis experience with food thrown in. It’s like pairing food with wine for the first time.”

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