What’s it like to sit down to a $295-per-person, 10-course, fine-dining, weed-infused dinner? We didn’t know either. That’s how we found ourselves on a late spring Tuesday night, tucking our feet under the table at Chris “the Herbal Chef” Sayegh’s members-only Secret Supper Club and embarking on a globetrotting, time-traveling, history-inspired, horizon-expanding journey neither of us will soon forget — although we can’t recall it with a whole lot of clarity either.
Before digging into the delicious details of our edible odyssey (pieced together from hastily scribbled notes and audio recordings), there are a few things you should know. First, it’s a members-only situation because selling cannabis-infused, restaurant-prepared food isn’t legal in California but selling manufactured THC-infused food such as gummies, cookies or beverages is. (You can apply for membership, which costs $1,000, via the Herbal Chef website, then pay for the dinners separately. For the purposes of this story, we were granted one-night-only memberships.)
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Second, they’re serious about the secret part, right down to the password you’ll be provided in your confirmation email (ours was MK Ultra, a nod to the CIA LSD mind-control experiments of the 1950s and ’60s). That’s because the monthly meal unspools in the same Santa Monica space usually occupied by Sayegh’s Nostalgia Bar & Lounge on a night it’s not open to the public.
For the record:
10:10 a.m. July 8, 2022A previous version of this story incorrectly described a component of the Leek & Foie dish. It was a cracker made of smoked-onion meringue, not a cracker topped with smoked-onion meringue.
Third, you get to choose your own adventure, THC-wise. Before you begin, you’re asked for your preferred dosage, which will be divided among the meal’s seven savory courses (the desserts are CBD only). You can go anywhere from zero milligrams — and yes, there really are guests who take that route — to infinity and beyond. Ganja gastronauts who opt for more than 50 milligrams are required to sign a waiver assuming responsibility, and hopefully they don’t operate any heavy machinery after the meal. One of us opted for 10 milligrams of infusion, the other chose 50 milligrams — in the name of science, of course.
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“I’ve had someone do 500 milligrams,” our server tells us after we were seated. Our mouths dropped. “She was perfectly fine. I would have trusted her to drive me around downtown L.A. Everybody is different.”
Sayegh has been holding infused dinners like this for years, usually in private homes or random industrial spaces around town. He says they were born out of a desire to destigmatize the plant and to push back against what he saw happening in the cannabis-meets-foodstuffs space.
“When we started Secret Supper Club, it was really in retaliation to what was happening in our industry and how many people were being shut down after 10 to 15 years of putting their heart and soul into creating [it],” he says, “so we didn’t really have a theme — other than rebellion.”
Eight years and thousands of meals later, he’s got the whole rebellion thing on lock: “We do everything privately, we’re really lawyered up,” he says about navigating the nuances of what is and isn’t legal. “And we make sure everything is done by the book.” Each of the monthly Secret Supper Club meals moving forward — starting with the one we attended in mid-May — will explore a different theme.
In advance of our arrival, we were informed via email that our evening’s theme would be “The Origins of Edibles: An Edible Tour Around the World.” It was accompanied by a drawing of a solitary silhouetted figure riding a camel — remember that camel; it’s not the last you’ll hear of it — against the backdrop of sand dunes. (The theme of the June dinner was “Movie Night,” which riffed on dishes seen on the big screen. The theme for the next one — scheduled for Aug. 8 — is “Edio: An Edible Audio Experience,” for which dishes will be based on songs and music albums.)
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In the Herbal Chef’s hands, that theme meant packing our bags for 24th century BC China and wrapping up 10 courses later in 20th century Canada. The evening’s departure platform was the dimly lit interior of Nostalgia (for the supper-club scenario, additional tables were set up in the lounge area), and, including our fellow travelers, we totaled 20 in number, which made for a convivial but not crowded, almost train-dining-car feel. That, an Herbal Chef representative told us, is about the maximum number of diners preferred for each of the two dinner seatings. We also were informed that six of our fellow adventurers had boarded the infused-foodstuffs train at a previous dinner. We sat near one end of the bar, where we glimpsed some of the creative and often cannabis- or terpene-tinged cocktail pairings being made throughout the night, and within clear view of Nostalgia’s, well, nostalgic pop art: namely a large black-and-white mural depicting cartoons from the last few decades, with the likes of Johnny Bravo, Ren and Stimpy and Pinky and the Brain tailored to the millennial gaze.
“As we go down the menu, we’re going to taste through the different trade routes in which cannabis was passed along as it traveled to the Middle East, India, South Africa, etc.,” Sayegh explains before we embarked on our journey. “And you’re going to see the menu get more imbued with spices, because as the Silk Road opened up, there were spices being traded everywhere. This is a really fun menu for us because we get to geek out, but also it’s really fun because we learned along the way. Every dish is going to have what was available in that certain time frame in that area.”
The cannabis-themed fun wasn’t limited to the menu, either, thanks to theatrical clouds of smoke and vapors that appeared tableside throughout the night. The most memorable of these came at the start of the dinner, when a server floated a perfectly spheroid, aromatic-smoke-filled bubble into the air in front of us. When the bubble floated lazily into a palm held aloft, it popped, releasing a minicloud of stone-fruit-scented smoke.
Find Stephanie’s culinary take on each course below, followed by Adam’s cannabis-focused (and 50-milligram-infused) thoughts in italics.
Apricot Rhubarb Shumai (2373 BC China / 8:11 p.m.)
The shumai arrives almost like a little purse, its edges pinched together to form a peak, rather than your classic open-topped dim sum bite packed with pork and shrimp. Inside, there’s a richness from foie gras and honey mousse, the latter of which is the infused element, and it’s all laid in broth atop a prawn disk. There’s not an overwhelming taste of cannabis, which we both note is unique for edibles of just about any style or price point — this is as chic and nuanced a dish as I’d expect from a Mélisse vet — and I can already tell we’re in for a ride.
This first dish is a cool nod to how long cannabis has been around. It’s an homage to Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, who, Sayegh says, became “the first person in recorded history” to mention the plant when he included it in his medicinal journals.
Pommes Paillasson (2100 BC India / 8:20 p.m.)
This course is a showstopper. Terpene smoke billows from a large glass placed at one edge of the table, washing a bright lemon scent over our plates. It’s clear this isn’t just dinner but dinner and a show. On the plate is a rectangular Pommes Paillasson — fancy for “potato that’s been shredded, formed and fried” — atop an almost yin-yang of color: white coconut lassi and a vibrant orange tomato lassi. The potato gets a draping of kanpachi belly and a light mound of caramelized onion, which is infused.
During this course, I tell Adam, “My fear about anywhere where you’re going to be around a ton of people is: Sometimes you get really stoned and you just immediately do not want to be around anyone. You forget how to interact with people, forget how to talk.” The vibe at an Herbal Chef’s cannabis club series is much more intimate; you’re eating dinner as you normally would at a two-top or a four-top. This is a semiprivate dinner, not a party, which is perfect for those of us who, uh, might have a history of completely shutting down. (Last year on 4/20, I went to a food pop-up and accidentally ate 33 milligrams of an edible and forgot how to talk for three hours, apparently sending the chef into a panic because they worried I didn’t like their food. I let them know the next day that I did, in fact, love it. Oops.)
Leek & Foie (1900 BC Egypt / 8:28 p.m.)
Inspired by the use of hemp in ancient Egypt, Sayegh’s third course dots infused garlic confit onto a diamond-shaped smoked-onion meringue cracker with a wavy smear of leek-and-foie-gras emulsion and a drizzle of pomegranate syrup for a sweet-savory morsel you’re supposed to take down in one bite. The infused elements for each course, he tells us, are typically ingredients that can be omitted entirely to accommodate the diners who opt to go without.
“We never want to force anybody into anything,” he says. “We want to make sure that they have an amazing culinary and beverage and hospitality experience first and foremost — and then with the addition of cannabis if they so choose.”
Lamb-neck Flatbread (1400 BC Middle East / 8:48 p.m.)
This is, we later realize, our favorite course of the night. The braised lamb neck is succulent and wrapped in Swiss chard, then topped with pickled onions, all layered over a bright, tangy infused aguachile on a street-taco-sized flatbread. This time there’s tableside Sour Diesel terpene smoke drifting over the dish — more dinner and a show, which we’re even more delighted by this time around.
Somewhere around this course a glass shatters at a nearby table, and we joke about having to cut down the milligrams. I ask our server if they’ve ever had to cut someone off from their cannabis consumption, and he lets us know that they have much more of a problem with people consuming too much alcohol.
Although onset times can vary wildly from person to person, our server told us we’d probably start feeling the effects by the fourth course. He wasn’t kidding. All that’s scribbled in my notebook with this timestamp is: “We were somewhere near the lamb-neck flatbread when the drugs began to take hold.”
Rib-eye (1200 BC Great Britain / 9:06 p.m.)
It takes no fewer than six thwacks to break through the salty-sweet pastry top of the next course, a take on cottage pie that buries beneath a flaky pastry crust a fluffy, infused potato mousseline and a roasted-carrot purée with grilled snap peas and ground rib-eye patty. At this point, we offer a bite to our photographer, who immediately looks at Adam and says, “Not yours,” knowing his packs five times the THC punch of mine.
Am I high? Yes, I’m totally high now. Why else would I think the dish in front of me appears to be served in an upside-down, broad-brimmed hat?
I start to think Stephanie — she of the 10-milligram infusion — is at least a little high too. That’s because, after I point out Jessica Rabbit among the cartoon characters inhabiting a mural on the far wall, she leans in and says matter-of-factly: “‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is the spiritual sequel to ‘Chinatown.’” I start muttering “Patty cake? Patty cake?” under my breath.
Brûléed Goat Milk Cheese (1100 BC Greece / 9:17 p.m.)
With a more traditional fine-dining plating than the rest — a wide spoon swoop of rich goat cheese topped by a series of dabs and tuile — this quasi-ode to Greece combines olive oil, figs, walnut and arugula for a rich and salty bite. Here the THC is “in the green sauce” and “a little bit in the figs,” and at this point, we forget to ask what, exactly, that means. Verbal communication is beginning to break down, and it’s quickly apparent that Adam cannot remember his notes from earlier in the meal, but we’re all in a great mood. And isn’t that what counts?
I begin grasping at conversational straws, inventorying past weed stories to try to, what, impress my co-worker? I begin to blather about the early-pandemic-era video we shot of David Crosby teaching me how to roll a joint and how we sparked it up afterward, making me worry I might go down in history as the guy who accidentally killed a music legend with COVID-19. She expresses her gratitude that I didn’t, and I nervously shovel another infused fig into my mouth.
Beef Ras El Hanout (700 BC South Africa / 9:31 p.m.)
There’s a decadent, fatty cut of grilled beef strip loin at the center of the plate with a yolky beef-fat sabayon that’s made from the fat of the steak; next to it pools a deep brown sauce made with the trim. There’s also a dab of smoky, spicy harissa, plus black garlic. Here, the infused element is mostly the onion, and there’s a little bit of THC in the sauce as well — an almost elevated (so sorry, had to) steakhouse bite. And then, the terpenes: Another scented smoky washes over the table, this time of G4, which is absolutely the dankest-smelling of all components we’ve encountered yet — with almost an incense-like complexity to it.
It’s here that Adam notes this is the very opposite of what you’d expect from “munchies food”: a haute, high-concept meal at the other end of the spectrum from chips and brownies.
Berries (1800 AD United States / 9:47 p.m.)
Dessert phases out THC entirely and leans into CBD for infusions, and by now, I feel surprisingly and totally sober. Sayegh says this is intentional: One of the worst experiences of his life was being too high off an edible — not one of his own — without as much control over the potency, and he never wants his guests to live through it themselves. The dosing here is measured to a T: “There’s no one size fits all,” he says.
Adam’s still high but doesn’t feel like he’s consumed a full 50 milligrams by the time Sayegh makes his way to our table to explain his corn-and-berry dessert, which serves as a nod to early America. It’s a layer of vanilla custard topped with corn ice cream, a dehydrated corn-custard cookie crumble, Harry’s Berries fresh strawberries, and cognac-cooked blueberries and blackberries, with kettle corn and an infused drizzle of apple caramel atop it all. It’s summer in a bowl.
With our server nowhere in sight, a random extra dessert spoon seems to have materialized out of nowhere near my left elbow. Instead of trying to determine how it got there, I waste a good deal of mental capital wondering if there’s a way — etiquette-wise — that I can get away with eating this dish with a spoon in each hand.
Brown Butter Tart (1900 AD Canada / 9:59 p.m.)
We’re nearing the end with a brown butter Canadian tart with ice cream, candied lichen and sea moss. (“I do like to end the night with sea moss,” Adam quips.) It’s a hit, and even our photographer agrees that its surprising licorice-like flavor gives it a wild and unexpected bite.
As the dinner draws to a close, I tell Stephanie I’m relieved there had been no camel on the menu. She looks puzzled. When I tell her about the drawing that accompanied the invite (you didn’t forget the camel, did you?), I get the distinct impression she’s starting to eye the exit.
Strawberry Pâte de Fruits (10:09 p.m.)
The last bite of the night — which we chase with Fernet, a natural choice after a large meal — is a thick cut of strawberry pâte de fruits: that classic French fruit-candy gummy, here also infused with CBD, which ends the night with a tart sugar exterior and a thick, fresh-berry gummy inside. This format, the nostalgic flavors, the ability to interact as much or as little as you want (because some of us do forget how to speak) makes it feel accessible — if you can swing the ticket cost and membership.
Dinner is over, and I’ve definitely hit peak high. I know this because Stephanie informs me that the colorful painting of James Dean I’ve been looking at over her right right shoulder is actually Anthony Michael Hall circa “The Breakfast Club.” Having completed our fantastical voyage, we order up our respective ride-shares and head out into the cool Santa Monica night. By the time I alight at home, my memories of the meal have already begun to fade and curl at the corners like old vacation photos. I can’t say for sure if it was the dosage or the drinks (or a combination of both) that caused my recollections to so rapidly recede, but this is one cannabis-infused culinary experience that deserves to linger as long as possible in the sense memory. Plan accordingly.
10:10 a.m. July 8, 2022: After this story was first published, the date of the next Secret Supper Club was rescheduled. It will take place on Aug. 8 instead of July 12.
Stephanie Breijo is a reporter for the Food section and the author of its weekly news column. Previously, she served as the restaurants and bars editor for Time Out Los Angeles, and prior to that, the award-winning food editor of Richmond magazine in Richmond, Va. Born and primarily raised in Los Angeles, she believes L.A. to be the finest food city in the country and might be biased on that count but doesn’t believe she’s wrong.
Senior features writer Adam Tschorn writes about a range of style-centric pop-culture topics for the Los Angeles Times. Holding a B.A. in philosophy and an M.A. in journalism makes him well-qualified to look at something and ask: “Why?”