Fine Dining With a Side of Cannabis

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As a teenager growing up near the Venice canals, Aaron Ziegler quickly fell love with two things: cannabis and cooking. And while loving food isn’t exactly a giant leap for most weed smokers, even at 15 years old Ziegler was combining his two passions in a more elevated way than his peers, experimenting with complicated extraction methods and infusing the increasingly complex dishes he made for his friends with microdoses of cannabis.

Fast forward to 2019, and Ziegler has leveraged his two passions into a groundbreaking new dinner series. A celebrated chef, Ziegler served as executive chef of Wolfgang Puck’s catering division for years before leaving in 2013 to found Bull & Dragon, a private culinary events company which quickly gained fans across the city with it’s intimate private dinners hosted in the backyard of Ziegler’s own Venice bungalow. 

As his private dinners gained in popularity, Ziegler began experimenting with his interest in cannabis-infused cooking more seriously, and a few years ago debuted The Herb Project, his private multi-course dinner series comprising delicate, delicious dishes each micro-dosed with cannabis.

“If you’re going to consume cannabis, eating it is definitely the best way,” Ziegler said in early June, as he prepared for one of his The Herb Project dinners. Normally hosted in the backyard of his Rose Ave., Venice home, Ziegler’s recent move has turned The Herb Project into a roaming experience for now, held in various beautiful homes throughout L.A. That night’s was in a palatial concrete modern estate a few blocks off Abbot Kinney, with a small bar-type seating area at which diners at the intimate dinner could watch as Ziegler prepared each course. “Eating cannabis is more controllable and you get a specific dose,” explained Ziegler as he prepped an assortment of fresh, rainbow-hued local vegetables for the night’s meal, John Coltrane lulling from the home’s speaker system in the background. “And if you use it [correctly] you can get a bright, herbaceous flavor, like a basil or thyme. You don’t get a gross marijuana flavor.”

Flavor and sustainability is tantamount to Ziegler’s method of cooking, and his entire career in food. With both Bull & Dragon and The Herb Project, Ziegler utilizes only local ingredients from farmers and ranches that utilize sustainable techniques like whole animal butchering. When he can, he seeks out farms which are helping to rebuild soil health and reverse the ravaging effects of factory farming.

The result is food that’s both sustainable and delicious. At the early June Abbot Kinney tasting, diners seemed just as excited by the promise of Ziegler’s flavor combinations as they did the approximately 3 milligrams of cannabis per course. 

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The night’s dinner was a more intimate iteration of the normal The Herb Project, which generally counts 20 or so guests, who spend $150 per plate for a 5-course meal. His dinners routinely draw a range of diners, attracted by both his reputation as a chef and the experience of micro-dosed eating. The early June dinner was only four people, and included a young couple in town from Pittsburgh and a well-known actor currently starring in a hit CBS show.

“Marijuana’s still not legalized in Pennsylvania,” said Tim (we’ve used a pseudonym) as he and his girlfriend looked on excitedly, if somewhat trepidatiously, as Ziegler spooned a healthy drizzle of cannabis-infused olive oil on the first course;  a delicious burrata, tomato and basil panzanella that served as something of a deconstructed caprese salad. 

“We still have to buy cannabis from a dealer,” Tim continued. “So we’re pretty excited about this.”

If guests were unsure what to expect as Ziegler served the first course, which he paired with a light rosé, the actor Sam (a pseudonym as well), a frequent guest of The Herb Project, assured everyone they were in for a good time. 

“Not only do you get an amazing experience from it—I mean you get high, damn,” he said with a laugh. “But also my man is an amazing chef. And to utilize both of them, you won’t be able to taste the marijuana in the food. That’s what’s really dope.”

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Sam’s assurances proved correct—the delicious burrata and tomato salad didn’t betray the slightest taste of cannabis, while the basil, farm-fresh tomatos and imported cheese shone. The next course, an impossibly light homemade cheese ravioli, didn’t betray any trace of cannabis as well.

Indeed the only indication the meal had been microdosed with cannabis emerged after the first two plates had been cleared, as Ziegler made his way upstairs to grill a beautiful beef filet for the third course. Chef Ziegler doses meals expertly so the effects of the cannabis ebbs and flows. The most potent sensation, he said later, had been calibrated to occur right after the second dish, before guests were served the heavy beef dish. And indeed if guests had been relatively reserved unto that point, as Chef Ziegler made his way upstairs there was hardly any question the dishes had, indeed, been microdosed.

  As Ziegler made his way back downstairs with a plate of beautifully-roasted steaks, he found all the guests, strangers only 45 minutes before, ensconced in a raucous, laughter-filled game of Heads Up!, the iPhone charades game. Such, Ziegler said, was how his dinners normally go. 

“Guests leave as friends,” he said. MM

To reserve a The Herb Project tasting, visit: bullandragon.com/reserve

Holly Bieler