Holden Jagger of Altered Plates is a Zagat 30 Under 30 alum who's worked under esteemed chefs like Curtis Stone and Tom Colicchio, and his time spent in the kitchen is only exceeded byhis time spent growing cannabis. When the Los Angeles native decided to combine his two loves, however, he wanted to do something more than just infuse food like so many other chefs are doing. As discussed in the first of a two-part interview, Holden shook up the old model with a focus on food and flower pairings, whole-plant gastronomy and reshaping the cannabis lexicon via the language of food. In the second part of the interview, PRØHBTD dives deeper into the chef's experience, motivations and thoughts on the current global food trends. Most notably, he describes an upcoming event space he's building that will let people enjoy his food and flower pairings in a cannabis garden.
What drove you to the kitchen?
I can't sit still. I love everything that grows, I'm very passionate about plants, and I like taking care of people. The [cannabis] parties I threw in high school were me doing what I've always been doing. I probably changed the least out of all my friends from high school. I feel I've always been very true to what I'm passionate about, and many people only started to become passionate about things like shopping at farmers markets and knowing your farmerwhen they could afford to be. That's the food movement I come from, and that's what I am trying to relate to with cannabis. It's basically like taking the lessons we've learned from the agricultural business and going backwards.
As a chef, as somebody who cares about how we grow stuff and how we eat, this is the conversation I want to have. We need, not just a seat at the table, but to see the writing on the wall. Ten years from now, the market will have the product that every conscious and aware consumer will pay the highest value for because it's the only thing that you can consider a true hyper-seasonal [product] with the curing and preservation techniques out there right now. We can take a 10-pound plant that performed at its peak ability as its genotype, but then had its phenotype in the environment where it was grown. This is something within our cannabis production regions. Just like in Napa and Sonoma [with wine], we have places like Mendocino and Humboldt that are going to the next level as far as what it means to identify and taste and describe these elements of terroir and apply them to cannabis like they do with wine.
Didn't you start in a sushi restaurant?
Yes, that was my first gig. My parents basically lived at this sushi bar. My dad is what you would call a sushi aficionado. He used to be a cannabis aficionado, but he stopped smoking when I was one or two. He was getting weed from Humboldt before anybody else. He's always been on the cutting edge of the best. He was one of the first people to ever even eat at Katsuya in Studio City, and he and [master sushi chef] Katsu developed this intense relationship, so he's eaten sushi from the best. So we found this place 4 on 6 Sushi, and we became really close to them.
I was taking time off from college, and so they gave me an opportunity to learn what working in a restaurant was really all about. They didn't make it all too rosy. I did get $10 dollars an hour, I'll say that. I used to do this shit for free. I don't know how you live in San Francisco on $10 dollars an hour so that's why I kept working in grow rooms [when I lived there]. I was super into the medical community in San Francisco, but at the same time, I was a chef. At the time, the tides started to turn in San Francisco, and people stopped going to jail, or at least not as much. There was a definite time when I could have gone in either direction, and I went the pedigree way, the chef route, because it was something I wanted badly.
Why did you quit the sushi restaurant?
They said, "You're doing really good. In about two more years, we'll teach you how to make rice." When they said that, I was like, "I'm gonna go back to school."
You were a pastry chef at places like Town Hall, Muddy Leek and the Soho House. What skills did you learn as a pastry chef that other cooks might not…?
I'm not going to say they can't have those skills. When I made Zagat 30 Under 30 [while at Muddy Leek], I was actually the sous chef, pastry chef and head baker of a very small tight-knit group of people. I mean, I didn't go the route of being a savory cook because I like cooking. I knew early on that this was going to jade me to the point where I don't want to bake. My wife drags me to baking. It's not something I willingly do, but it's something I easily do. I fit in well with pastry because I'm really good at fractions and… (laughing) I had a lot of experience with grams.
I had a little resume—I worked at the sushi bar, on the hot line at Chaya, and then at Town Hall where this pastry opening happened. I was there probably a week and a half late at that point. Have you ever worked in a restaurant?
If you're a cook, usually the first two weeks somebody quits, and then a new guy gets hired, so there's a period when no one talks to you, especially when you're green. You can't walk in and be like, "I know what the fuck I'm doing." The pastry chef turned to me and said, "You, hair boy!" My hair was even longer then. "Do you know the difference between a wet measure and a dry measure?" I'm like, "You use those cups for the dry and those for the wet," and she's like, "You're on pastry today." It just happened, and it was a better fit for me.
You also worked at Maude.
That was interesting because everyone there is a chef, right? Everyone actually had the stripes. My boss, Vannessa Garcia, was a James Beard Award nominee. She was amazing. She was one of those talents where I was literally like,"I can't believe we did a tasting back to back with each other" after I saw her desserts.We had 10 different kinds of plums, and that's what I dug. I'm so seasonal-driven. There are levels of her stuff that I couldn't even touch, but at the same time, she couldn't make a cracker. She couldn't make anything related to that middle world of savory and pastry, so that was my real role.
People will hire you for private events, but do you do pop-ups as well?
We're not really doing that. So I've been cultivating for the last eight years outside in the same place. I've had the opportunity to take over a new location, and I'm trying to combine that with an event space. We might do more activated-style events for that. It would be a different kind of immersion experience because you're having dinner in a cannabis garden.
This is the first year I've offered [my plants] to anyone. I know the caregiver law has been abused by most, but I grew for my family, for my elderly in-laws, who are sharp as a fucking tack. My father-in-law is a famous musician, I'll tell you off the record.
It's not Mick Jagger?
No, no. That's my middle name. We went with Jagger for a number of reasons. Look, my dad wanted to name me Hollywood...
Your mom said no?
Yeah, thank god. It's like, "How many H's did you want to give me in my name?"
When the LA Times comes to your house to confirm that you are actually growing pot, and then in the same article they say I got a Zagat award, it's not hard to do the math. I go by Jagger just so Jeff Sessions doesn't come to my house.
When do you think you will take over this new space?
I'm doing it. I'm building this space myself with my own hands. I'm taking all the knowledge that I have in the cultivation side and putting it to use. I have an interesting technique for pest prevention that I'm rolling out. In California, we have something called the California oak moth, and I've lost plants because of them. Eight-, 10-foot tall plants go right on the compost heap. I want to prevent the moth from getting to the plant while still maintaining an outdoor environment. It's not a greenhouse, it's more of an atrium, because I don't need the moisture or the heat control. I would need shade more than anything else.
French pastries are the most famous, but with chefs like Albert Adrià and Jordi Roca, do you see the pastry movement moving to Spain?
Yeah, I mean, most of the best chefs in the world are in Spain right now. Los Angeles has some amazing chefs now, too. You notice they all end up here, right?
Yes, it's like a migration these past few years.
Everybody ends up in L.A. in some way shape or form. If you watch food trends long enough, you always return to the simple, that which is not as heavily dependent on composition. The pendulum has swung back, and we've gone back and made food rustic again. We haven't always had this broad range of techniques and technologies that we have today, so you're actually starting to see them go side-by-side. It's like they're both able to coincide. What's happened in Spain has allowed that to happen. Spain has pushed the envelope to where refining food isn't going away—we're only getting more and more intense and composed—and my hat go off to those people because I have done it, and I don't love it.
What do you see as the next major food trend?
Asian fusion or straight-up Chinese?
Some of the stuff the West hasn't even seen. China is basically the birthplace of everything we know of as food in the grocery store. You know about Szechuan in America, but what do you know about Beijing cuisine? That you gotta wear a gas mask to eat it? That's the only thing I can think of, and there has to be so much more. I look forward to finding out what that is.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.