Chris Sayegh, aka The Herbal Chef, is in Napier on Tuesday for a collaboration dinner with Bistronomy chef James Beck.
Mark Story chats to the Californian chef about his cannabis-complemented cuisine.

Your fare sounds illicit - how do you get around the legalities of cooking with cannabis?
It may sound illicit in New Zealand ... because it is! Currently New Zealand doesn't have any licences in place to support a regulated market for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, retail or consumption. This is part of the reason I am here taking meetings, giving a presentation and doing a dinner. It helps to open up the (much needed) conversation around cannabis and plant medicine in general. At the moment we operate with CBD and/or THC where legal.

Does the stigma put diners off?
Mostly we get "canna-curious" diners that piques their interest in learning more. Once it is explained to them how it works, what to expect and what food they will be receiving it makes a very compelling case for one to turn away. We also never force anyone to partake in cannabis consumption at our events, it is always optional and thoroughly explained.
Our experience usually includes a 10 course tasting menu with 8oz of wine pairing and 10mg of THC/10mg of CBD. Everything we use in the dinner is local to the land and usually hand caught for the dinner. It truly is a new level of dining experience in the realm of Cannabis Hospitality.

Hemp products are taking off in New Zealand. In a culinary sense, what does that family of plant offer chefs and the taste buds?
To the taste buds, unfortunately not too much to work with. Hemp oil is often times very pungent, has overwhelming grassy, earthy and bitter notes. So from a flavour perspective it is hard to balance in a dish, it really matters how the hemp is extracted and it is best used by a professional. However, outside of flavour, it is an excellent product to cook with considering the benefits it provides to the human body.

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Give us a few examples of your favourite cannabis-infused dishes.
I serve a "surf & turf" dish with scallop covered wagyu and truffle bordelaise that is divine. The cannabis can be put into anything now, as I have mastered how to work with the plant including its flavours.

The ingredient isn't a culinary rarity in home kitchens here, ie brownies, cakes and cookies. Was your interest sparked by these staples too?
My interest was sparked exactly by those products! It made me want to create something that wasn't filled with sugar. Cannabis is such a powerful plant, and it serves us more than just receiving a high. But man was I tired of eating brownies and rice crispies, I needed real food. Thus, The Herbal Chef was put into the world. Now I travel around the world destigmatising cannabis through the most communal source of inspiration and happiness possible, food!

* The event will be at Bistronomy restaurant, Napier, on October 15. Chris won't be cooking with THC, or CBDs, but will be using cannabis terpenes that are legal in NZ.
For tickets to the event at Napier's Bistronomy restaurant, go to eventfinda.co.nz or 0800 BUY TIX (289 849).

* Chris will also be speaking at next week's Hospitality New Zealand Conference at the Napier War Memorial Centre, running from October 15-17.