The cannabis cuisine scene in Los Angeles is straight popping off this week.
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.
Self-Taught and Amazing
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.
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.
“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.”