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Inside the Bay Area Korean-American Cannabis Dinner Series, where tickets sell out fast

One evening in September earlier this year, a group of 45 fashionably dressed women gathered on the luxurious open roof of Four One Nine, an event space tucked away in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

They had the chance to get their hands on tickets to attend a unique, immersive, cannabis-infused food event hosted by Korean-American chef from San Francisco Haejin Chun. Chun, 36, has been hosting these pop-us dinners, called Big Bad Wolf, since 2015. It wasn’t until 2018, however – when the state of California legalized the recreational use of marijuana – that the chef , a self – described as a “high level stoner,” decided to add cannabis to the mix.

The addition paid large dividends. Chun’s events are so popular that seats often sell out via her newsletter before she has even had a chance to announce it to her 15,000 Instagram followers. Ticket prices vary and average $ 125 per person. Each dinner can accommodate 20 to 60 people depending on the location. For this last event, the 45 seats sold out less than 48 hours after their release.

Cannabis-infused meals have long been popular in California. Underground dinners and pop-ups were has been going on for several years in the bay area. More recently, the self-proclaimed first cannabis restaurant in America open in Los Angeles in 2020; and last year in Berkeley, the Claremont Club & Spa offered $ 226, four course food and weed pairing.

But what sets Chun’s dinners apart is their scale and the interactive artistic elements it sprinkles throughout the meal.

“This is a nine-course culinary experience with cannabis. It’s not just about getting up high and going to 7-Eleven and getting big sips, ”Chun says.

The jook was topped with references to spotted shrimp when Chun was 10 years old looking after his mother.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

At the SoMa event, dinner began with a meditation with sounds produced by rattles and Tibetan singing bowls. Chun says the mood was an intentional choice; she wanted women to feel grounded and calm before diving into the dining experience. Each of the event’s subsequent classes, titled “The Food That Shaped The Woman I Am Today,” featured autobiographical audio clips narrated by Chun. Each class tied the food to a specific memory from Chun’s life.

The fifth dish, for example, called “The Caretaker”, included jook, or rice porridge, topped with speckled shrimp. The generally bland dish that is served in Asian homes when one is sick, referred to Chun’s age of 10 and caring for his mother.

“And although I had never done it before, at that point she needed me,” Chun said in the audio clip released when the dish was served. “I can’t say I was ready, but it was instinctive and I took on the role of keeper without hesitation.”

Much of Chun’s food is inspired by her childhood in Southern California, where she says tacos and grilled cheese were as much a part of her diet as the Korean dishes she ate at home. Her Californian and Korean sensibility was manifested in other SoMa dinner dishes, such as a steamed egg custard served with chunks of Dungeness crab; and a sticky rice-based chicken roulade, his interpretation of Korean soup samgyetang, which traditionally includes chicken stuffed with rice. Each dish was topped with tinctures from one of the sponsors of the female-owned cannabis business, Well-founded plants.

Chun garnishes the dishes with cannabis tinctures from Wellfounded Botanicals, one of the dinner sponsors.

Chun garnishes the dishes with cannabis tinctures from Wellfounded Botanicals, one of the dinner sponsors.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

Chun hasn’t always considered a career in food, or cannabis-themed dinners for that matter. She graduated from California College of the Arts in San Francisco with a degree in Fine Arts and Installation and moved to Paris to determine her next steps as an artist in 2009.

It was there that she began cooking dinners for friends, putting her own twist on Korean cuisine with the limited Asian ingredients she could access at the time. It was then that she realized that she had a donation for accommodation. Chun says that the rooftop terrace of her tiny Parisian apartment has become the go-to spot for her friends’ parties and vacations.

Chun eventually returned to San Francisco and launched her Pop-Up Dinner Series in 2015.

Over time, she says, she has refined her palate and her cuisine by leading with her intuition. Early on, she thought she should emulate the careers of established chefs and studied their cookbooks, but soon found herself deeply dissatisfied. “It didn’t really suit my way of cooking,” Chun says.

So she went back to what felt natural to her, comparing it to returning “to that hole in the wall where the aunt was cooking,” she said, a nod to the traditional ways she saw women. cook with his family.

The addition of cannabis to her dinner series in 2018 took her to a new level, not only in terms of clients, but other professional opportunities as well. She was recently hired as an in-house consultant for Discovery Plus weed-infused cooking show “Chopped 420”, in large part because of her reputation as a cannabis influencer.

She hates that nickname, however. “I do the job rather than just holding on [a product] or smoke something, ”she said.

Chef Haejin Chun's cuisine is inspired by her childhood in Southern California, where tacos and grilled cheeses were as much a part of her diet as the Korean cuisine she ate at home.

Chef Haejin Chun’s cuisine is inspired by her childhood in Southern California, where tacos and grilled cheeses were as much a part of her diet as the Korean cuisine she ate at home.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

Instead, Chun says, she focuses on de-stigmatizing cannabis use, especially in the Asian American community, which already has to contend with the “model minority myth,” a stereotype that describes them as respectful of people. rules or studious. Chun often receives messages from other Asian Americans asking for advice on how to get out of the “cannabis closet.” She says her parents don’t approve of her work, and dinners now serve as a vehicle for conversations between attendees who similarly attempt to address different parts of their identities.

For many, the SoMa event served as a time to reflect on the difficult life transitions and depression and loneliness they had experienced during the pandemic, Chun says. “They said to me, ‘I really need to be around other women,’” says Chun. Dinner themes, such as the class that referred to Chun taking care of his mother, resonated with diners.

“It was feeling the cumulative journey of women suffering for the sake of others,” Chun says. “Who sacrifice their life to take care of others, put their dreams, their desires on hold to be the keeper. “

One attendee, Allyson Toy, described the event as a kind of mirroring. It is a type of self-healing practice where practitioners recite positive affirmations to each other. Others – many of whom are returning guests – have forged partnerships over the years following the dinners.

Geraldine Mae Gueva, who sells cannabis in the Philippines in Los Angeles, says the events in Chun were a critical starting point for creative collaborations. Gueva says she met like-minded women and started a series of discussions which featured other Filipinos and discussed mental health in the community.

During the pandemic, Inside the ground, a virtual party for Bay Area Creatives, was an original idea of ​​three friends who also met at the events of Chun. They wanted to create a recurring variety show showcasing the work of independent artists and cultivating community during a time of social isolation.

Chun, through his dinner series, aims to destigmatize cannabis use, particularly in the Asian American community.

Chun, through his dinner series, aims to destigmatize cannabis use, particularly in the Asian American community.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

Chun says that is why she is intentional in the arrangement of her seats. The fostered connections between guests are far more important to her than any critical validation from other people in the food industry, she says.

“I stopped trying to sit at someone else’s table,” Chun says. “I got tired of trying to fit in anywhere so I just created my own space. “

Chun is already gearing up for his next event and is working hard to do something different: Big Bad Wolf will be hosting their first cannabis brunch on November 7th. Those looking to purchase tickets should keep an eye out for Chun’s announcement on his Instagram page.

Cecilia Lei is the co-host and producer of “Fifth & Mission,” The Chronicle’s daily news podcast focused on stories from San Francisco, the Bay Area and beyond. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @CeeLei


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