Haejin Chun, the chef behind the cannabis-friendly Big Bad Wolf dinners, follows her heart to radical places in this world gone crazy, normalizing cannabis and building authentic community. Originally from Southern California, Chun studied installation and community art at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco before pursuing a dream of living as an artist in Paris. With romanticized ideas of drawing something on a napkin and paying for her coffees, Chun spent two years in artist residencies while living in a beautiful rooftop terraced-apartment in the heart of the city of love. The seed was planted for her private chef business in Paris, which takes its food scene more seriously than many other places. She had hosted private non-cannabis-friendly dinners for about two years when California legalized cannabis for adult use in 2018. She says the next step of starting Big Bad Wolf was a “no-brainer” that would be harder to resist than allow it to unfold.
“I love hosting,” Chun says over a phone call after a busy weekend of events at the 2022 Emerald Cup Harvest Ball. “I think the food is always secondary to me. It’s really about the guest experience for me and to kind of keep up with that love of wanting to gather people together, wanting to make these connections. There’s nothing else that brings people together and makes people kind of check their ego at the door than somebody who puts their full heart into the food.”
Women at the Table
While Chun has hosted many cannabis pop-ups and private dinners at this point, her first cannabis gathering held just for women remains a special memory.
“It’s just a totally different vibe when you have a table full of badass women,” she says. “Something about the women’s dinners are calling me more.”
At the first women’s dinner she hosted, everything on the menu was centered on optimal ingredients for vaginal health, beginning with a communal elixir.
“We do a lot of herbal concoctions in ancient culture and traditional Chinese medicine, so I blended a lot of herbs like ginseng and ginger with pineapple and other things that are good for your vagina and made that into a communal shot,” Chun says of the drink that included cannabis-infused honey. “I bought these gorgeous vessels and it became ceremonial.”
She describes women pouring shots for each other, creating a collective energy that, once combined with a healer who led a guided meditation, resulted in some dinner guests letting themselves be seen entirely raw and exposed by weeping into their dinner napkins.
“There have been women and other people in the community that have come up to me and been like, ‘Your events are the only place I truly feel safe just to be me,’” Chun says. “That was the highest compliment I could receive doing what I do… I feel like, on an ancestral level, cannabis has been such a huge part of our lineage. It’s been used for death rituals and communal gatherings… I feel like there is this ceremonial, ritual element to cannabis that I really feel is a huge part of what I want to advocate for.”
At another dinner Chun, who is a first-generation Korean American, says that she curated a menu “that shaped the woman that I am.” One of the dishes was entitled “caretaker” and examined “how women are expected to step into this role of being caretaker.”
“We don’t always get to celebrate our own rights of passage because we have to step into this role for whether it’s our parents or our family or whoever it is and it’s kind of like expected of us,” she says. “There’s a specific dish and it’s basically jook, which is like a rice porridge that we make whenever somebody is sick and obviously, I did it in an elevated way.”
The dish found its cannabis element in a homemade chili oil infusion. Chun treats the cannabis ingredient the same way she treats the other aspects of the meal, looking for seasonal, fresh, sustainable ingredients and often working with cold-pressed rosin in her infused dishes.
“I don’t really want to go to an infused ingredient that’s been sitting on the shelves for whatever amount of time,” Chun says. “Even with olive oil, there’s a rancid period and it changes the flavor, so I like to make fresh batches of everything before every dinner.”
And it’s not just the same chili oils every time. Each blend she creates is suited to complement particular dishes.
“You could have a chili oil with 20 different types of spices or types of ingredients, you know, there’s just a full spectrum and I feel like not every chili oil will work with every dish, so, for me, being intentional with what chili oil I use is really important too.”
Leading the Pack
Chun’s a self-trained chef who challenged herself to up her game while hosting dinners in Paris. She’s lived the “Cali lifestyle” since her teenage years when she started smoking weed, but says it was always something that she had to hide from her family.
“As soon as [California] legalized I was like, ‘Let’s fucking go,’” she says. “It was a no-brainer. I felt like it would have been harder to resist than it would have to just let it unfold the way that it did.”
But even though Chun was ready to host infused meals and dinners with cannabis flower pairings, the world around her was not and she initially struggled to find private spaces open to cannabis consumption.
“When I first started, it was definitely difficult to find cannabis-friendly venues,” she says. “The owners or the people who managed the property smoked weed and they were still like, ‘I don’t know what the neighbors will say.’ And I would literally sit them down and be like, ‘So you smoke and you’re all about this, but you’re still perpetuating this like, I don’t actually fuck with you narrative?’ And I was like, ‘Don’t you think it’s important, especially because we’re at the forefront of legalization, to advocate for more spaces for us?’”
She also reflects a drive to walk into the wild unknown with the name of her company. The phrase Big Bad Wolf has been something that has stuck with her since her childhood when her grandma would tell her folklore stories about a wolf. In naming her business, she was also thinking about how people “wolf down” food and how wolves travel in communal packs.
“The leader always leads from the back to make sure that everybody gets there,” she says. “I feel like that was truly the heart of the messaging behind what we do and making sure everybody gets a seat at the table. In a way, you know, it just all made sense.”
True to form, Chun followed her instincts and turned down a spot on the Food Network’s competitive reality cooking show Chopped 420, only to have the producers call her back later offering an opportunity to work behind the scenes as a cannabis consultant.
“It was such a proud moment for me to have that affirmation of like, ‘Yo! You stayed true to who you were and you never shied away from it. You weren’t apologetic. And now you’re being rewarded and recognized for it,” she says.
In terms of what’s next, Chun is hosting private cannabis dinners and planning more cannabis pop-ups. The best way to get brought into her tight-knit wolf pack is to follow her on Instagram @bigbadwolfsf.
Recipe: Chili Oil
by Haejin Chun
1 Tbsp ginger
1 Tbsp garlic
1 Tbsp dried chili flakes
1 Tbsp Sichuan chilis
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp of anise
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp of white pepper
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup of avocado oil
1/4 cup of cannabis-infused sesame oil
Note: I infused the sesame oil with 1 gram of decarbed 8th Wonder (Cherry Kush x Louis XIII OG) by Permanent Holiday.
Mince ginger and garlic.
Grind all spices to powder.
Add everything to a heat proof/tempered glass jar.
Heat up avocado oil to 230 degrees Fahrenheit and pour over dry ingredients.
Make sure to leave extra room for bubbling and add cannabis-infused sesame oil slowly.
This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.