I often feel that the cover is one of the most important decisions we make here at the edible Hawaiian Islands office. I have an advisory team of very smart, creative and helpful folks who share their opinion, freely.
Choosing the cover for the spring issue is always a double job because, with our added Hawaii Farm Guide insert, there are actually two covers to select. Do you think it’s double the pleasure or twice as much work?
It’s a pleasure and an honor, in my opinion.
Let’s start with the Hawaii Farm Guide. I had this cover image tucked away in my files for over two years. Finding the photographer to ask permission and to give credit was the most work. It’s an aerial image of a real working farm (Kumu Farms), restaurant (The Mill House) and thriving business in Wailuku, Hawaii. In fact, The Maui Tropical Plantation is the oldest working farm in the state of Hawaii and once was King Kamehameha’s farm for feeding most of Maui. Finally after many emails and phone calls we located the photographer and he gave us permission.
Our magazine cover is another story. I had selected four different covers but none of them seems to capture the energy or focus of the issue. I reached out to several other professionals seeking input. Nothing felt right, looked right, or fit the criteria.
Then on our last day, last hour and last minute we found the image! The cover image must evoke springtime, fit our theme of GROW and be edible. Can you tell me what the image is?
A special thank you goes to Albert Boyce, Maui Aerial Photography, Dawn Sakamoto and my incredible team Michelle T.M. Lee, the folks at DUKA Inc., Sinead Byrne, Shelly Ronen, Gabe Marihugh and Scott Johnson.
WRITTEN BY MICHELLE T.M. LEE PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIEKO HIROKOSH
Buddha’s Hand resembles a hand in prayer, unlike any other citron varieties the fruit’s “fingers” contain only the white pith part of the fruit and sometimes a small amount of acidic pulp, but many of the fruit are completely juiceless and some are seedless. The shrub or small tree has long, irregular branches covered in thorns. Its large, oblong leaves are pale green with white flowers that are tinted purplish from the outside and grow in fragrant clusters.
The fruit may be given as a religious offering. According to tradition, one prefers the “fingers” of the fruit to be in a po-sition where they resemble a closed rather than open hand, as closed hands symbolize the act of prayer. In China, the Buddha’s Hand fruit is a symbol of happiness, longevity and good fortune.
HOW DO YOU EAT IT?
Unlike other citrus fruits, most varieties of the Buddha’s Hand fruit contain no pulp or juice. Though known mainly for its “exquisite form and aroma”, the Buddha’s Hand fruit can also be utilized as a zest in desserts, savory dishes and cocktails. We suggest making candied strips, infuse in booze, sugar or salt or simple use it as a table décor, it will spark converstion.
JOIN US IN CELEBRATING THE HEROES OF OUR LOCAL FOOD COMMUNITIES!
Non-Profit focused on Food – Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety, Hawai‘i Farm/Farmer – Lanipo Farms, Kaua‘i Chef/Restaurant – Chef/Owner Sheldon Simeon, Tin Roof, Maui Pastry/Dessert – John Cadman of Pono Pies, Hawai‘i Beverage Artisan – Kyle Reutner, Brand Manager of Kō Hana Rum, O‘ahu Food Shop/Farmers Market – Hānai Kaua‘i, Kaua‘i
Photography by: Barry Frankel Shot on location at The Mill House at The Maui Tropical Plantation, Wāikapu, Maui Not Pictured: Center for Food Safety and Hānai Kaua‘i
Local Hero Winner for Beverage Artisan Kyle Reutner of Kō Hana Rum
“I have been following Kyle’s career since his began bartending at Town Restaurant in Kaimuki, O‘ahu over 10 years ago. He was really the first bartender on Oahu to serve me cocktails that were as intriguing as the creations I was sampling from mainland mixologists. It was clear that Kyle had a fantastic palate, and a real passion for cocktails. He understands the cocktail community, and is a great liaison between the mixologists and the rum producers. I am so proud of Kyle and the work he is doing with Kō Hana Rum. “
–Julie Reiner Owner, Mixtress Consulting
Local Hero Winner for Farm/Farmer Lanipo Farm, Kaua‘i Bryna Storch Florence Haweo Calvin Toyfuku
“I shop at the farmer’s market and each week and go straight to the Lanipo Farm booth. I have personally been involved in the local food scene on Kaua‘i for over 40 years and it makes my day to see Bryna and her mother each week sharing their farms produce and value added items such as my personal favorite the quoina salad. The bonus is seeing little Florence, too.”
–Terry Sullivan Formally of the Kilauea Farmers Market and edible Hawaiian Islands magazine
Local Hero Winner for Chef/Restaurant Chef/Owner Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof Maui
“The Love that your family had for food that they wouldn’t even throw out tea just about says a lot about the family that you were raised in, that they would value food so much.”
–Tom Colicchio Bravo Top Chef
Local Hero Winner for Pastry/Dessert Owner John Cadman of Pono Pie, Hawai‘i
“John Cadman creates amazing ‘ulu (breadfruit) pies using the ripe fruit. His Pono Pies take ‘Ulu (breadfruit) to a new culinary level. Also his community love and support is only matched by his delicious ‘ulu creations.”
–Diane Ragone Director Breadfruit Institute, Hawaii
Local Hero Winner for Non-profit, food focused Hawai’i Center for Food Safety, Left: Danya Hakeem, Program Director for Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety Right: Ashley Lukens, Ph.D., Director for Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety
“One thing that is distinct about the Center for Food Safety is that they are very effective litigators on these issues and no one has more success in raising issues in the courts…”
–Michael Pollan Award-winning author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food
Local Hero Winner for Food Shop/Farmers’ Market Chef/Partner Adam Watten of Hānai Kaua‘i
“I personally know that what Chef Adam Watten has done with Hānai Kaua‘i is nothing less than remarkable. His respect for Hawaiian culinary tradition, honoring the land and the sea of Kaua‘i, is extraordinary. The people who live & visit there are very lucky indeed. The term hero is not an overstatement here.”
–Michael Ruhlman an American author, home cook and entrepreneur.
WRITTEN BY: SARAH SCHULTZ PHOTOS COURTESY OF NEW MANA HUI FARM
From ice cream bananas and strawberry guavas to sugarloaf pineapples and cashews, Hawaii is prime real estate for diverse tropical fruits. But, hang on—what was that about cashews?
It turns out that lovely little nut you find in trail mixes, curries, and vegan cheese is actually just the seed of a cashew fruit. The seed is encased by a green, kidney bean–shaped drupe that sprouts from the bottom of a cashew apple. The cashew apple has been described as having a sweet mango flavor, with notes of tannin and green pepper. And if you find yourself on Kauai, you might be able to try one—or at least score some of its juice.
A LITTLE BACKSTORY.
A crop native to Brazil, Portuguese missionaries carried the cashew tree to East Africa and India during the late 16th century—regions that are still two of the cashew’s largest producers today. (Cashew trees are believed to have been brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese as well.) The trees flourished in the coastal, low-altitude areas of these countries and had myriad purposes that go well beyond our contemporary consumption. Boats and crates were crafted from the lumber, oils from the fruit kept bugs at bay, and cashew tree bark was used as a digestive aid. The seed, commonly know as a nut, is widely consumed, but the rest of the fruit and tree are often seen as agricultural byproducts.
HEADED TO HAWAII.
We’ve all heard of the food waste phenomenon, and combative movements have been cropping up to try and find a solution. There has been a paradigm shift in recent decades: With an increased desire to disconnect from a world run by technology, the islands have seen an influx of those who desire a more down-to-earth way of life. With its microclimates, sun kissed soils, and a farm-to-fork doctrine, there is plenty of growth potential here. People are jumping at the opportunity to live more sustainable lifestyles—and food waste doesn’t fit within the concept of sustainability. Case in point: The couple behind Neu Mana Hui Farm on Kauai.
It’s 2001, and New Mexico natives Linda and Scott Neuman had just bought property on the Garden Island. With the vision of growing heirloom produce under organic and sustainable philosophies, the couple wanted to reap what they sowed, build coops for egg-laying hens, and experiment with anything to fuel Linda’s culinary passions. “We dream big, but we started small,” says Linda. Their organic egg operation quickly took off, which allowed them to dip their toes elsewhere over the years—for example, in vanilla and loquats. But had you told the Neumans that they’d pioneer Hawaii’s cashew industry, they likely wouldn’t have believed you.
On a trip to Costa Rica years ago, Linda and Scott came across a cashew orchard and were intrigued by the exotic apple and the peculiar way the cashew grew from the bottom of it. (Really, though, who knew?) Once they were back on Kauai, they spotted a single, familiar looking tree near their property. “We truly took it as a sign. That tree had clearly been there for years; it had stood up to hurricanes and whatever else had come its way,” recalls Linda. So they dug a little deeper to make sure their land was suitable for cashews trees—and it was.
Fast-forward 15 years, and almost 200 trees later, Neu Mana Hui Farm is the only commercial producer of cashews on the islands—and in the United States. It took their first saplings about five years to start yielding nuts, and the duo has steadily, but slowly, built their orchard mainly by propagating the originals. Plus, they have been able to put Hawaiian-grown cashews on the market. (We love you macadamias, but let’s let cashews have a moment.)
MAKE A BIG PRODUCTION. BIG ISLAND
Come harvest time, the cashews and cashew apples are hand picked and individually inspected. Post-pick, the cashews are squirreled away to dry for a season and most of the apples go through a press commonly used by winemakers. The Neumans bring the resulting juice to market, and any leftover apples are used in Linda’s test kitchen or as a daily nosh for their hens—who love them. “Maybe that’s why my eggs are so good,” Linda suggests with a smile.
The process to get sellable nuts is a lengthy one that requires precautions. Cashews have an interesting lineage—they are closely related to mangos, poison ivy, and pistachios. The hard, outer green shell contains urushiol oil, a toxic substance and skin irritant. For this reason, cashews are shelled, peeled, and heated at a temperature to burn off the remaining toxins before consumption.
For years, the Neumans manually and meticulously cracked each nut, in addition to picking, peeling and sorting by hand. But with both the trees and their business venture becoming increasingly more fruitful, the couple recently stepped up their game and purchased shell-cracking machinery, which greatly reduces their exposure to the urushiol oil.
So, do the benefits really outweigh the potential risks in production? The Neumans say yes.
ALL THEY’RE CRACKED UP TO BE?
While they may not pack as much punch in the fiber department as others, cashew nuts are full of good stuff. Think vitamins E, K, and B6, along with minerals like copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc—all vital to keeping your body up and running. Cashews are also lower in fat content than most nuts. Compounds like anacardic acids, which have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and potential anticancer properties, are found in cashews, too.
Along with the internal benefits, cashews do your outer body good. The cosmetics industry has also taken note of the nut—specifically, of its nourishing and defensive properties. Clarins lists cashew oil as an ingredient in their Renew-Plus Body Serum, while organic cosmetics superstar Lush uses cashew butter in their popular hand lotion.
BUT, HOW ‘BOUT THEM APPLES?
The highly nutritious cashew apple also has antibacterial properties, is proven effective in treating digestive tract disorders, and its juice is ultra rich in vitamin C. (It contains five times more than an orange!). The juice can be served straight up, in popsicles during the summer, or as a base for tropical cocktails.
Those who live in close proximity to cashew orchards can simply bite right in to reap the apple’s rewards. However, due to quick fermentation rates and fragility, fresh cashew apples and juice are not readily available. But, if you aren’t near an orchard, you’re not totally out of luck.
If you find yourself in Thailand or Brazil, you may happen upon cashew juice (but watch out for the preservatives used to prolong its shelf life). Or head to Goa, India to imbibe on a local liqueur called feni. Unique to the state of Goa, cashew feni is a double- or triple- distilled spirit made from the juice. In addition to experimenting with candied cashew apples and chutneys, Linda has her sights set on fermenting the fruit for a similar drink, instead of simply discarding what isn’t processed or sold.
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.
The lion’s share of cashew production happens in developing countries, where the priority naturally lies in profit. Economics 101 teaches us the law of supply and demand—and there is simply a much larger global market for cashew nuts. Since the apple is often seen as a byproduct of the nut industry, and with a shelf life of only three days, it is often left behind.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, upwards of 40% of food loss occurs during postharvest and processing in developing countries. Food waste is a global epidemic, and it’s one that people are starting to pay attention to. Dedicated organizations are working to connect the opposing puzzle pieces of food waste and world hunger, and smaller movements are gaining traction on farms, at restaurants and grocery stores, and in homes.
At Neu Mana Hui Farm, the apple is not seen as a byproduct, but a highly marketable one. By consuming, processing, and selling cashew apples and juice, the Neumans are able to reinforce sustainability and leave little behind. Linda notes that this venture has been “a unique opportunity to connect to both the local and tourism communities of Kauai.” “Plus, our grandkids will think we were cool,” adds Scott.
If you’re lucky enough to live on or visit Kauai, you’re lucky enough. But the opportunity to taste this exotic apple is a definite plus.
A glass of cashew apple fruit juice sells for $5 a pop. It can be found at the Waipia Farmers Market, along with Neu Mana Hui’s cashew nuts, vanilla extract, and more.
Spring, the season of blossoms, is upon us. In the midst of all the eye-catching, sweet-smelling flowers we encounter each spring, there is one modest blossom that humans must pay particular attention to: that of the vanilla orchid. Although lacking in fragrance and quite plain looking by orchid-standards, these understated flowers will ultimately produce the coveted vanilla beans that go on to flavor so many our favorite sweet and savory dishes. Without the help of human pollinators, however, the vanilla bean would all but disappear from the world market.
With its multiple uses and labor-intensive production, vanilla is second only to saffron as the costliest spice.
Native to Central America, vanilla is thought to have originated in Meso-America. The word vanilla derives from the Spanish word vaina, meaning sheath or pod, and translates as “little pod.” In the tropical Mexican climate, the plant is naturally pollinated by the local Melipona bee. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes is credited with bringing vanilla to Europe in the early 1500s and it was used as a flavoring for chocolate.
According to www.worldatlas.com, Mexico was the world’s leading vanilla supplier until the middle of the 19th century. Today, Indonesia and Madagascar offer the lion’s share of the spice, a combined total of 6,300 tons last year, with Mexico ranked third at 463 tons. Other leading vanilla countries include Papua New Guinea, China, Turkey, Tonga and Uganda.
An orchid— Vanilla planifolia grows outdoors up to 25 degrees north or south of the equator. Hawai‘i is the only state where vanilla is commercially cultivated. A fleshy vine with aerial roots, vanilla likes to climb and in nature, reaches into the canopy of trees. Flowers are a pale, yellowish green and last about a day.
According to “Vanilla-The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance” by Patricia Rain, vanilla production came to Hawai‘i sometime after it was ceded to the U.S. in the late 1800s. She writes, “A few growers took up vanilla farming in the Hawaiian Islands, but over time the vanilla plantations here slowly faded away.”
Hawai’i Island’s Hawaiian Vanilla Company is credited as the nation’s first company to grow and sell vanilla beans, pure extract and vanilla-related products. Founded by Jim Reddekopp and his wife Tracy in 1998, the couple was encouraged by Tracy’s mother-in-law, an orchid enthusiast, to grow vanilla. Unsuccessfully, Jim searched online for “how-to” information. He travelled to Mexico, vanilla’s birthplace, and Rutgers University to see the latest vanilla research. Then he heard about research involving a Kona nurseryman, the late Tom Kadooka.
At that time, Kadooka was working with a perfume company selling plants and took Jim as an apprentice. The men leased and cared for an abandoned vanilla field with 300 plants in South Kona. As vanilla is propagated by plant cuttings because a lack of seed protein makes natural germination difficult, Jim made healthy cuttings from the patch to start his farm on the Hamakua Coast.
Considered by many as the catalyst for Hawai‘i’s vanilla industry, Tom Kadooka was also one of the pioneers of Hawai’i Island’s floriculture industry. He hybridized orchids and with his new cultivars, put Kona on the orchid collector’s map. His “Miss Joaquim” vanda blossoms adorned dinner plates and cocktails served up and down the Kona-Kohala Coasts. Until his death in 2004, Mr. Kadooka generously shared his vanilla expertise with other prospective growers and orchid hobbyists. Over the years, several statewide vanilla growers relied on Tom’s expert advice, which he learned by trial and error in his Kainaliu nursery.
One of those growers is Guy Cellier, owner of The Vanillerie in Keahole-Kona. The Vanillerie sells its cured beans, makes vanilla extract on site and also offers make-your-own extract kits. The farm’s vanilla will be used in a line of infused body products and candles to be sold online and at the on-site Vanilla Shop, opening this spring.
Meaning “vanilla plantation” in French, The Vanillerie planted its first vanilla in 2009. Prior to that, the farm provided the eucalyptus stock for the Hamakua Coast and grew native trees, like koa and sandalwood, for Kamehameha Schools.
“We got our start in vanilla with materials and good advice from Tom Kadooka, who in my opinion, is the godfather of Hawai‘i vanilla,” shared Cellier. “We went to his nursery several times and he walked us through the growing and pollination process while providing us with cuttings from his stock.”
After learning how vanilla likes to climb, Cellier and his team devised a climbing column system called tutors, which enables plants to grow up to 15 feet high. Orchids were planted in a mix of macadamia nut shells and crushed lava rock and propagated under shade cloth.
Farm manager JR Pataray is responsible for growing and pollinating the orchids. To get to the tall blossoms, Pataray relies on stilts. Plants bloom once a year and the delicate blossom is viable about four hours for pollination. It takes about nine months for the pod or bean to mature.
Once ripe, Cellier does all the processing, a lengthy process involving repeated, timed intervals of sweating and sun-drying of the beans, followed by storage in a humidity controlled room for three months. “The idea is to slowly reduce the bean’s moisture content to 25-30 percent,” details Cellier, who adds the trick to the labor-intensive process “is to cure the vanilla without drying it out.”
The Vanillerie cultivates 1,000 plants in shade houses and has added 500 vines to grow under fast-growing jatropha trees; it planted the trees from seeds two years ago and they are already 10 feet tall. “The trees are easy to manage and their canopy protects the vines from the sun,” details Cellier, who thinks treegrown vanilla is the farm’s future. “The vanilla seems happy; it’s how it grows in the wild.”
“Last year we had about 15,000 beans which is a lot to us as each one was pollinated, picked and processed by hand,” he smiles.
The Vanillerie is sharing its operation during hour-long tours starting this spring with sampling. Book a time slot at www.thevanillerie. com.
NEU MANA HUI FARM
Offering vanilla beans and extract using Hawai‘i sourced organic alcohol, the 10-acre Neu Mana Hui Farm is located between Anahola and Kilauea on Kaua‘i. Cashews are the main crop of Scott and Linda Neuman (see cashew coverage in this issue), and the couple also grows limes. The three farm commodities are used to make a variety of products, including refreshing popsicles, and all are sold seasonally on Tuesdays at the Waipa Market in Hanalei.
The Neumans planted their vanilla in 2004 after doing research. “I talked to a gentleman on Hawai’i Island and he got me excited; so I picked up a few plants and then increased my inventory by making cuttings,” recalls co-owner Linda Neuman.
The couple propagates about 50 vanilla plants in a covered greenhouse. Linda emphasizes that “keeping the environment stable” is key as the plants can be sensitive to change. A past mishap with greenhouse covering resulted in decreased flower production. “When you’re small and something like that happens, it’s a big deal.”
A nurse by trade, Linda learned how to pollinate from the internet. “It’s like putting in an IV,” she explains. “The more you do it, the better you become.”
She describes the process: “You lift the flower’s lip and hold it up with your thumb and use a tool like a toothpick to remove the pollen and carefully place it where it needs to go. Then you gently close the lip so there’s proper contact.”
Even though pollination requires exact timing and expertise, Linda enjoys it, sharing that “it’s an interaction with a plant to create something.”
Linda says their vanilla effort is “small batch and handcrafted.” Yield is currently between 70-100 beans annually. Extract is more popular at the market as it’s more familiar to the mainstream consumer than whole, cured beans. While Neu Mana Hui doesn’t offer tours, Linda takes vanilla education on the road.
“I like to teach people at the weekly market about vanilla production; I’m here to show the love,” she notes. Using photos and a display board, Linda shares her vanilla experience with others while selling their farm products. “We aren’t competing with the big guys, we’re just doing our passion and growing what works for us.”
Located on the east end of Moloka‘i, Mana’e Grown Farm grows vanilla and a host of fruits to concoct vanilla-infused products. The farm’s sole owner, Patty McCartney, considers herself “a bit of a food scientist,” as she makes vanilla extract using kosher-grade vegetable glycerin, rather than alcohol, as a base. The result is an extract with a sweeter taste and the vanilla can readily be used to enhance tea and coffee.
Vanilla farming started 14 years ago at Mana’e, though everything initially went wrong. Patty’s plants had viruses and she struggled with them for two years. She got a license to import cuttings from India and when they came she was told the documentation wasn’t up to snuff so the plants were destroyed. Then she contacted Tom’s children, Janice Uchida and Chris Kadooka, at the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) for help. The brother and sister came to Moloka‘i and did a community demonstration of growing and pollinating vanilla and provided Patty with 100 starter cuttings.
“I got my first beans three years later after planting their starts,” shared Patty. “Last year I had over 1,000 beans.”
Janice Uchida, Ph.D., associate plant pathologist at UH’s CTAHR, says Patty took vanilla growing seriously. Dr. Uchida has been studying the potential pathogens (bacterium and viruses) that cause disease in vanilla plants at U.H. Manoa and authored the 2011 report, “Farm and Forestry Production and Marketing Profile for Vanilla.”
“My work was an effort to foster vanilla growing in Hawai‘i as many people have had a hard time,” shares Janice. She recommends growers “start small, keep everything clean and don’t plant orchids with vanilla—they carry pathogens that can harm the vanilla.”
Pathogens were a problem for vanilla grown at O‘ahu’s Kahuku Farms, which offers a host of fruit and veggies and uses vanilla beans in products served at the Farm Café. According Kahuku’s Kylie Matsuda, the farm’s vanilla was devastated by a virus— twice. “The problem was transferred by spores and we had to take everything out,” she shared. “We replanted new plants in another area and it happened again, so we gave up. Now we’re using the vanilla we have left.”
Patty feels handling disease is a challenge, along with pests and ag theft. She is moving her greenhouse to a more protected area so she can better manage “who comes in and out of it.”
“I’m concerned with introduction of diseases from people picking and cutting unsupervised,” she shares. “I’m taking measures to reduce my risk—this is a living for me.”
Find Mane‘a Grown Farm vanilla beans, extract and vanilla-infused Molokai honey, organic coconut oil and fruit rollups at the Saturday farmers market in Kaunakakai and at the online Sustainable Molokai Mobile Market: www.sustainablemolokai.org. Follow the farm at www.facebook.com/molokaihawaiivanilla
MAUI ISLAND VANILLA
About 100 vanilla plants are cultivated under gliricidia trees at Maui Island Vanilla Farm in the Haiku area. An orchid hobbyist got the patch started and taught his landscaper, who goes by O‘shen, how to care for the vines and pollinate the flowers. Cuttings start out in the nursery before being planted directly under the nitrogen- fixing gliricidias, which provide an umbrella of shade.
O‘shen says drying vanilla is the hardest task of bean production on the North Shore of Maui, where weather is unpredictable. “You have to be vigilant as you can’t set the beans out in the sun and leave for the day as it might rain,” he explains.
The farm, which also grows cacao between the rows of vanilla, offers two-hour Food of the Gods tours twice weekly to share the ins and outs of chocolate and vanilla. Find info at www.mauichocolatetour. com
While vanilla will always be in demand, the future of Hawai‘i’s vanilla industry is dependent on the drive of pioneering growers and their successes. Dr. Uchida says more vanilla work needs to be done but there is no funding and to get funding, there has to be a “grower base to service.” She knows of no organized group of growers needing help.
HOW-TO VANILLA PRODUCTION RESOURCES
“Farm and Forestry Production and Marketing Profile for Vanilla” is published via the printed book, “Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforesty,” available for purchase at www.specialtycrops.info, along with free download of the book’s 32 chapters, which covers that many different crops.
WRITTEN BY VANESSA WOLF PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF CHEF CHRIS SAYEGH AND EDIBLE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.
Revolutionaries spring from many wells. Joan of Arc was raised in poverty. Mahatma Gandhi started his career as an attorney; Cesar Chavez, a migrant worker. Perhaps one day it will be recalled that Chef Chris Sayegh, better known in the cannabis community as The Herbal Chef, began his mission by dropping out of a pre-med track at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
“When I went off to college, I started using cannabis, and I wanted to know more about what I was putting into my body. What I learned is what we’re being told about it is completely false. The reason it became illegal was because of propaganda drummed up by Big Tobacco, Big Oil and the cotton industries.”
One of the first-known plants to be domesticated, hemp has been cultivated by humans for over 12,000 years. It can be used to create plastics, textiles, fuel, building materials and even food, and it utilizes few resources to do so. A quickly growing cash crop at the turn of the century, regulations and restrictions began to appear in 1906, and The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was later passed, levying a tax on anyone – from physicians to farmers – who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana.
“I was studying molecular biology and my interest in cannabis then shifted to the medicinal side,” Sayegh continued. “I began writing all my papers and gearing my focus toward understanding what goes on inside the human body when we ingest cannabis. The first thing I learned is that we have an endocannabinoid system, and it’s the largest system we have. Biologically, we’ve had the nervous system mapped out for ages, the endocrine system has been studied for years, but for some reason, the endocannabinoid system wasn’t even discovered until 1990.”
The system, identified by Israeli researcher Dr. Ralph Mechoulam, consists of a series of receptors configured to bind with both the endocannabinoids naturally produced by the body, as well as plant-based cannabinoids, especially tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), present in cannabis. As anyone who’s ever used the plant might attest, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a part in a host of physiological processes including mood, memory, pain-sensation and appetite. The Herbal Chef WRITTEN BY VANESSA WOLF PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF CHEF CHRIS SAYEGH AND EDIBLE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.
“This is the energy center of our body,” Sayegh elaborated. “This is the energy source of our major organs. It’s responsible for homeostasis when it’s fueled properly, yet when I began researching this in 2010, my university had 16 papers on it – nothing. And that’s where this idea, The Herbal Chef, began.”
The Herbal Chef encompasses a variety of business endeavors, including frozen, CBD-infused meals for chemotherapy patients and diabetics, ticketed public events, and private fine dining experiences. This year welcomes a book, a TV show and a line of edibles including pancake and waffle mix, mocktails and granola bars. If that’s not enough, Sayegh’s Herb, the first Cannabis restaurant in the world, is slated to open in Los Angeles this August.
The dining experiences, Sayegh explains, are “ridiculously elaborate.”
“I really want people to pay attention to the ingredients, a lot of times I go fishing, hunting and foraging for them. These are 10 and 15-course meals that span two to three hours.
“But in addition to the culinary experience, I include controlled amounts of turpines, cannabinoids, and THC in order to induce a state of euphoria. In the first two or three courses, that’s maybe 2 or 3 milligrams. This is a gradual come up, so you’re never too overwhelmed at any stage. It’s an experience that’s positive and even euphoric, and you’re kept in a state such that you remember it afterward.”
Until very recently, the concept of cannabis cookery brought to mind pungent desserts produced in smoke-filled rooms or salad bowls teeming with fresh marijuana leaves, a la Cheech and Chong, but Chef Sayegh’s approach – and finished product – are a far cry from pot brownies.
“I rarely use the plant in my food. It’s not a pleasant taste. It’s extremely bitter, actually, and that works with some things, but you will not taste it unless I want you to taste it.”
Similarly, his recipes read like those of any fine chef. A salmon toast preparation is fairly straightforward – well, minus the cattail pollen in the creme fraiche – with THC added just before serving. A traditional tartar features the usual suspects of capers, Worcestershire and egg yolks, yet is infused with cannabis vapor for up to two days.
Sayegh does “very particular” wine pairings, as well. “There’s an average of 10 mg THC throughout the courses, and the tannin of the wines matches with the turpenes in the cannabis in a way that creates this really beautiful ambiance.”
So what about the roles of sativa and indica, typically categorized as the two strains of weed responsible for ‘mental’ or ‘body’ highs, respectively?
“There’s no difference in the strains when you break them down molecularly,” Sayegh explained. “When you break it down into an oil or water-soluble form, the turpene profile is what gives it differentiation. Let’s say that you extracted and got 10% THC, 3% CBD and 1% Myrcene, plus some other cannabinoid, the Myrcene is the dominant turpene there. That tells you what the high will be like. Myrcene is considered to create indica-like effects, so basically a body high. However, if it has Limonene – like what’s found in citrus – it will be a euphoric high.”
Although clearly a chemist, whether or not Sayegh considers himself a revolutionary is unknown. “I do not refer to myself as a cannabis chef,” he noted. “I think it’s ridiculous that’s a differentiation. It’s another ingredient, and you have to be very skilled to use it, but at the end of the day I am a chef.”
“I have to be precise. I’m setting an industry standard. I now have an entire industry that’s looking up to me and asking me what to do next. And it’s important that it’s done right, because it’s about more than the food or even the cannabis. A lot of this has to do with the psyche and truly helping people. It’s all centered around healing.”
Hemp and cannabis = Tomato and tomahto? Pretty much.
The International Association of Plant Taxonomy has concluded “both hemp varieties and marijuana varieties are of the same genus, Cannabis, and the same species, Cannabis Sativa.”
In other words, the distinction lies in the growth and utilization of the plant, with marijuana focusing on the production of the potent, resinous female glands, known as trichomes. The trichomes contain cannabinoids, most notably THC and CBD. In contrast, hemp is a taller variety with only trace amounts of cannabinoids present.
There are 85 known cannabinoids, chemical compounds which work by imitating endocannabinoids, which are Hawaiian Moons Natural Foods Grocery•Juice Bar•Deli naturally produced by our bodies and work with the endocannabinoid system to regulate the hormonal, physiological and immune systems.
Two cannabinoids are particularly distinctive: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
Responsible for most of cannabis’ psychological effects, THC stimulates the brain to release dopamine, creating euphoria, and is responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use. This is the component that is still largely illegal in the United States.
CBD, in contrast, is not psychoactive and, in fact, blocks the high associated with THC. It has also been shown to combat nausea, seizure activity, and cancer/tumors, as well as anxiety, depression and psychosis. It is legally available in oil distillations.