Chris Sayegh made the type of career change that gives parents gray hair. As a pre-med student en route to becoming a doctor, Sayegh fell in love with cooking and exchanged his stethoscope for a spatula. The transition was rocky, but the naturally gifted chef went on to create culinary magic in Michelin-starred restaurants on both coasts, even working as a stage (or apprentice, taken from the French word stagiaire) at the highest-ranked restaurant in the United States. Then, in another bold career turn, the young gastronomist shifted his focus toward creating the first Michelin-level cannabis cuisine.
Sayegh, a.k.a. The Herbal Chef, possesses an elite skillset effortlessly moving between classic French technique and Catalan-style molecularism with an emphasis on farm-to-fork freshness. Today, he applies these skills to crafting decadent dinner tastings that showcase the latest culinary trends, such as a recent narrative-driven, African flavors-themed event titled Alice in Motherland. The chef also creates gourmet edible products like basil pesto (with a slight jalapeno kick), chocolate-drizzled popcorn and strawberry macaroon that are available on his website. Sayegh is part of the PRØHBTD family providing editorials and recipes and starring in two new series, Pot Pie and Braized & Confused. PRØHBTD spoke with the Herbal Chef to learn more.
Tell me about the secret dinners. I don't know if “secret” is the right word, but...
Well, for my private dinners, I do anywhere from five to 15 courses. Everything is individually tailored to the customer. Your dosage is going to be different from the person sitting next to you or across from you. The reason I do this is so that everybody can enjoy the 15 courses and only get as high as they want to get. If you're drinking wine like it's water, I'll scale back the THC. This is about having an amazing, cerebral experience, not getting messed up at a dinner. Anybody can get people way too high, and there is no finesse in that. I think the real beauty is when you can get them just high enough so they may see the intricacies in what you've put before them. It would be a shame if people were too intoxicated to miss out on the little things that really tie the dinner together, such as the art, the live music, the handmade wooden plates, etc.
My understanding is that a lot of the people at these dinners are very famous and make you sign nondisclosure agreements.
There's been a few of those that I am not able to talk about, which is unfortunate for publicity, but at the same time, I really don't care. It's a lot of fun either way.
If I understand correctly, you worked at two- and three-star restaurants in California?
I got a job offer from a three star, and I worked at a few two-star restaurants.
You never mention the names of the restaurants. Are you afraid that they won't appreciate the cannabis connection?
I feel like it's not fair to them because what if they don't want to be associated with it, and especially with the chefs that I worked under, some of them were just assholes. There's no other way to put it. I don't particularly like them as human beings. I do, however, love them as chefs. I'm in between a place where I don't know if I want to ever mention that I've worked there or if I want to use that as a catalyst. I just want to work off of my own merits.
I interviewed a chef who worked at Noma in Denmark. He said it was the best and the worst experience of his life. Would you describe your experience in these restaurants as the same?
Absolutely. It was the hardest time of my life. I was living out of my car. I was working 16-hour days. I was mistreated. I was treated worse than you would treat a dog. It was the hardest but most beautiful experience I've ever had.
What do you think is the most valuable thing that you learned during this time?
Now you referenced a three-star job offer, which I believe was 11 Madison in NYC, the highest ranked restaurant in the U.S. Was it a job offer or did you actually work there?
They had me stage for a while, and they offered me a job after I made them a composed dish on the fly. The funny thing was I actually turned it down because I was going to go back to school. Then the school where I was going to finish up my degree revoked my acceptance because one of my classes didn't transfer over. I turned down this job simultaneously as I got revoked from the school, which left me in limbo. I eventually went on to start my own company.
There's a rumor at 11 Madison that the servers like to play a game called "hooker or daughter?” Do you know of this game?
That is hilarious! But I absolutely cannot give any insight on that.
Tell me about Pot Pie, the first of two shows you are doing with PRØHBTD.
The thing I love most about Pot Pie is that I get to be my goofy self and have fun. Nothing is too serious. I mean, of course I still take it seriously, but it’s much more relaxed than my other jobs. I also never get high and cook for my diners. I have so much to do that I need to be laser focused, but Pot Pie allows me to show that I can loosen up whereas Braized & Confused shows how seriously I take my craft. Not to mention, I'm working with comedians and celebrities who make it so much fun to film. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. It is a good mix for me to have some mandated fun in my schedule.
You mentioned Braized & Confused, the second show with PRØHBTD. What will this show be like?
Braized & Confused is the culmination of what my generation wants to do, which is to explore. My personal goal in life is to leave a positive impact on the world, and I've chosen my medium of food to be the catalyst. Through Braized & Confused, I get to show the culture of cannabis all around the world and the stigmas that are associated with it and what the culture is in every place. Then we get to show grows and extractions. Most of all, we get to see the area. It's like an Anthony Bourdain meets Bear Grylls type of show where I obviously get to fish and hunt and sometimes dive. I'll get my own ingredients from the land itself, and then use them in my dinners all around the world. It's following this journey. It's how I've gotten this far, and what I'm planning on doing in the culinary world, and how I'm planning on changing the perception of cannabis and elevating that perception, really.
Before you turned to cooking, you were actually pre-med. What inspired the switch, and do you not find it ironic that you ultimately do work with medicine as a chef?
No, I don't find it ironic at all. I think this is exactly what I was meant to do. I was studying pre-med. I was a molecular cell biology major, and I had my epiphany. I'm not going to say it was due to ’shrooms and all the psychedelics, but they really opened up my mind to another perspective on life. As soon as I gained that perspective, I realized that I needed to take control of my life and how I was living it. Through that, I found that I wanted to make people happy. I wanted to be creative.
I wasn't going to just be a jockey and give people all these pills and medicine, even though there are amazing medical practices and I'm not downplaying medicine at all. But I think people are way too medicated, and they forget to be conscious of everything that's going on around them. I wanted to be a part of opening up consciousness. I wanted to be a part of making people happy. I wanted to be a part of changing the world in a positive way. I've always associated family, good vibes, good people with being around food. It's how I grew up. As soon as I realized that I wasn't on my right path, I made the change immediately. It was very nerve-wracking, and I had no idea what I was going to do, actually. Looking back I can’t believe I had the balls to drop literally everything in my life to pursue my dream. I just knew that I wanted to cook.
I told my parents, I told my friends. I was like, "I'm leaving school this year. I need to do what I want to do." Of course, my parents were very against it. My mom would call me crying every day, saying I was throwing away my life. They didn't understand what I was doing. They didn't understand that I had a vision in mind, that I was trying to do something much bigger than myself, and it was very hard for me for a while. Not only did I not have the support of my parents, but at that time, that's when I got introduced to the chef at the two-star restaurant. It was one of the two stars that I worked at, but that one was tough. That was when I was working the 16-hour days, and I was just grinding.
That's how I met actually my roommate that I work with now. He's an amazing chef. He was a sous chef there, but he saw me getting into my car, and he was like, "What are you doing?" I was embarrassed. I didn't want to say I was sleeping in there. He was like, "Come sleep on my floor." That's how we became great friends. But that was the toughest thing in my life, to make that decision to up and leave. Nobody knew what I was doing. Nobody knew my vision. I looked like I had dropped out of college and wasn't doing anything with my life.
That was just part of the process.
How often do you hunt and fish the ingredients for a dinner?
Not for every dinner, I want to make that clear. I can't. There's no physical way for me to do everything that I'm doing manufacturing-wise and all the stuff that I have going on with my company and hunt and fish and forage all the time. It's when I'm capable, when they pay me enough to where I can say, "Okay, I'm going to put everything on hold and go hunting and fishing for a few days."
When you do forage, where in California do you like to do it?
Everywhere. I really enjoy going to the middle of California. San Luis Obispo has some amazing places for foraging. Santa Cruz does, too. I've found some amazing truffles up in San Luis Obispo. Even around here in Los Angeles, there's pretty good places to forage. For instance, Griffith Park has some awesome wood sorrel, pine and other amazing flowers. People just don't know to look or what it's used for.
Do you have plans to open a restaurant?
I pitched my restaurant six years ago at the first ArcView meeting in New York City, actually. This is how long I've been having these ideas. I pitched my whole restaurant. I had a hybrid menu, a sativa menu, an indica menu, and then I had a menu where you could basically have no [cannabis infusion], if you wanted. All of it was based on your tolerance. There's live music. I even have where the seats are. I have the booths. I have literally where the bud bar is, my big glass bud bar. I had everything planned out. It's a matter of time before I open up the first cannabis-infused restaurant.
Follow the Herbal Chef on Instagram here. Check out his PRØ recipes like Rustic Pizza, Mango Fruit Roll-Up and Chimichurri Sauce as well as editorial pieces like How to Tell Your Family You’re in the Cannabis Industry, Cannabs-Infused Dining Experiences and Cooking Savory Cannabis.