It wasn’t all that long ago when the only way to get a little cannabis in your diet was to know somebody who had a third cousin who had just baked a batch of flaky, flavorless brownies. After choking them down you would either not get high at all or you’d be so high that you believed you had departed planet Earth entirely. There was no middle ground.
Then Luke Reyes, along with a whole generation of forward-thinking chefs, reinvented the entire way people approached cannabis cuisine. Nowadays, it isn’t shady stoners who have no business in the kitchen trying to sneak a high into some sort of snack, but chefs planning out six-course meals with cannabis-infused dishes at specific manageable doses. That’s exactly what Reyes did when he launched La Hoja.
“At most of our dinners we don’t have you smoking a joint, we don’t approach it like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get you high,’” Reyes says. “We use cannabis just like it is an additional ingredient. That can become basically any version of cuisine, whether that’s using an element of flower, terpenes or distillate.”
As cannabis legalization slowly makes its way across the country, consumers are becoming more sophisticated about the plant and its myriad uses. But there are so many misconceptions swirling around, particularly when it comes to edibles.
“First thing I always hear are people who are like, ‘Oh man, I can’t do edibles. I get way too high,’” Reyes says. “If you just do flower and clarified butter and eat brownies, yeah, there’s literally no technique to it. The first new thing is being aware of what you’re ingesting, it’s super boring but also critical. Once you start with something highly managed you’ll know how much THC or CBD you’re putting in.”
That, according to Reyes, is the real key to cooking with cannabis. Now there are so many different products available—like Reyes’ own Vireo CBD- and THC-infused olive oil—that allow cooks to regulate the exact dosage.
Like many chefs, with the possible exception of Paula Deen, Reyes isn’t going to be defined by the way he uses one ingredient. In addition to the cannabis dinners he has put together, Reyes is chef and co-owner of the French-inspired Gitanes in Ottawa, Canada, and a recently opened ramen joint in Los Angeles, 9th Street Ramen.
There is a world of difference between dry-aged duck au poivre and tonkotsu pork ramen, but the connection is seen through how Reyes approaches all of the restaurants he runs—with a focus on being a responsible business. “We’ve been working locally with a lot of our own farmers, raising our own animals,” Reyes explains. “I really tried to put a lot of focus on sustainability and waste management—managing what it looks like to be a restaurant in 2020 and [being] the best version we can ever be.”
Cooking sustainable cuisine with thoughtfully sourced ingredients was merely a jumping-off point for Reyes and his team as they created 9th Street Ramen. They needed to make sure they didn’t just bring good food to the neighborhood; they needed to do good for the community as a whole.
“We are opening up four blocks away from Skid Row in downtown L.A.,” Reyes says. “We’re right next to one of the highest populated homeless populations in the country, if not the highest. So we’re working with some different charity groups and donating to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. We’re also in talks to put together some dinners actually on Skid Row. For us, it would be really hard to open the place here and not look at what’s surrounding us.”
When you look at Reyes now, you’ll see he’s mostly covered with tattoos, but there was a time when he was a completely blank slate. Then he turned 18. “My first tattoo, which still exists, is a kanji on my back,” Reyes says with a laugh. “It’s funny since I later got into Japanese cooking. It translates to king, which is my last name. My older brother took me to get the tattoo and it’s super small, one inch by one inch. My brother has tattoos all over, he’s like, ‘What the fuck is that? You may as well not have a tattoo at all.’”
Unlike many of his colleagues, don’t expect Reyes to be covered with tattoos dedicated to cooking. “I see guys who have a sleeve, which is, like, the first thing people do when they start cooking,” Reyes laughs. “Like, I’m going to get some vegetables and a pig, you know, and then eventually I can get that sleeve. Like, what the fuck are they doing?”
While Reyes may not have the sleeve, a cleaver did find its way into becoming a finger tattoo. Chalk it up to inevitability after a life spent in the kitchen. Whether it’s preparing steaming bowls of ramen, perfecting his take on lamb bourguignon, or crafting a cannabis-infused menu that will stimulate all the senses, chef Luke Reyes can do it all.