"I like to focus on the experience of the entire night — not just the food," chef Chris Yang says of his Pop Cultivate dinners. (Mina Choe, provided by Pop Cultivate)

Get a seven-course taste of marijuana fine dining with this pop-up phenom

Science-minded chef Chris Yang is ramping up his Pop Cultivate private cannabis supper club to add some sizzle to the winter season

The cannabis cuisine scene in Los Angeles is straight popping off this week.

In addition to the premiere of a new food-focused series on Viceland (more on that below), chef and social media sensation Chris Yang is readying a warehouse in downtown L.A. for the first of his Pop Cultivate events of the season, “A Splash of Christmas.”

In another scientist-turned-cannabis chef career move, the 27-year-old Yang stopped two classes short of finishing his master’s degree in hospital management after a stint with Pfizer in business development and time working as an organic chemist in a research lab.

With a childhood spent in Shanghai as an expat, Yang left his graduate program in Taiwan two years ago and returned to his roots in L.A., where he was born and where he earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California.

Yang, who is completely self-taught in the kitchen, explains: “One day I had an epiphany … I absolutely detested what I was doing and had to make a moral decision for myself. As soon as I got back (to L.A.), I immediately started cooking.”

He also started chronicling his kitchen trials and errors — which included “a lot of cuts and burns” — on Instagram, and saw his follower count explode. In between cooking and ‘Gramming up to 10 hours a day, Yang said he “basically smoked a shit ton of weed and scoured the Internet,” learning most of his skills from Gordon Ramsay’s cooking videos on YouTube.


Some people like to watch me "perform". I just do my thing to share my love for food.

A video posted by Fullstack Chef (@cheftofer) on


Six months in, the home cook was confident enough to go professional and headed out with a notecard bearing only his handle @cheftofer as his résumé. Yang landed at Ricardo Zarate’s now-shuttered Paiche (which received a Best New Restaurant nod from Esquire magazine).

When it closed, Yang started hosting private, cannabis-infused dinners, and soon after went all-in as a “pop-up restaurateur and cannabis entrepreneur.” Since then, he has appeared on the Food Network, built a culinary incubator and hosted more than 50 pop-ups in L.A. and Las Vegas — all now officially under the brand “Pop Cultivate.”

Using an undisclosed “curated street art warehouse,” Yang creates seven-course “social fine dining experiences” for up to 40 guests with ever-changing menus tailored to themed events featuring a rotating roster of musicians, artists, video designers and performers.

“I like to focus on the experience of the entire night — not just the food. With each event, we try to create unique collaborations that complement the amazing meal from stimulating visuals, deliberate social interactions and musical influences,” Yang tells The Cannabist in a phone interview.

It’s how Yang credits his company for standing out among the increasing number of chefs adding cannabis to their repertoires. With the recent progress in California on the legalization front, it’s just the beginning for high-end cannabis dining experiences and for Pop Cultivate, which Yang hopes to expand into a cannabis lifestyle brand next year to include a test kitchen, social club and hostel.

Pop-up cannabis dinner
The vibe inside chef Chris Yang’s most recent event Nov. 25, 2016, the final dinner in his three-part “Autumn in LA” series. (Courtesy of Pop Cultivate)

“Legalization does relieve a lot of stress from the stigma of cannabis, but it still comes down to the dosing mechanism, and there is still a lot to be learned about how to properly administer a dose to someone before we can all fully proceed,” says Yang. “Science has allowed me to understand cooking techniques at a molecular level and how ingredients interact with the plant. I can’t wait to continue on this path of cannabis and learning.”

See if you can snag a last-minute ticket to dinner on Thursday, Dec. 15, and save the dates for the rest of Pop Cultivate’s winter series: Jan. 21 and Feb. 11 (tickets are $100 per person).

About Viceland’s new show: Our very own Ry Prichard will make his Viceland debut Wednesday, Dec. 14, on the much-anticipated “Bong Appétit” (10:30 p.m. EST). The series follows host Abdullah Saeed all over the city, along with Prichard as the “cannabis infusion guru” and Marigold Sweets founder Vanessa Laborato. Together, the trio sets out to throw the most epic dinner parties using jaw-dropping amounts of marijuana. In an advance review on The Cannabist, Jake Browne calls the docu-series, “the only reality show about weed you need to see.” Noted.

Not located in Los Angeles? Yang shared a recipe for one of his favorite festive holiday dishes to try at home this season:

Maple Glazed Carrots marijuana recipe
Maple glazed carrots. (Courtesy of Chris Yang)

Chef Chris Yang’s Maple Glazed Carrots

Ingredients

2 bunches of fresh baby carrots

8 tbsp cannabutter

¼ cup maple syrup

Fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves

5-6 sprigs of thyme

Directions

1. Wash the carrots whole and give them a good scrubbing (use a new sponge or a kitchen towel).

2. Melt cannabutter in a large heavy sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add carrots and thyme, then cover and braise, stirring occasionally, until carrots are fork-tender, 20-30 minutes.

3. Increase heat to medium, and stir in syrup and a squeeze of lemon juice. Cook for two minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Add parsley and mix well.

5. Serve with lemon wedge.