When Los Angeles-based chef Holden Jagger announced an appearance at the James Beard House via Instagram earlier this month, he proclaimed proudly it was “a lifelong dream” and “historic moment” for the iconic institution of American food culture to host a CBD-infused feast.
Three days later, Reuters released the report, “In New York, confusion reigns in the emerging CBD edibles business,” which warned owners of restaurants and cafés to cease sales of CBD-infused food and drink products or face penalties.
Following a phone interview that same week with Jagger, he reached back out to let me know there had been a major shift in the then-titled “An Introduction to CBD Cuisine” due to legal concerns. Scheduled for May 15, it’s now instead an “An Exploration of Terpenes” where he and Rachel Burkons will present a dinner examining the molecules responsible for flavor and aroma in cannabis and how they can enhance food.
One of Jagger’s creations at a recent Altered Plates cannabis pairing dinner in Los Angeles.COURTESY: ALTERED PLATES
Siobhan Flaherty Haber, vice president of events at the James Beard Foundation says of the switch, “CBD is a very hot topic, but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding cannabis, especially following new rules instituted earlier this year in NYC. Most people aren’t aware that terpenes give cannabis its distinctive smell and taste, so a dedicated dinner on the subject is a great first step for those who want to learn more about the many flavor profiles found in cannabis.”
However, the upcoming event is not the James Beard Foundation’s first foray into educating about the cannabinoid known to be less psychoactive than THC. CBD made its debut on the Beard House dinner table late last year for “A Modern Filipino Feast” featuring infused dishes from chefs Jordan Andino and Gabe Kennedy, who is also the co-founder of cannabis wellness brand Plant People.
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The Burkons (he took his nickname as a chef name early-on in his career) are a brother-sister team who co-founded Altered Plates in 2016, a self-described “creative culinary collective,” who have grown into authorities among the modern cannabis food movement through their year-round calendar of private pairing dinners and infused fine dining experiences. The duo is also readying for the opening of one of the City of West Hollywood’s first-ever, licensed cannabis consumption loungesmatched with their signature brand of high-minded hospitality.
“While it’s not what we originally pitched, we are just as excited and honored to have this opportunity to still bring cannabis to the JBF table,” says Jagger. “Due to the climate of the legal space, we just have to be flexible and constantly shift the dialogue of how we actually can present the plant in a way that is acceptable — especially in states where it is not yet recreationally legal.”
An Altered Plates table scape for a private, consumption-friendly event earlier this year in Los Angeles. COURTESY: ALTERED PLATES
Despite the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing cannabis extracts derived from hemp, the CBD landscape is increasingly complex due to its U.S. Food and Drug Administration classification as a listed drug and unlawful stance on adding it into food and drink or distributing it as a dietary supplement. The FDA has recently stated, though, that it could make an exception and will hold a public forum on May 31 in Maryland.
Haber adds, “People have long looked to the [James Beard] Foundation as a resource for food, especially in recent years as new, progressive formats and offerings have hit the scene … and the plate. Obviously, CBD has become a point of fascination among food conscious consumers — and the industry — but a lot of questions remain. We feel like we have a responsibility, now more than ever, to provide education and perspective on the issue and Chef Jagger and his sister are so well versed in the area, we felt they were the perfect conduits for this conversation.”
As one of the few chefs that also cultivates his own cannabis, Jagger’s passion for the plant started as a teenager growing up in Southern California. He even credits pot for helping him focus to improve his grades in high school. He moved to San Francisco in 2002, working in kitchens for the next eight years and spending time off exploring Humbolt County, growing marijuana and starting to experiment with edibles. After moving back to Los Angeles, he held stints at Maude, Soho House and Craft — primarily as a pastry chef — earning accolades like Zagat’s 30 Under 30 in 2013.
“Seeing the industry first hand up in the Bay Area was super eye opening for me. I have always been very upfront and very vocal about my passion for cannabis, as it truly helped me find my role in life as a chef.”
Jagger cultivates his own cannabis in his Toluca Lake backyard and on an additional property in the area. COURTESY: ALTERED PLATES
But don’t call Jagger a cannabis chef … or a cannabis sommelier. He prefers “ganjier,” a title he created because, “Both terms just sounded so cumbersome to me. The suffix ‘ganja’ is the magic. There’s no formal hospitality standard or guideline around this yet … no regulatory body … so I wanted to build off of what I have learned as both a chef and a cultivator to help push this idea of how we can appreciate craft cannabis in the same vein as fine wine forward.”
Jagger’s menu will spotlight five, fresh for spring dishes including: carrot–tangerine Soup with smoked parsnip, honey, and jamón; charred little gem lettuce with white icicle radish, ricotta salata, walnuts and green goddess dressing; duck carnitas with peanut, garnet yam, salsa verde, and cotija; lemongrass-braised beef short ribs with jasmine-scented barley, tamari, and soft-cured egg yolk; and thyme–lemon beignets with lemon curd.
According to Jagger, who will present different pairings for aromatic effect during each course, “Terpenes on their own are not psychoactive. They are not a scheduled substance and a major building block for food and igniting the senses. I believe cannabis is a crop … a vegetable … and like the farm-to-table movement, I celebrate responsible farmers and their techniques. I am very interested in spreading awareness through table-side activism that if cannabis is embraced in this light, it can have a tremendous effect on the future of our health and our planet.”
“An Exploration of Terpenes” will be presented by Altered Plates at the Beard House in Manhattan on May 15. COURTESY: JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION