Many who’ve dabbled in marijuana can recall an experience with old-school edibles, most often in the form of homemade brownies, and the story often devolves into anxiety, paranoia, and other unpleasantries. But unlike those unmeasured and over-ingested ways of yesteryear, today’s edible cannabis offerings are formulated down to the milligram — you can take as little as a one-milligram gummy to help you sleep without the slightest buzz, or enough, if you’re feeling nostalgic, to fire up those freak-outs of old.
Chef Luke Reyes must frequently explain this new recreational world to the people who come to his La Hoja private dinners, which feature gourmet dishes “lightly infused” with cannabis. “It’s been a little more challenging than I thought it would be to get people to try whatever the edible is,” said the Massachusetts-raised, Los Angeles–based chef, who brings his skills to Santa Barbara for two dinners on June 16, hosted by the Epicurean S.B. food club. “But we’re getting there, slowly but surely.”
It was his own recent experiences with edibles that made Reyes consider creating a new business model. “In the past few years, I wasn’t a big smoker, but I was using edibles,” he said. “They were very highly dosed, and you couldn’t get anything food-wise that was less than 40 or 50 milligrams. For the average person, it was a lot.”
La Hoja’s events — of which there have been about 15, with many more booked into this summer — are different. “We want it to be pretty mild,” Reyes explained. “When we’re doing a meal, we try to keep the entire multiple-course experience under 25-30 milligrams.” For those with higher tolerances, there are options for more cannabis along the way, such as having additional infused oysters or chew pops. “It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing,” said Reyes.
He does not typically use the flavor of cannabis — which comes from the terpenes — in his dishes but has played around with it to add freshness to, for instance, cucumber-coconut popsicles. He may play with terpenes for his Santa Barbara dinners, whose menus are still being crafted, but are certain to look like what you’d expect from a top-shelf restaurant.
After working in kitchens with celebrated chefs like Ming Tsai, in such L.A. kitchens as The Gorbals, The Tasting Kitchen, and The Corner Door, and winning Food Network’s Chopped, Reyes will finally be opening his own restaurant this summer called 9th Street Ramen. That won’t have anything to do with cannabis — other than that a bowl of ramen doesn’t hurt the munchies — but he is also investigating a marijuana-focused restaurant in West Hollywood, which was the first municipality in California to issue permits for on-site consumption of infused food.
In the meantime, he’s looking forward to spreading La Hoja into Santa Barbara. “We’ll do something that’s fun and whimsical and play with that cannabis idea, but it will be very much of a high-end, luxury-ingredient menu,” he said. “Maybe I’ll throw some truffles in there.”
There are two seatings for the Cannabis Infused Dinner Experience on Saturday, June 16, at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Each is $176, and cannabis-free options are available. See epicureansb.com for tickets and lahoja.com to learn more.