Word is spreading in the Big Apple about Hawaii Mike and the supper club dinners he provides through Chef for Higher. Boardroom sits down with the chef to talk about his journey.
Underground cannabis dinners have always been popular in the cannabis company. They are multi-course meals with infused dishes that go much further than a simple gummy or brownie. With continued state-by-state cannabis legalization, we are seeing more companies use these infused dinners to partner with chefs, launch brands, and spread the word about their products.
Out in New York, one of the OGs in the culinary cannabis world is Hawaii Mike, owner of the Chef for Higher brand, known for its supper club dinners and being at the intersection of community, culinary, and culture. He has operated in the legacy cannabis space since a youth, raised by a father who hustled. This allowed Hawaii Mike to grow into the music space and ultimately move to New York City from the Bay Area. Since 2015, Chef for Higher has hosted over 200 private dinners.
Hawaii Mike talked with Boardroom recently to discuss Chef for Higher’s journey and how legalization has affected the NYC-infused dinner scene.
DANTÉ JORDAN: Chef for Higher has been established since 2015. Who are some of the OGs that put you on game and have helped you along the way?
HAWAII MIKE [Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy]: Bringing medicine and giving it to the states. Hunter S. Thompson, knowing he was doing these kinds of dinner parties back in the day. [Nonna Marijuana], the grandma that was cooking with cannabis a while ago. Other than that, it’s really been the chefs that have worked with me; it hasn’t really been any OGs. When I started in 2015, there wasn’t really anyone else that I knew of that was rocking. It was really just me figuring it out.
DJ: What effects has legalization had on the scene in New York?
HM: The effect of legalization in New York is that it’s a free for all. It’s good for the legacy operators in that we’re able to operate more freely. It’s bad because everybody and their mother is doing stuff right now, so it’s really muddying the waters.
The way New Yorkers rock, it’s all proximity. Before, we were destinations that were sought out, but now, it’s like, “Oh, this is right here. Let me go try that.” It’s kind of making it more novelty. As industries begin, everybody’s trying to find their footing. What I think is a lot of this will fall by the wayside. People will see operating in food isn’t the easiest thing to do, and doing things on a consistent basis, you really have to create systems. A lot of the noise will go away after a little while, but it’s a capitalistic system where everybody’s trying to get theirs.
DJ: You host dinners at different venues around New York? Or is it always Brooklyn?
HM: When we started, we pretty much changed venues every single time. That was more for safety first, but also fun — kind of like a challenge for me. I looked at everything we did as a focus group — from the people that were coming to the meals we were making to the kitchens we were cooking in to the places we hosted them at — just to see how I could create systems to replicate this, whether I’m there or not.
We did have a space from 2019-2021. Now, we’re hopping around different spaces. A lot of the things we’re doing are private hires. People can just reach out to us and hire us for whatever events they may have: birthdays, celebrations, gatherings, whatever it is.
DJ: Before now, have you ever had a dinner raided or shut down by authorities?
HM: No, sir. We’ve been pretty lucky not to have anything done, raided, or shut down. We’ve had features: CBS came and covered us one time. Luckily for us, I think it’s really our intention.
We are there to be about the community. I don’t care about being seen by everybody else, so everything has been word of mouth. People find out through their friends. Trust is one of the top sellers; it’s one of the main things people are buying from us. When we first started, it was a secret club. No one wanted to be the one to let the cat out of the bag.
DJ: How can people gain access to the Fly Private Social Club (Chef for Higher supper club)?
HM: It’s definitely word-of-mouth-based still. We do post on social and use Instagram, but it’s really people reaching out to us. You can slide in our DMs, get on our list, and that’s really how you find out about it. It’s a small community, but we’re always looking to grow with the right people.
DJ: I would imagine that the cost per event varies, right?
HM: Oh, for sure. When we did our supper club, it was every single month. It was our test kitchen. The price went from $75 in 2015, because it was small tasting menus, to about $150 for our three-course [meal]. We didn’t want to overprice things. If you hire us for private events, you’re hiring us for our expertise and the trust you have in our brand name. With that, we probably cap it at $300-400 per head.
Q: What was the event Chef for Higher did on 11/11?
HM: On 11/11 — I started this in 2021 — it’s our annual celebration of oneness. Ones follow me around and I look at them as guide marks. 11/11 is also a portal; it’s a gateway to transformation, to growth, to change. It’s a powerful time to put some intentions out there and manifest.
I celebrate that oneness through an 11-course menu. We had 22 guests per seating, 44 guests total, 484 plates served, 132 mocktails, plus water. We did that with an eight-person team. It was also my coming out party [as a chef]. I was very resistant to being called a chef. My oneness as part of that was about surrendering and opening up and embracing the title chef.
DJ: Have you done any events with some of the consumption lounges in New York?
HM: High Garden is the only one. I feel like either people are thinking we’re not down or they’re intimidated by us. For me, that’s not my worry. My worry is to stay my course and be as open as I can. What’s mine will come to me, what’s theirs is theirs. Everybody’s fam. If [consumption lounges in New York] want to do something, let’s rock.
DJ: What advice would you have for an up-and-coming chef that wants to host dinners in New York?
HM: Trust your intuition. Trust your gut. Allow your “why” to develop what you’re doing. Why are you feeding people? What are you trying to do? Is it just the money; are they just a transaction, or is there something else? Let that become the guiding light for what you’re going to do.
[Cooking for people] is an energy exchange and people are going to feel that. It doesn’t have to be the most high-end of anything, it’s why and how you put these things together that are going to make people come back. There are so many people that can cook; it’s why we do it that changes the game.
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