The Herbal Chef: An infused-dinner from the taste buds of a non-foodie

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      I’d like to begin this recount with a disclaimer: I am not a food writer and this isn’t a foodie piece. I won’t try emulating that art. This is a tale of a dinner from the ever-so-slightly stoned perspective of a cannabis writer.

      Rarely do I ever start a good story with: “I stepped in dog shit”, but this is an exception. I am a firm believer in omens and signs, and I am not entirely sure what the universe was trying to tell me in the moments leading up to The Herbal Chef (THC) dinner, but it certainly had my attention.

      There was plenty of buzz around THC’s maiden voyage to Canada, but only 120 lucky canna-curious Vancouverite’s were able to attend. So, here’s the scoop.

      Both my editor Amanda Siebert and I are well-seasoned potheads who, when informed there would only be 10 milligrams of CBD (the non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis) in the entire meal, decided to “encourage” the evening’s festivities. Getting entirely blitzed was not in the cards, as we wanted to actually partake as functioning individuals, so with only a few inhales from a one-hitter, we set forth on our adventure.

      Earlier in the day, around 1:30 p.m., we both received an email disclosing the address and time of the event. While we initially romanticized the alluring mystery of the location, under more intoxicated circumstances it turned out to be quite daunting. Try look inconspicuous while stoned—it’s a fun game. 

      We headed toward the trendy Vancouver neighbourhood set to host the event with intention and excitement, but then the unfortunate incident with canine excrement happened somewhere along the way alerting me to the fact that I wasn't...well, alert.

      After awkwardly casing the joint for 15 minutes, we meandered over to the front of the restaurant. A woman stood adjacent to the entrance addressing a few people as they craned their necks to peek inside.

      “It’s a private event. You need to be on the list,” she insisted to a pair of men standing in front of her.

      “We’re on the list,” one of them retorted.

      Okay, we’re in the right place. One point for Team Straight-Up-Stoned.

      Once the gentlemen checked-in, Amanda and I pushed our way into the busy foyer and up to the desk. I barely got my credentials out before she handed me a form to sign.

      “It’s just a non-disclosure regarding the location and consent to consume cannabis,” she says, politely shouting above the noise. Servers were rushing around, people were filing in from the street, and THC was in its 11th hour.  

      As I stood there doing my best to sign my name legal name (fun fact: it’s not really Piper), a booming voice came from over my left shoulder and I turned to see head chef Chris Sayegh doling out very specific instructions about the temperature and timing of something—all of which was foreign to someone who evaporates boiling water after consistently forgetting she’s making pasta.

      Head chef Christopher Sayegh.
      Hannah T. Park. Outpost Digital Cinema

      I was almost relieved to escape the tension of down-to-the-wire chaos when we were asked to return to the sidewalk to wait a few more minutes.

      We leant against a brick wall outside and watched as the who’s who of the cannabis industry slowly filtered down the sidewalk to join in our very conspicuous loitering. The “so…what are you here for?” joke was tossed around a few times.

      After about 10 minutes we were all asked to come back inside. The chef and his team were heads-down in an open kitchen while the guests were handed a glass of bubbly and instructed to find their assigned seats.

      “Oh god, this is a lot to ask of someone this stoned,” I mumbled to Amanda, scanning tables full of tiny white name cards.

      “Okay, you look over there,” she pointed to a far cluster of rectangular tables dressed in black and covered in assorted wine glasses. “And I’ll look over here.”

      Tactical. Clean. Totally low-key.

      The Herbal Chef menu.
      Hannah T. Park. Outpost Digital Cinema

      It worked and we were the first at our table. We scanned the rest of the names to see who we were to be sharing this magical meal with. In our party, we had the head of PR for the event, the president of Liquidity Wines (the alcohol sponsor), two guys from Farm & Florist (another sponsor), and another journalist…and two women at the end of the table whose identities I regrettably forgot.

      In the centre of the table sat a glass vase with a few sprigs of eucalyptus, eryngium, and what looked like pink and white diosma sprouting from a pile of untouched dry ice. As dishes were presented throughout the evening, servers added a few drops of terpenes (the smelly and tasty oils found in plants, including cannabis) and water to the vase, causing radiantly scented plumes of vapour to cascade onto the table.

      Even entirely sober I would have been wide-eyed at this display of perfumed decadence.

      Floral dry ice centrepiece.
      Hannah T. Park. Outpost Digital Cinema

      After a heartfelt thank you to his team and the sponsors, chef Chris gave a thorough account of the menu we were about to consume, sharing details of his recent spot prawning adventures and foraging excursions to harvest ingredients like reindeer lichen and pine resin.

      "You have to leave at least 80 percent of what you collect. If you find a batch of ten fiddleheads, you can take two of them. That way there remains enough to continue populating and feed whatever other wildlife feeds on it," he says in an interview after the event.

      "We managed to find 140 fiddleheads, so just enough for everyone to try one."

      Then, one-by-one, out came the carefully plated dishes.  

      A Dungeness crab cigar, a tiny goat cheese bagel with pine needles, salmon with bitter cress and false lily of the valley, pork belly peameal bacon with smoked apple jus…each course accompanied by an equally satisfying glass of wine from Liquidity Wines in Okanagan Falls.

      "We caught an incredible amount of spot prawn. We used the heads for the stock, then dehydrated and roasted the exoskeleton to make a powder that we then coated the [Dungeoness crab] cigar in," says Chris, reflecting on the preparation of one of the courses. "We utilized every piece of what we harvested."

      The spot prawn was unlike anything I've ever tasted. Chef Chris shared that it was only cooked in the acidity of lemon juice half-an-hour before service, preserving the taste and integrity of the freshly caught crustacean.

      Amanda and I both agreed that our favourite dish of the evening was a rose pana cotta served with gooseberries, mulberries, candied bacon, and foraged pine resin.

      She turned to me midbite and said: “I never thought I’d say this but candied bacon just changed my life.”

      It was true.

      Rose pana cotta with gooseberries, mulberries, candied bacon, and foraged pine resin
      Piper Courtenay

      The night was impeccably timed, though I’m not sure anyone would have noticed if there was a glitch because frankly we were all too busy socializing, imbibing, and people-watching.

      Then came time for the music. Oh, the music. Chef Chris introduced the room to Brendan O’Hara, a one-man-indie-band who layers the sounds of blues, rock, soul, and hip-hop using only his powerfully raspy voice, an acoustic guitar, and a loop station. He consumed the space with a set of original songs, like the sweet and endearing “As Good As It Gets”, and covers including a few of Bill Withers' top hits. Before this evening, I was partial to the idea that KD Lang’s version of “Hallelujah” could not be rivaled…I was wrong.

      My barometer for a good musician is the reoccurrence, or lack thereof, of goose bumps when I hear their music again after some time has passed. Writing this, I pulled up O’Hara’s music and, no shock here, level-10 goose bumps.

      Hannah T. Park. Outpost Digital Cinema

      As far as the CBD, there was definitely a discernible giddiness. Whether the buzz was from the infused-food, the music, the company, or all of them combined, it was a calm, happy sensation that swept over me mid-meal and lingered for the rest of the evening. This seemed to be the sentiment amongst the majority of guests.

      "People were a little more apprehensive here than in the States. It was funny to see that," says Chris.

      "Later in the night everyone loosened up and realized this is just how consumption will be in the future."

      Head chef Christopher Sayegh.
      Hannah T. Park. Outpost Digital Cinema

      Maybe the unfortunate “misstep” that preceded the evening was telling me to pay attention to my surroundings. It was an unexpectedly beautiful day amidst a week of rain, the mountains stood in their humbling glory, and leaving the restaurant that evening I couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful for the place I call home.

      Here we all were, eating food from “our backyard”, in a room full of local cannabis lovers, pairing B.C. wine with B.C. bud. Who knew one stranger’s night of fiddleheads, flower, and fine wine could make me so nostalgic for a place I had inhabited for so long?

      Though it didn't change my understanding of cannabis (as I'm sure it did for other attendees), I have never felt so British Columbian in my life.