Meet the Women Blazing San Francisco’s Cannabis Culinary Scene

Big Bad Wolf's Haejin Chun is a woman to watch in San Francisco's canna-culinary scene. (Nick Goldsmith)

San Francisco’s restaurant scene may be dominated by men, but in the cannabis culinary world, women are leading the way. Meet the talented and dynamic women who are creating San Francisco’s canna-culinary culture.

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Naturally, the busy intersection of San Francisco’s cannabis and culinary worlds is a vibrant one, with a passion for sun-grown cannabis and well-made products matched by our commitment to caring how our food is grown, sourced, and prepared, and the same goes for the wine we’re pairing with our meals (and now we're going full circle with cannabis cultivars as well). They are all agricultural products, after all. Underground cannabis dinner parties are a hot ticket, and we aren’t talking about munchie chow-downs with three-cheese nachos — it’s more like smoked tangerines with albacore crudo, English peas, fennel, crème fraîche, and infused olive oil. Because that’s how we roll here (joints included).

Cinnamon panna cotta with mulled wine and 2mg of non-psychoactive THCA by Coreen Carroll of Cannaisseur Series. (mymilligram.com)

An unexpected development is the large number of women who are leading the local canna-culinary scene, many of them Asian American — a welcome contrast to SF’s primarily white cis male–dominated chef landscape. Some of these canna chefs have culinary training, while others are self-taught, bringing forth the dishes, flavors, and techniques of their family roots and histories, weaving in some local influences and ingredients, all with an elevated touch. We’re also seeing female producers of sophisticated canna-culinary experiences, content creators, and community builders, all contributing their many talents and hustle to a burgeoning scene that is unique to San Francisco and our culture here.

Best of all: many of these women collaborate together on their events. Fempire building, fempire rising.

Meta moments at one of The Herb Somm's Thursday Infused gatherings. (mymilligram.com)

Cannabis may be legal in California, and you can get cutting-edge products delivered right to your door, but cannabis culinary events remain underground, hosted in secret locations, private venues, and homes. It’s a bit like the street food and pop-up scene that rocked the SF culinary scene a decade ago, equally renegade and DIY in spirit, fueled by a palpable passion for cooking — and now with the added love for coming together and enjoying delicious food with cannabis.

The elegant setting for TSO Sonoma's Herban Romance dinner for Valentine's Day. (mymilligram.com)

The demand for these experiences continues to grow, but operating in the shadows has many risks — and it’s also a massive amount of additional work, from the schlepping to staffing to cooking in ad hoc kitchens to lining up sponsors (many hosts try to support female-owned brands). But there’s something very special that happens around the table at these gatherings: community. Connection. Camaraderie.

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It’s heady stuff and keeps so many of these event hosts and producers inspired to continue cultivating the magic. Most of these events also give back to the community, dedicating a portion of their precious proceeds to a variety of causes and organizations, from social justice and equity, to supporting women in business, or Oakland's City Slicker Farms.

Cannabis flower sensory pairings at TSO Sonoma's Fall Foraged dinner. (mymilligram.com)

In order to help spearhead legal access to cannabis cuisine, there’s a local group called Crop-to-Kitchen community (founded by Terrance Alan and Kimberly Belle) made up of chefs, restaurateurs, edibles and beverage makers, and canna industry insiders that meet on a quarterly basis. Belle shares, “The community is working to build pathways to legalize safe, responsibly dosed, on-premise consumption experiences, and to free up edibles manufacturers from current regulatory restrictions that favor shelf-stable food products over healthier, freshly prepared, real foods.”

The Crop-to-Kitchen community organizers and speakers at their Winter Meet-Up. (mymilligram.com)

Crop-to-Kitchen just launched a sister chapter in Los Angeles, C2KLA, with Rachel Morgan (co-founder of Altered Plates, an LA-based culinary cannabis hospitality collective) as lead community organizer. The City of West Hollywood is quite a bit ahead of SF’s canna cuisine scene — Morgan gives us a peek at what’s happening south: “With the recent permitting of [four] onsite consumption lounges in West Hollywood, women are upping the ante on the culinary cannabis game, and are working to open some of the first spaces in the world where people will be able to combine a restaurant dining experience with their love of cannabis. I am very excited to be working on one of these lounges myself, and look forward to seeing the diversity of ways these lounges explore the endless possibilities for culinary cannabis. There is a place for cannabis alongside many classic culinary traditions, and it’s going to be very exciting to see how the community here in Los Angeles creates an entirely new category of dining experiences.”

Coreen Carroll and Stephanie Hua doing a recipe demo from their Edibles cookbook at the Crop-to-Kitchen Winter Meet-Up. (mymilligram.com)

Morgan adds: “The importance of having an organization like C2K, which is led by some of the leading minds in the culinary cannabis industry, taking up the charge of working with lawmakers to ensure a path for sensible regulations, [and] will pave the way for a culinary cannabis industry where chefs and restaurants can safely serve food alongside cannabis, create perfectly-dosed gourmet dishes, and open up new avenues for premium edibles that more closely resemble food than candy.”

Pot d'Huile's infused olive oil was a popular guest at Yana Gilbuena's Horno Buena kamayan feast. (mymilligram.com)

SF has a ways to go before we can plunk down at a cannabis café and order avocado toast with 3mg of cannabis-infused olive oil drizzled over it — with current California Department of Health regulations, we can’t even add CBD oil from hemp — but if you want to see it all happen, now is the time to get involved. 

Guests could finish freshly shucked oysters with cannabis herb oil at Big Bad Wolf's third anniversary party. (mymilligram.com)

In the meantime, here are some of the inspiring women to watch who are leading and shaping our local cannabis culinary scene, from chefs to event hosts to content creators — meet the makers of our future canna restaurant industry.

Dessert at a collaborative Thursday Infused night with Sous Weed . (mymilligram.com)

Coreen Carroll: The Cannaisseur Series

Chef Coreen Carroll keeps many things lit at her Cannaisseur Series events. (Ashleigh Castro)

A trailblazer in SF's cannabis dinner scene, nothing beats the party vibe and lively, diverse crowd of a Cannaisseur Series dinner or brunch. Chef Carroll loves to feed her guests (no one goes home hungry), and with her husband Ryan Bush, they create and plan an entire experience — from the theme (speakeasy? Oktoberfest?) to the arc of cannabis consumption, with thoughtful infused dishes and cannabis pairings, designed to take their guests on an immersive journey (read this Bay Area Bites recap for a detailed look at one of their past dinners).

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Their team is additionally offering a variety of educational culinary workshops, from cannabis and cheese pairings, to oysters, or chocolate and wine, plus cooking demos. Carroll is also celebrating the recent launch of Edibles: Small Bites for the Modern Cannabis Kitchen, a cookbook she co-authored with Stephanie Hua, creator of Mellows (gourmet infused marshmallows); they met at the San Francisco Cooking School, and are experienced guides who teach inspiring ways to cook with cannabis.

Get on the party train: @cannaisseurseries.

Haejin Chun: Big Bad Wolf

Big Bad Wolf's Haejin Chun shows her guests she loves them with meat cones. (mymilligram.com)

Here’s how Haej kicked off her third anniversary party for Big Bad Wolf, her pop-up event series: with yuzu-habanero hot sauce and cannabis-infused mignonette over freshly shucked oysters, followed by passed apps of shrimp cocktail with feisty gochujang cocktail sauce, meat cones loaded with salumi from Lucca Ravioli Co., and colorful Bloom Farms vapes on trays. The finale of savory rice porridge was welcomed after the night of revelry.

There is an exuberance in Haej’s kitchen and cooking, a celebration of her Korean roots (she’s first generation Korean-American) and her love of community, with added ingredients of hip-hop, feminism, playful swagger, and heart. I love all the personal touches — she really gives so much of herself in every event — all the way to gift bags with little jars of her kimchee and a heartfelt thank you note. She is evolving at the speed of a comet — her sold-out gatherings keep getting dialed up, so jump on tickets as soon as they’re released (next one is March 22, but is a non-consumption dinner).

Get a behind-the-scenes look at her thought process at @bigbadwolfsf.

Allison Kosta and Devika Maskey: TSO Sonoma

TSO Sonoma's Allison Kosta and Devika Maskey at their Herban Romance event on Valentine's Day. (mymilligram.com)

For a truly epicurean experience, it’s tough to top the well-produced and sophisticated events from TSO Sonoma, which celebrate Northern California cuisine, cannabis, wine, wellness, and community in gorgeous settings, from urban wineries to photo studios to stylish Wine Country homes. Both Kosta and Maskey have Northern California roots and a deep background in wine, which all comes across in these gatherings that celebrate NorCal lifestyle and culture.

These multi-course affairs include cannabis pairings, Wine Country chefs, live music, education, and access to their Awakening vaporizer pen, which is part of a full line launching soon. Guests practically float when leaving their thoughtful and abundant events. Become a member of their TSOCIAL Club (it’s free) to receive event invitations, and be the first to know about their upcoming product launches and subscription box.

More at @tso.sonoma.

Jamie Evans: The Herb Somm

The luminous Jamie Evans at her holiday event. (mymilligram.com)

Another consummate event host with a background in the wine industry is Jamie Evans, known for her exploration of pairing cannabis terpenes (the aromatic compounds in cannabis and many plants) with wine. At her highly curated Thursday Infused monthly events, she walks guests through how to assess the nuances of cannabis aromatics with thoughtful food and wine pairings, as well as introducing quality cannabis growers and products, plus local and visiting chefs, all while providing education, discovery, and drawing an engaging crowd. Every detail of her events is so carefully considered, and presented with such gracious hospitality.

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She’s also a prolific content creator, sending out her Herb Somm newsletter with cannabis product reviews, recipes, and wellness tips, and be sure to follow her at @theherbsomm. She’s hard at work on an upcoming book (due to come out this fall via Fair Winds Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group), so she’s paused her events at the moment, but will be back this summer.

Yana Gilbuena: SALO Series

Yana Gilbuena in her happy place. (Celeste Noche )

San Francisco is lucky to have itinerant chef Gilbuena cooling her jets and nesting in the 415 after completing her international Filipino pop-up dinner tour, the SALO Series. She started in Bushwick, and then hosted dinners in our 50 states in 52 weeks, as well as all eight provinces in Canada. She celebrates the cuisine of her native Visayas region in the central Philippines at elaborate kamayan feasts, where guests gather to eat communally with their hands over tables covered with banana leaves, laden with her soulful dishes that integrate local ingredients.

Her self-published and fundraised cookbook, No Forks Given, just came out about her series and experiences cooking across America, with recipes. In SF, she’s collaborating with local cannabis brands and products and serving infused feasts with fellow chefs—get ready for upcoming events to celebrate her book release.

More at @saloseries.

Monica Lo: Sous Weed

Monica Lo of Sous Weed in action mode. (Sean Amador)

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While Lo isn’t hosting 40-person dinners for the public, she does collaborate on intimate and over-the-top feasts with chef friends and co-creators. She’s done a tremendous amount of work to help destigmatize and elevate cannabis cuisine, teaching refined infusing techniques through her recipes created for food lovers. No clichéd munchies with Lo: she’s all about cannabis-infused cooking using the sous vide method (read more on her blog, Sous Weed), and you may have seen her byline on infused recipes here at Bay Area Bites.

She shot and styled the award-winning Sous Vide at Home cookbook with Penguin Random and Nomiku, and just released a sequel, Sous Vide Made Simple, in fall 2018. She’s a powerhouse of high-quality content creation and brand development, acting as a creative director, photographer (she contributes images to the groundbreaking Stock Pot Images), writer, and collaborator.

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Follow her prolific work at @sousweed and @lobese and see how she smashes the lazy stoner paradigm.

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