January 1, 2018 brought an entire new industry to San Diego’s doorstep: legalized cannabis. And, considering marijuana and food have been bedfellows since the beginning of time (munchies, anyone?), it’s no surprise that San Diego’s chefs and epicureans are eager to get in the game, and have done so mainly by launching dinners that pair cannabis consumption with high-end dishes.
One dinner event, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is the Closed Door Supper Club, run by Marie Daniels, who also owns a public relations company. “The idea of the supper club is two-fold,” Daniels said. “It allows my chef friends the space to experiment with an ingredient that requires them to create menus through a dynamic lens, outside their normal routine of the restaurant. It also creates an experience for diners who love sitting at the chef’s table, or always order chef’s choice or go out of their way to try something new. In this case, cannabis infused foods.”
Her pop-up dinners—which tend to attract an older, affluent audience and cost around $70-225 per-person—occur once a quarter at a location released only hours before the dinner is set to start. Once there, guests find a variety of un-infused hors d’oeuvres and drinks, both alcoholic and not. Eventually, guests are asked to be seated, and a course of five or six dinners, cooked by a local chef or two, will follow.
Each course has the option to be infused with up to three milligrams of THC or CBD oil, with each course featuring one compound or the other. Guests are given a card, not unlike a Brazilian rodízio, which can be flipped up or down to indicate whether or not someone would like their course infused.
This is important, because edible cannabinoids can take a while to take effect, depending on tolerance, weight and other factors. THC is what gives body and “head” intoxicating effects and CBD is a non-intoxicating compound that has been used for a variety of ailments, like pain management and anxiety. It also tempers the intoxicating feeling of THC, so alternating them tends to have a mitigating effect.
Closed Door Supper Club’s January 2018 dinner was cooked by Miguel Valdez, formerly of The Red Door, and Drew Bent, of upcoming East Village restaurant Lola 55. Dessert was prepared by Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared. Six courses included a pumpkin pie shooter with CBD-infused peppermint foam, pork belly cooked in THC butter and a pecan cupcake with a CBD-infused chocolate whiskey syrup. A crowd favorite included a tempura-fried marijuana leaf, paired with salted honey.
“Cannabis consumption is evolving and so is the audience. This is opening doors to a new group of people and experience seekers. I am seeing a more sophisticated desire in the cannabis industry, especially with the female market,” Daniels explains. “It is our hope to create an intimate, salon feel for the dinners where unaffiliated guests come together to enjoy great food, ambiance and conversation and leave with a handful of new interesting acquaintances.”
Across town, Lego Optimo is providing a different kind of cannabis dining experience, opting for smoking in-between courses, rather than infusing the food. The debut dinner was in January, and featured Flor Franco of Franco on Fifth along with Benito Molina, of Manzanilla in Ensenada and other projects.
At a Lego Optimo dinner, four strains of cannabis accompany four courses, and they have paired with San Diego dispensary Urbn Leaf to provide tours and general education in conjunction with other cannabis industry leaders, including growers. The next dinner, “Smoke Out,” will be held in March 15 and will cost $135-185 depending on group size and when the ticket is purchased. Javier Plascencia, who operates a restaurant group in Mexico, and Flor Franco will be at the helm.
“We chose to do paired rather than infused because it’s our feeling that its more difficult to judge peoples reactions to edibles or infused foods than it is to do vaping or smoking,” co-founder Carolyn Kates says. She is strongly critical of infused dinners, explaining that they physically mixing food and cannabis is legally dubious, and says Lego Optimo will never run an infused event.
“When you are adding cannabis to food, you are distributing cannabis in another way. We are not a distributor, we are an entertainment company and we want to provide a different experience that included food and cannabis in a way that would be legal, safe and responsible,” she continues.
There are other dinners, too. Juan Carlos Recamier of Old Town’s Ceviche House recently hosted a cannabis dinner at his restaurant and Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins has an upcoming six-course infused dinner on February 19 with Manny Mendoza, called Garden of Eden. The dinner has a $125 “suggested donation” and is hosted by local cannabis event company Herbal Notes.
“I wanted to do this because I wanted to explore the flavors that can be unlocked by blending the flavors of the Yucatán peninsula and different strains of plants,” Zepeda-Wilkins explains about her inspiration to jump into the space.
“It hasn’t been difficult, actually, because the focus is definitely the food, there’s plenty of plants that will compliment every flavor. The tinctures and oils we’re cooking with have the THC removed. It’s not about getting everyone stoned out of their mind.”
Zepeda-Wilkins also wanted to host a cannabis dinner to help remove stigma and change what she thinks is a strongly unequal justice system—something that the repeal of cannabis prohibition hasn’t yet adequately addressed.
“We’re not the first state to allow recreational use and the ones that have are only become stronger economically because of the legalization. There’s people in jail for weed possession next to violent criminals, the system is broken,” she says. “I’m trying to do my part by giving a different positive experience and perspective with a plant that can do so much good for people with illnesses and—my mom said I could!”