Crafting Cultural and Culinary Cannabis with (left to right) Jason Harley (better known as „Chef J”), Sandi Lesueur, President of Urban Juve, Andre Bourque.
The mainstreaming of cannabis has pushed the industry to cater to more niche audiences, like…women. While the industry continues to diversify who works in it and who they sell to, one of the most exciting things is the development of a luxury market that extends far beyond accessories like bongs that look straight out of a modern art museum. Cannabis entrepreneurs are branching out into luxury cannabis experiences to help new and old cannabis consumers see the drug in a new light.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting two cannabis entrepreneurs who are transforming cannabis consumption by infusing it into other, everyday experiences: eating and skincare. I took Sandi Lesueur, the president of Urban Juve, to meet with and enjoy the culinary cannabis creations of Jason Harley, who is better known in LA as Chef J of Baby J’s Burgers.
While not everyone can afford custom-catered cannabis dining or hemp-infused, specially-formulated Ayurvedic skincare, the luxury-ificiation of cannabis has broader downstream effects. When high-end department store Barneys New York announced a marijuana lifestyle range this year, the Business of Fashion noted that it was “the latest sign a drug once associated with bohemians and deadbeats is moving up the social ladder.”
By bringing cannabis into everyday activities like dining and skincare, Lesueur and Chef J are doing more than turning cannabis consumption into a status symbol; they’re helping people see cannabis as a transformative and necessary ingredient in these activities.
Bringing cannabis to luxury dining
Chef J has been pushing the envelope on cannabis cuisine for over twenty years. While the handcrafted burgers at Baby J’s don’t include cannabis, his catering and event company OG Kitchen specializes in farm-to-table cannabis cuisine.
For Chef J, cannabis cuisine is more than a gimmick. “You have to know what you are using to infuse,” he told me. “The real secret is knowing what food you’re preparing to determine whether you will use canna-butter, a pure distillate, a crude oil, or an infused coconut oil.” Some restaurants like Carl’s Jr are using CBD-infused burgers (sold only in Denver for a stoner-pandering $4.20) to brand themselves as hip to the cannabis revolution.
Take a look at a sample menu from Chef J’s OG Kitchen and you’ll notice first and foremost the care he takes crafting his courses. Whether it’s a wild caught Maine lobster with lobster dashi broth starter or a Japanese Miyazaki A5 wagyu ribeye main course, each one is paired with a unique cannabis strain or distillate to complement the other flavors.
Spring Cannabis Infused 8-Course Dinner, April 2019
Like any of his fresh ingredients, the cannabis he uses is carefully selected using the same rigorous quality standards. “I go far out of my way to ensure every ingredient I use to cook with are the freshest I can get my hands on. The cannabis I use to cook with is all licensed, clean, organically grown and hand curated by me.”
By treating cannabis as another in a long list of quality ingredients, Chef J is exposing lucky diners to cannabis as an integral part of California’s culinary culture—instead of the other way around.
Urban Juve honors hemp’s potential by honoring Ayurvedic practices
My dining companion, Sandi Lesueur, President of Urban Juve and Director of Brand Development at The Yield Growth Corp., knows a thing or two about integrating cannabis into a time-honored tradition. Urban Juve is a skincare line based in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic system developed over 3,000 years ago in India.
Urban Juve’s inclusion of cannabis (hemp root oil, to be exact) in their skincare products stems from their Ayurvedic approach, not as part of a trend. Hemp root has been used medicinally in the Ayurvedic tradition to help treat illnesses like gout and as an aphrodisiac, while today’s science shows promise for whole cannabis root preparations to treat inflammation and malignant conditions.
Bhavna Solecki, Vedic Science of Ayurveda scholar and 30-year practitioner, and Director of Products for Urban Juve.
Each one of Urban Juve’s products are a collaboration between Bhavna Soecki, a 30-year Ayurvedic practitioner with clients like George Michael, Anjelica Huston, and David Beckham, and cutting-edge scientific research. One of the central tenets of Ayurvedic practice, according to Soecki, is working together in a large community. Alongside her Ayurveda-practicing colleagues in Canada and India, Soecki and her team have adapted today’s technologies to create a modern day Ayurvedic processing technique for hemp root oil.
“This year,” Leseuer explained, “we brought in a top-tier chemical engineer to review all the literature to identify Ayurvedic processing methods from the classical text to create new, state of art technology using the modern method of extraction to scale up while maintaining the traditional Ayurvedic. This is a patent-pending process. It not only distinguishes our brand as unique, but it also underscores the quality we deliver.”
Like Chef J, Urban Juve carefully crafts their cannabis from seed-to-production From face moisturizers to anti-aging serums, Urban Juve’s products are composed with attention to the traditional Ayurvedic method, which teaches that everything in the universe is connected through its Doshas—or energy types.
While there are many CBD-infused skin care lines out there where cannabis is the star, Urban Juve’s approach to cannabis through the ancient Ayurvedic teachings makes it part of a holistic approach to skin health and life more broadly. As part of that holistic approach, Urban Juve is supporting female entrepreneurs in their hometown of Vancouver, and giving back to the community by helping the Portland Hotel Society, a non-profit that provides advocacy, housing, services, and opportunities for the marginalized citizens of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
In the Ayurvedic teachings, all of these things are connected to each other. So it’s no surprise that Leseuer saw connections between her work and Chef J’s cooking, including the care taken with the natural ingredients and the balance in both the recipes and the skincare formulas that allow the cannabis to reach its highest potential.
For many consumers, marijuana and hemp are newly legalized substances. Consumers are sold on the novelty of the cannabis experience. As time goes by and the novelty wears off, it will be the approach of Chef J and Lesueur that wins out: integrating cannabis into everyday life—eating, skin care, etc.—to show that it is one part of a broader way of living.
While these products and experiences are considered luxury for now, their approach will further help push cannabis towards mainstream acceptance as consumers see them as not extraordinary because of the cannabis, but in spite of it.
A Forbes Adventure: Field trip, cannabis-infused lunch, and discovery
Disclosure: I have no financial interest or positions in the aforementioned companies. This information is for educational purposes and does not constitute financial and/or legal advice.