How One Chef is Catering to the Cannabis Curious
He may be a little green in the industry, but Chris Yang is already making a name for himself in the Los Angeles dining scene. Or, more specifically, the cannabis-infused dining scene. After studying organic chemistry in college and experimenting with a career in pharmaceuticals, Yang followed his passion for food to become a self-taught cook, primarily by hosting dinner parties at home for a handful of friends.
“Eventually, we started putting some cannabis in the food because everyone was smoking weed while they were waiting for me to feed them,” Yang says. From there, he discovered the secrets to extracting and infusing cannabis.
Within a year, Yang entered into a joint partnership with a fellow foodie, who was looking for a chef to help co-create pop-up dinners. PopCultivate was born in summer 2016 and quickly morphed into a trailblazing supper club with a cult following from the cannabis curious, as Yang calls them.
At PopCultivate, Yang and his small team of chefs put together monthly dinners for around 50 people, featuring up to seven courses at $100 a ticket. Because California didn’t vote to legalize recreational marijuana until late 2016, diners initially had to bring their medical marijuana patient cards to try the infused dishes. The pop-up dinners take place at the Container Yard, a former mochi ice cream factory turned street-art warehouse in Downtown L.A.
Each event focuses on a different cuisine or culinary theme, from French and Mediterranean to Korean and Italian. “The food has evolved as I’ve gotten better at cooking,” Yang says. “[In the beginning], it was a challenge because every dinner was a 100 percent pass rate. If we couldn’t figure out how to serve a dish, it was terrible.”
Another piece that was crucial to figure out: the correct cannabis dosing. While PopCultivate menus come non-infused by default, the majority of diners opt in to a cannabis-infused meal, receiving three drops—roughly 5–10 milligrams—of THC extract as garnish on every other dish throughout the evening. THC, the most well-known cannabinoid in marijuana, is known for its psychotropic side effects, as well as the ability to reduce nausea and increase appetite.
“What I learned very early on is that if I don’t figure out dosing, I’ll have a group of people passed out on my sofa for the night,” Yang says. “That was the last thing I wanted with PopCultivate, so that was the first challenge.”
Yang’s organic chemistry background came in handy here, helping him to create a tasteless and odorless, highly concentrated THC extract, rather than the dried cannabis herb butters many chefs use.
Yang has become so skilled at the extraction process, in fact, that he’s launched his own extract company, Satera, to sell cannabis infusions to other chefs in the industry. PopCultivate is also experimenting with a new chef’s table experience, a more intimate event available to only a dozen people at a time. The events revolve around a 10-plus-course menu (cannabis infusion optional) that features more intricate plating, ingredients, and dishes than the larger pop-ups.
“Our chef’s table experience is really meant to be a platform for any established chefs here in L.A. with an existing style that are curious about doing something in cannabis,” Yang says. “We offer that platform to partner with them, provide the space, provide the audience, provide the cannabis and the knowledge on how to infuse it.”
On an even wider platform, Yang wants to introduce a wellness-themed cafe serving organic, vegan, and vegetarian options infused with CBD cannabis. CBD, as opposed to THC, is a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid with such rumored medical benefits as pain and anxiety relief, inflammation reduction, and blood sugar management, among others.
“We fully believe in this mission where we’re going to serve infused foods, and there’s more than enough room for PopCultivate to exist if anyone else wants to be there, too,” Yang says of his decision to help—rather than smoke—the competition. “The more of these food businesses there are that involve cannabis, the faster the mainstream will understand and be educated about it.”