“I was born into the cannabis scene,” Chef “Hawaii” Mike Salman says. It’s not an exaggeration – both his parents loved the plant. His father, a musician, smoked with fellow artists; his mother worked with growers in Hawaii (where the moniker comes from). Salman, a mainstay in the legacy cannabis space, followed in his parents’ footsteps. Over his 30 years as a cultural maestro, he’s done everything music and media-related, from touring with legendary hip hop group Mobb Deep as a road manager to serving first as marketing manager then as Lifestyle Editor for The Source magazine, to founding LTD magazine and becoming the founding editor-in-chief of tattoo publication Inked, and consulting for global brands such as Nike and Reebok. And throughout every stage, cannabis has played an influential role.
Chef For Higher Combines Hawaii Mike's Three Pillars: Hip Hop, Food, And Cannabis
“There’s three pillars in my life: hip hop, food, and cannabis,” the innovator declares. “Those three things have been literally part of every relationship. My friends, my work, the people that become my family. Even now, all of those things have woven into everything with Chef For Higher and Fly Private Social.”
In 2015 Hawaii Mike created Chef For Higher, a culinary culture brand that specializes in cannabis-infused food and tastemaker dining experiences (its sister brand, Fly Private Social, produces private dining events with a hip hop theme). These exclusive epicurean delights are curated around the globe, enjoyed by A-list artists and athletes, cannabis industry executives, policymakers – and the rare journalist or two. His food, served in precisely-sized portions for the best effects, is a gastronomic journey. Though the chef, who is self-taught, will often draw inspiration from Brazilian or Filipino traditions he learned from his parents, his cuisine defies genre. Instead, it’s all about the sensation his guests will have in their gustatory adventure, hence the travel metaphors. And this spring, the barrier-breaker hit a new milestone as the first culinary lifestyle brand and one of the first legacy entrepreneurs in New York to have branded edibles on the shelves of the state’s licensed dispensaries.
Try Chef For Higher And Fly Private Social For Yourself!
Those who wish to see what Chef For Higher and Fly Private Social are all about can join the brands' "Flight 111" on Thursday, January 11th, 7-11PM at an exclusive location in Brooklyn. Attendees will enjoy an evening of the highest vibrations, complete with a seven-course tasting menu designed to activate the chakras. The event centers on "1/11" as the day to manifest goals for 2024. Click here to book your tickets.
Who Is Chef For Higher Founder Hawaii Mike?
For Hawaii Mike, every part of this wild journey began with a little serendipity and hustle. Born in San Francisco and splitting his childhood between Hawaii and California, he remembers smoking weed with high school friends, taking from his father’s stash, and eventually building up to selling cannabis not just to his peers but also to their parents. As a Bay Area teen, he regularly snuck into music festivals; the plant granted him easy access. His connections there were so impressed that they offered him an internship in New York, sparking one of the most ingenious modern bridges between cannabis and mainstream culture.
The trailblazer worked with several record labels, artists, and The Source. By the time he became the outlet’s lifestyle editor, his was the only office that people could smoke in, and everyone knew it. Realizing early on that the weed he had access to on the East Coast was “trash,” Hawaii Mike had by then perfected his system of obtaining West Coast cannabis and constructing a pipeline to friends and colleagues. One of his notable clients was none other than The Notorious B.I.G., who he knew through The Source’s Matty C (Matt Life) and Mobb Deep.
“Big used to hound me for weed constantly,” Hawaii Mike recalls. “Every time he saw me, it was ‘Good, let’s smoke.’” The two became smoking buddies, although Hawaii Mike was reluctant to sell the music legend anything, preferring to simply enjoy the vibes.
What Does The Intersection Of Cannabis And Hip Hop Mean To Hawaii Mike?
When asked about the intersection of cannabis and hip hop, especially during 2023 as the genre’s 50th anniversary, the pioneer replies, “I don’t even know if it’s an intersection at this point. It’s a co-pilot along with the ride for us.”
He elaborates: “If you look at hip hop, we sample. Sampling is synonymous with foraging. It’s natural to us as humans. It’s in our DNA and how we learn about things. We touch, we taste, we try, we put ‘em on. What brought everybody together is that [each] time we sampled outside of our culture and brought it back, it created a bridge so people could come through this way or go that way. It started to show the similarities in who we are. We sampled vernacular, style, fashion, music, and we became pop culture. Cannabis is definitely one of those things… It’s been there with us the whole time. But as the influence of hip hop grew, I think it’s what really put cannabis to the forefront of popular culture. [Through 50 years of hip hop] I see it as we’ve done it within these silos of our own little crews. Now, what I want to do is see how we celebrate that and move it forward together. That’s the same thing in the cannabis industry.”
Hawaii Mike On The Future Of New York Cannabis
Hawaii Mike is adamant that small cannabis businesses need to have solidarity, particularly in New York, to stand against large multi-state operators (MSOs). Chef For Higher edibles, Coconut Oil, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil are currently in 13 (and counting!) CAURD-licensed dispensaries, retailers owned by people who have had cannabis convictions, and the products were made through a white-label deal with a licensed processor. But to keep everything moving toward an inclusive vision, he believes there need to be two major rules: Legacy operators must be involved in the legal space, and “New York cannot work with only New York product.”
“New York is the capital of the world,” he states. “We have everything here. We’re entitled to it, we expect it. So how could you restrict us to having cannabis from one place when we’re used to having it from everywhere? These [licensed] stores can do well only selling New York product, but if there’s a demand for [outside cannabis], which there always will be, it’s going to be fulfilled by somebody. Though I know it can’t happen yet, [I’ve told the Office of Cannabis Management that] New York and California need to be able to have interstate commerce. Especially in the New York market, I don’t see another way. We want choice, we want selection.”
That’s something he embodies with Chef For Higher and Fly Private Social’s dining experiences. “It’s sampling and foraging, right, and then you put your flair on it. With Fly Private, it’s a celebration of hip hop through food. How do we show our unity? That’s what hip hop did for me. It started off exclusive at the beginning, but there was something so authentic to the creative expression, that vibration just connected everybody. I wanted to show that through another energy source, through food. Those three pillars – hip hop, food, and cannabis – are unity based. It’s become my alchemy.”
With New York now looking at a reality filled with consumption lounges and where people could soon order infused meal kits from their favorite cannabis chef, the wizard’s got a lot of magic yet to do. So the next time you’re invited to fly higher with Hawaii Mike, relax – and sit for a spell.
For more about Chef For Higher and Fly Private Social, visit chefforhigher.com and follow @chefforhigher and @flyprivatesocial on Instagram. To book tickets for "Flight 111" on January 11, 2024, click here.
*A version of this article originally appeared in Honeysuckle's 17th print edition, featuring Havoc of Mobb Deep. Get your copy now at Housing Works Cannabis Co or click here to order!
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Featured image: Chef For Higher's Hawaii Mike at work in his culinary element (C) Chef For Higher / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.