Meet The Cannabis Chef Whose Menu Includes Joint Pairings, Terpene Honey, And More

You've seen wine pairings on menus, but did you know that a chef in California offers his guest special joint pairings with their gourmet entrees? Holden Jagger is putting his own special twist on cannabis cuisine by developing menus that go great with a puff of marijuana.

His dinners also come with a complementary lesson in cannabis appreciation, including info about the plant as well as tips for tasting the terpenes and other flavor notes in specific marijuana strains. It's all part of his job as a a 'ganjier' - the cannabis-equivalent of a sommelier for wine aficionados. 

To find out more about his take on culinary cannabis, we recently chatted with Jagger about his work. Part one in our three-part series looks at Jagger's career as a cannabis chef and the sorts of things he creates in his cannabis kitchen. 

How did you get involved in cannabis cooking?

I've been a cannabis consumer since I was 16 years old. And I've had an interest in cooking from a young age. I probably started focusing most of my time on parties in my kitchen at around 16. Instead of drinking, we would smoke cannabis and make different treats and different things. It was just silly high school stoner stuff. But I carried cannabis as my main inebriant throughout my career in the kitchen.

How does cannabis factor into your life as a chef?

I use it as a lifestyle and it's definitely integral to my creative process as a chef. I get a little bit of creativity from unwinding with cannabis and reflecting on my day. I get new ideas and inspiration for new dishes and new ideas.

So you have extensive on-the-ground research?

Yeah, I'm a chef. I've eaten lots of food and I'm an avid cannabis user. It really comes down to the fact that I'm super passionate about food. And I'm super passionate about cannabis.

When did you start using those ideas in the kitchen?

When I was sous-chef, we would have a lunch tasting. It was a prix fixe menu and I got to change the dessert at will. So I played around with that after a long day, using cannabis for inspiration. I would take different fruits from work and be eating them while smoking cannabis and keeping track of different flavor progressions. Then I would try to attribute those flavor changes to different herbs that I had at the restaurant. 

Is that how you came up with the concept for pairing joints with meals?

Yeah, by equating the flavors of cannabis and developing my understanding of terpenes, I was able to create my own concept of how cannabis and food pair together and play together. 

And theatricality too. You sometimes cover dishes in a dome filled with cannabis smoke that gives diners get a sensory experience the second they lift it up. How do they react to that? 

That's always an 'ooh and ahh' moment. I like to do that with the cheese course. because you can put a few of those tasting spoons underneath it. It's fun, but I have repeat customers, so I have to figure out new ways to showcase these things.

But I also have fun doing family-style meals.

Is the five-course meal described by L.A. Times the standard dinner that you offer?

That is our top-tier sorta thing. But I'm in the hospitality industry. The experience of the guest is what it's really all about. We sacrifice our time, we lose sleep over mis-plated things, we question ourselves. The precision, the detail, all those things come into play. But when it comes to what my guest is going to have, I want them to have the experience they want. So whatever they want, we give it to them. We work with them very closely.

Do you just do joint pairings or do you infuse foods with cannabis as well?

I'm not a big cannabis infusion person myself. I have a bit of a sensitive stomach and edibles don't always agree with me. But I've done micro-dosed meals. They're not something that I shy away from. I think they're fantastic - the surge of energy and the way it comes on is a lot of fun.

Tell us about some things that you make with cannabis.

Salt-cured cannabis stamens. I grow the male parts of the plant. And when they're really plump, but before they've fully opened to release their pollen, I cut them and bury them in salt for about two months. I've found that two months to 90 days is a really good window for salt curing. They're not as nice after that. So I'll salt cure them and then I'll do a quick pickle.

The salt curing accentuates a little bit of the flavor but it really breaks the toughness down so you can actually eat it like it was anything else. It's not like trying to eat a dried stem where you're chewing on it but it just won't go away because cannabis is a very fibrous thing. That technique is really fun. I've done it with female cannabis flowers too. And I've used it in replacing different dishes -- the green herbs in it adds a whole level of flavor.

Really, I'm just experimenting with how this product that has been used as a vegetable around the world for quite a while can be used with modern applications and a modern lens of someone who is experimenting with it as a chef and as a gardener.

What other sorts of experiments have you tried?

I do this technique where I get raw honey and I take a plant, wet trim it and then shove the entire contents into a jar. Then I pour raw honey over that jar and let it cure in there for about two to three months. We call it terpene honey. It takes up a lot of the terpenes and cannabinoids. I'll do multiple cultivators with different genetics and different terpene profiles side by side. The different flavors that the honey pulls from the different strains of cannabis are pretty remarkable.

But the cannabinoids for the most part have not been activated -- the THC is in the acid form, so it's non-psychoactive.

Terpene Honey

Anything else?

There's a technique that I do a lot with aromatic herbs in the kitchen -- like rose geranium, lemon verbania, rosemary, lemon. If you want to make lemon-thyme sugar, you would just zest a bunch of lemons directly into sugar, pick some thyme and throw it into a food processor to blend it up, sift it, dry it out and then you have this sugar that's picked up all the oils -- all the terpenes that were in the lemon peel, all the terpenes that were in the thyme and it's been coated in them.

I use that same technique with fresh cannabis. It's very interesting because the way that a scent actually changes is quite remarkable. I use the sugar to rim a glass or something. It's not an infusion -- if I don't heat this product, it isn't infused with anything but a small amount of the psychoactive components. But, again, the THC is in its acid form.

So people at your dinners don't necessarily get high from the dishes themselves, but the joint pairings.

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Yeah, unless they want an infusion. Some guests want infusions as well as joint pairings. They might not necessarily smoke all the joint. No one is really encouraged to smoke an entire joint at these things. And if somebody doesn't actually want to smoke pot or smoke cannabis, they can do the three-step tasting process and not light the joint pairing.

I had a pregnant woman sprung on me at a dinner once and she was fully able to participate. She was mellow. She was like, 'I'm not going to smoke,' but she participated in the terpene tastings and the terpene pull [puffing on an unlit joint to taste the terpenes]. And I thought that was pretty awesome - that she could take part in the experience. 

To learn more about the terpene pull and joint pairings, check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview with Holden Jagger.

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