Noah Tucker is a native New Yorker who launched his career as a chef in New York, San Francisco and Japan before moving to Amsterdam a decade ago. London native Tony Joseph came to the Netherlands a few years earlier after studying with famous chefs and cooking for restaurants in the U.S. and Belgium. Together, they started High Cuisine, a culinary project that fuses sophisticated recipes with organic mind-altering substances, that's set to be filmed around the world as a new series premiering in 2019.
PRØHBTD spoke with Tucker and Joseph about the High Cuisine series, the chefs' vegetable-forward restaurant Yerba and their adventures fusing two of the best things life has to offer: food and drugs.
Tell me about the new High Cuisine series and what makes it unique.
Tucker: There are a couple different levels as to why it's unique. Aside from being a cooking show, it's also a drug show and a cultural show, and there's a lifestyle premise to it. There are a lot of elements so you're not just getting a straightforward show that's boom, boom, boom, this is what we're delivering, and that's it. People have always been interested in food and drugs, but no one has ever put them together in the way that we're doing it.
High Cuisine also puts a press on what is taboo and what is the line between what's comfortable, like food, and what maybe isn't comfortable, like drugs. In one form or another, everybody is doing a drug, whether it's caffeine, sugar, nicotine, alcohol, whatever. At some point, that shit was taboo as well, and it wasn't allowed. We want to constantly push on taboos and see what happens when we do.
So unlike other culinary shows, High Cuisine doesn't just take place in the kitchen. What are some of the places you plan to visit?
Tucker: Brazil, South Africa, Cambodia, Indonesia and probably the South Pacific, Vietnam.
Tucker: The premise is that we look for the rarest all-natural ingredients, both in terms of drugs and base ingredients, and we literally go to the location where they are found. For example, kanna is a root from South Africa, originally given to Zulu warriors when they would come back from combat almost as a PTSD treatment. It re-acclimates them to everyday life. It's a focus drug, actually. This is quite nice for when you’re doing maybe some mind-altering drugs to have something that kind of pulls you back a bit and helps you refocus while you're enjoying the experience you’re having.
We would go to South Africa and find a tribe or subculture that still deals with kanna, find out how they actually use it, and involve ourselves in whatever cultural ritual they get into with their Shamans. We'd then go to a Michelin-starred or really strong, strong, strong restaurant to see the style of food that is being pushed out right now—the seasonality, the ingredients—and bring it all together. We take the culture surrounding the ritualistic drug and then build a dish or dinner based on what we think the culinary expression should be.
We are literally looking at [the drugs] the way a chef would look at an ingredient, and with the show, we are searching for new ingredients. That's the angle with High Cuisine.
What mind-altering substances have you cooked with in the past?
Tucker: Budded weed, hash, kanna, kratom, Syrian rue, truffles, wild mushrooms and the list goes on, but that’s a pretty healthy description.
Which is your favorite?
Tucker: Probably weed and psychedelics are the top. One of them’s probably the most constant in everyday life, which is weed, and it’s the one that should be used a lot more. Psychedelics are simply fine and amazing, and they're quite challenging because they really taste horrible. Mushrooms are a fungus, man. It’s funky so it’s a good challenge as well, and in general I love the mushroom family.
What is Syrian rue?
Tucker: Syrian rue is from Egypt. It’s kind of a gateway opener. It allows you to not have to ingest so much of the psychedelic to get the experience. Because the experience is so much about microdosing and control, not having to put in an incredible amount of anything is nice. Syrian rue helps your body absorb, relax and amplify the experience that you’re having.
How would you describe your approach to sourcing ingredients?
Tucker: Hyper seasonal. Whatever's in season is what we use.
Joseph: And for the show, it's going to be based on the seasonal ingredients of the regions we visit.
Will the show incorporate how you're sourcing ingredients in the different regions?
Tucker: Yeah, for sure. You'll see everything. The show is very, very transparent.
How do you plan out the order of each course with the mind-altering effects in mind?
Tucker: We’re definitely going for a really specific kind of evening. When you’re eating this, you have to be careful when certain things are ingested, knowing the time it takes for your body to put it into effect, knowing what you're capable of doing once you start to feel the effect of the drugs. And you're sitting down for dinner, so I’m not going to expect you to sit down for three hours. If you're enjoying the mushrooms, you’re going to want to go explore. It’s necessary to be specific about what gets ingested and the amount.
What is the benefit of integrating psychoactive ingredients into the cuisine as opposed to pairing them with courses the way fine-dining restaurants do with wine?
Tucker: To break the taboo of how we ingest it and to normalize the benefits of it. Mushrooms help with depression, right? Kanna helps with focus and digestion. Cannabis, we know, has a huge range of benefits. We're trying to infuse it to make it normal, and the most normal thing we do as humans is eat. And you don't taste [the drugs]. You don't notice anything on your tongue except really, really yummy food.
Joseph: And obviously there's the effect of getting high once you've consumed it. For instance, you might normally go to a restaurant and have a course dinner with wine, but now instead of wine, you pair the course with drugs that are administered directly in the food.
Do the drugs affect you differently when they’re mixed with food?
Tucker: If anything, they probably affect you less. Aside from weed, everything is recommended to take on an empty stomach. But we’re not looking for the shamanic spiritual element. When you take them prescribed that way, it’s probably a much stronger dose.
Joseph: Whenever you take mushrooms, you take them on their own, [and] they have a completely different flavor. They taste like shit. When we put them in the food, it’s all about the food. We really want to have amazing food that has drugs in it so it’s masked to the point that you don't actually know that it’s there. It’s the effect we’re going for rather than the taste.
The effect is subtle?
Joseph: Whenever we’ve done these, we’ve done multiple courses. Our limit is five courses, so each course is a microdose, as opposed to taking one particular drug and having that throughout the duration.
Tony, is it true you don't consume any drugs?
Joseph: That's completely true. For me it's more about the usage of the drug as an ingredient. So, as a chef, it's very, very hard to come by new ingredients nowadays. For instance, in Europe, every chef uses the same ten, twenty ingredients. For me, [drugs] were something that I've never used before, to the point that I've never seen them before, so wouldn't it be wonderful to use them as an ingredient and incorporate them into food that I love. It's the excitement of having a completely different ingredient than what other chefs are even thinking of or willing to do.
What factors motivated you to stay away from drugs?
Joseph: In my youth I smoked a little, but I personally didn't like getting high. That was the only reason. I have nothing against it. I drink. That's my drug of choice.
Which chefs had the biggest impact on your culinary growth when you were first coming up?
Joseph: In regard to my career, my biggest impact chef was Andrew Turner, but what I'm doing now has nothing to do with him per se. Throughout my training, throughout my standing as a chef and how I've grown and what I've achieved, I owe some of that to him. Definitely him.
Tucker: Neil [Cornelius] Gallagher. The kitchen dynamic of his particular restaurant was just very young and very, very hungry. It was like the old sous chef from Daniel and the old sous chef from Jean-George, and everybody came together on the team. It was the most intense learning experience of how you can express yourself. There were no rules when it came to food. It was like, these are the base practices of how you create, and now just go for it. That's how he did it, and he executed it amazingly. It was a huge inspiration as a very young cook.
Tell me about your restaurant consulting company in Amsterdam.
Tucker: Fraîche Hospitality started when we opened our first restaurant. As two chefs, we realized we had something to offer restaurant companies. We could literally, not only look at the books, but also go into the kitchen and throw on an apron and fix a lot of very fundamental issues in Amsterdam. Because 10 years ago, the restaurant scene was not what it is today. To say the least. We did a lot of consulting for Soho House and the Ochsen Hotel and so on and so forth.
And what about your new restaurant?
Joseph: We just opened up a restaurant called Yerba eight months ago.
Tucker: It's a plant-based restaurant, so it's vegetable forward, but you can get meat and fish. It starts as a course menu, and if you don't touch anything, we're going to give you a complete vegan menu. But if you feel like adding some fish, meat, dairy, egg, whatever your flavor is, there are suggestions all through the menu. It's very seasonal. Things change every two weeks, every week.
Joseph: And we never go back.
Are you still doing the infused dinners?
Tucker: No dinners are happening right now because we're really focused on the show. I think everybody should be pretty fucking stoked to see it when it comes out.
Photo credit: Floris Leeuwenberg. David Jenison contributed to this story.