Update: California’s original High Dining presents its sixth Moonlit Moveable Feast on June 6, 2020 in Joshua Tree. For information, visit highdining.club.
A cannabis-infused dinner party may sound like a straight forward concept in our post-legalization society: It’s a meal laced with marijuana that leaves you both satiated and stoned, right
Wrong, says the team behind Moonlit Moveable Feast, an ultra-high-end event in Joshua Tree that takes place twice a year and only during a full moon. Guests who shell out the $300 to attend find themselves not only dining on haute cuisine but immersed in a sophisticated cultural experience, set in the High Desert, that’s part culinary journey, part performance art, and part educational symposium … all centered around the ever-expanding world of weed.
“This event is not about getting high,” says Barbie Sommars, a cannabis activist and co-founder of High Dining, the group that hosts the Moonlit Moveable Feasts and other private dinners (including a sushi- and doobie-rolling workshop). “It’s about having an intentional experience and learning at the same time.”
After years spent working in asset management, Sommars discovered cannabis while seeking alternative remedies for health issues. She and business partner Lindsey Jones launched High Dining in 2016 as a spinoff of Mary Jane University, an organization they oversee with its founder and CEO Frances Schauwecker that offers in-home cannabis-themed demos and courses — a kind of new-age Tupperware party. “We use cannabis as part of our overall wellness routine,” Sommars says. “We want to make sure people feel productive and healthy.”
Moonlit Moveable Feasts are less about getting high than they are about learning and bonding with people and place.
If attendees of Moonlit Moveable Feasts — which take place at a different artist’s compound each time, with the location revealed to attendees the day before — choose to partake in all the cannabis options over the four-plus-hour evening, they’ll consume about 10 milligrams of THC spread out via microdoses in various forms and multiple courses. (THC is the compound in marijuana that gets you high, while the other best-known compound, CBD, has therapeutic properties but is nonintoxicating.) It’s not a massive amount for the experienced enthusiast: 10 milligrams is considered by many to be a standard dose, and some edibles sold at dispensaries can contain that much in a single serving.
To keep the dinners intimate, Sommars limits them to 44 guests, divided between two seatings, an hour apart. While the meals are meant to showcase fine cooking and fine cannabis, they’re also about making the food as beautiful as the backdrop — a rambling desert landscape dotted with twisted Joshua trees. Guests are greeted with a walking sunset course, which last spring featured a mushroom-garlic-leek-cashew cream tart topped with pretty pink sprouts. “That was in honor of the pink moon,” Sommars says. “And yes, that’s how we curate, down to that level — the color of the sprouts.”
The first bite is offered with an optional drizzle of Pot d’Huile, a cannabis-charged extra virgin olive oil made by a San Francisco company that touts the fact that its oil offers uniform dosing (1 milligram of THC per milliliter) and tastes wonderful, which, apparently, is no easy feat. Then it’s time to sit down at a long farm table for the next two courses. The seasonal salad’s dressing might incorporate raw cannabis oil, of which Sommars is a big advocate. “It’s not psychotropic. There’s so much beneficial goodness in raw cannabis, and it’s one of the things I love to educate on,” she explains.
“This event is not about getting high. It’s about having an intentional experience and learning at the same time.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY PUFF PUFF PASS
Guests listen to the moon through a sound telescope and closely examine different cannabis strains.
A lesson with an herb sommelier who helps pair cannabis with both food and wine usually accompanies the main course. Diners get to smell various terpenes (one of the marijuana world’s most buzzed-about topics, terpenes are the plants’ essential oils, responsible for each strain’s distinct scent, effects, and benefits) before a “group toke” with a strain specifically chosen to complement the dish and the wine.
At an April dinner, a slow-roasted salmon topped with a pesto made of pine pollen, basil, hempseed, and raw cannabis leaves was paired with a strain highlighting terpenes of lemon and pine notes. “People came up to me and said, ‘I never realized that salmon could be this good,’ ” says Sabrina Eustis, a Los Angeles–based private chef who has helmed the kitchen of multiple High Dining feasts. “When I started doing marijuana-infused cooking, it was all cookies and sweet stuff. But I love doing fine dining and proving it doesn’t have to be snacky stoner food, but much more elevated.”
By the time guests head into the Quonset hut — complete with a sound healer — for the “moonset” course of coffee and dessert (that might be infused with a CBD sugar cube or honey), they’ve often made new friends, one of the event’s long-lasting impacts that Sommars is especially proud of. “You can bet the person you’re sitting next to is adventurous and interesting. People really bond with each other.”
That’s the experience Emily Hutchison (not her real name), an Orange County–based attorney, has had at the dinners she has attended. “It’s a great event to go to by yourself. You can learn a lot by talking to people, and I’ve made some great friends,” says Hutchison, who began using marijuana to combat nausea caused by a treatment for a chronic medical issue and became interested in its health benefits and legalization. “The environment is absolutely magical. It’s a sensuous, beautiful experience, and there’s this air of excitement.”
After the meal, the rest of the experience begins with a choose-your-own-adventure concept featuring an eclectic-as-they-come mix of artists and a crop of “cannabis royalty” ready to share their knowledge.
At the Moroccan-inspired feast that took place in late September, guests could watch local glass blowers create everything from pipes to pendants; study cannabis flowers under a microscope; check out a sound telescope that Sommars calls a “showstopper” (“We’re all used to looking at the moon, but have you ever listened to it?”); and chat with some of the evening’s roaming educators including a cannabis cookbook author, a cannabis tourism expert, and the evening’s “mood director” — a robed, wild-haired guy known as The Weed Jesus.
Finally, the enlightening evening ends with a performance by a local band, most recently a psychedelic space-rock group called 3rd Ear Experience that played a special set for the occasion. “This is meant to be a multisensory dinner party. We’re trying to engage all of your senses because cannabis has that ability. You have heightened feeling, heightened hearing,” Sommars adds. “I even like to say it makes the moon a little bit brighter.”