From an early age, cannabis chef Wendy Zeng saw the inherent connections between food, community, and wellness. When it comes to cannabis, Zeng looks at the plant as not only medicine, but an herb and flavor that can be part of cooking and overall holistic health.
Following her win on Discovery+ cannabis cooking show Chopped 420 in 2021, Zeng is embarking on her next big project: launching her farm-to-table cannabis concept in Northeast Los Angeles.
“I really want to make this a staple in L.A.,” Zeng said. “I really want it to be more community driven, not just a brand and sponsors and all that. We have a lot of that in this space, and certainly those things help. I really want this to not be just about revenue generating, because it’s not the right focus; it’s about value creation and community at the heart of it.”
The space is slated to open later this year and pays homage to the heritage and culture Zeng grew up in.
Zeng was raised in Chengdu, a city in the Sichuan province of China. She called the city and province “very special” given their stark cultural contrast to places like Beijing or Shanghai, because of its focus on diverse foods through the abundance the Earth provides.
“Sichuan was always called ‘the land of plenty’ because we’ve got a ton of mountains and rivers—a really wide set of geography and conditions for different types of foods to thrive,” Zeng said. “It’s such an ingrained part of our culture to be foodies. I grew up in a culture where ‘foodie’ wasn’t even a concept because everybody was one. It was kind of like our birthright because it was such an ingrained part of our identity.”
Childhood vacations took her to the outskirts of Sichuan to better understand how other communities lived and ate. Visiting a region specializing in chicken could spawn a beautiful, multi-course chicken dinner, as she and her family learned how the farm prepared the dish.
After moving to America, Zeng immediately noticed a lack of connection with food and where it comes from.
“In the industrialized, postmodern America, people really are so disconnected with our food,” Zeng said. “So, it’s been my journey to bring people closer to food.”
After California legalized recreational cannabis, Zeng founded her catering company Drizzle, named after the infused sauces that help to better pinpoint dosing. Thinking back to the early days of edibles, she admitted the inconsistency in terms of dosing initially scared her away, but once she began to learn more about microdosing and precision dosing, she saw an opportunity to educate herself and others.
Through Drizzle, Zeng began hosting cannabis-centered events and pop-ups, not only to feed folks some tasty cannabis-infused concoctions, but to provide an inclusive space focused on education and community. Her hope is that anyone from cannabis newbies to seasoned pros can walk away feeling more empowered in their understanding of edibles and their effects.
With her culinary creations, Zeng embraces her own upbringing and her views of food and plant medicine. Zeng isn’t trying to mask the weed; she wants people to know that cannabis is one of the ingredients.
“I really wanted to showcase cannabis as a way to pair with food,” she said. “It’s not a flavor I want to hide; it’s a flavor I want to enhance… I definitely come at it with more of an approach of, how can you play with flavors that are complementary? It’s so much more than this isolated compound that gets us high.”
Looking at past events and toward her farm-to-table concept, Zeng also cited the need for community within the cannabis space among fellow organizers, collaborators, and chefs.
“It’s hard for a regular person, or a regular small company or community organizers, to have the money to build a consumption space,” she said. “Even looking around the city, it’s really hard to find ones who truly understand what it means to have a consumption-friendly space.”
One of Zeng’s goals is to create everything from high-end, 10-course tastings to a chill, barbecue backyard blowouts. She also sees the opportunity to dive into other conversations, like cannabis and art, sexual wellness, media representation, and more.
Zeng is looking at curated experiences “that touches and expands through all of these concepts so we’re engaging people around the lifestyle rather than just the plant in isolation.”
While it’s an exciting personal chapter, Zeng also recognized that many of her peers in the California cannabis industry are struggling. If anything, she said this further shows the need for cannabis spaces centering community and wellness.
“You’re seeing this American capitalistic greed do its thing, and it’s really become so loud and overshadows the more community-based work and education that needs to be there,” she said. “I think it’s now more important than ever for us to be louder and advocate for the right things, and do it in communities so it doesn’t feel so discouraging and alone.”
Zeng also sees the opportunity to reclaim cannabis, which has roots in Asia, as a needed plant medicine. She nodded to the very different experience of her parents, who moved to the U.S. in their 30s and already had a pretty firm stance on topics like cannabis.
When it comes to consciousness-expanding plant medicine, she cited that governments and authorities have often pushed a narrative of negativity, given that they can’t control the masses if the masses are thinking for themselves.
“So much of the literature and knowledge is either hidden, erased or lost,” Zeng said. “Looking into the intersection of art and history, connecting these dots, we’re able to trace and reclaim some of this history about all the different plant medicine and wisdom that was part of Chinese medicine, ancestral wisdom, and things like that that were just kind of erased.”
When it comes to wellness, Zeng said cannabis has much more to offer than simply helping us physically, to provide symptom relief.
“I think it also has this power to heal generational trauma, and, you know, help us shed more and more the fallacies that don’t serve us,” she said.
Passion Fruit Tuna Carpaccio
Recipe by Wendy Zeng
1 red bell pepper
1 half pound yellowfin tuna steak, sustainably sourced
2 tbsp passion fruit juice/puree
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp infused sesame oil
1 small yellow squash
1 small zucchini
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp parmesan
Dill fronds, garnish
Infused Sesame Oil
1 cup sesame oil
1 grams of cannabis flower (~20% THC)
- To make infused sesame oil, first decarb ground up dry flower by baking it on parchment paper at 220 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 mins. Combine with sesame oil with decarbed flowers in a French press and lower into a pot of simmering water. Make sure the water line is about the same level as the oil level. Let the French press sit in the pot on low keeping the temperature of the oil between 160-200 degrees Fahrenheit.
- After an hour, strain oil out of the French press for use. If you don’t have a French press, you can also use a Mason jar and strainer. Recipe makes a little under one cup of sesame oil dosed at ~10 mg/tbs.
Passion Fruit Tuna Carpaccio
- Hold the bell pepper over a direct flame on the stove or live fire under the grill until charred all over, turning occasionally. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling wrap and set aside to cool for around 10 minutes.
- Using a long sharp knife, slice off and discard the veiny stub of meat from the tuna. Thinly slice tuna steak from side to side (against the grain) to create ¼ inch thick sheets. Place one slice between cling wrap. Using a rolling pin or aluminum can, flatten tuna until super thin until almost see through.
- Place on a plate and squeeze juice of ½ lemon on top—the acidity will start to cook the fish.
- Mix together the juice of remaining ½ lemon, shallots, passion fruit, soy sauce, and 1 tsp infused sesame oil, olive oil, and salt to taste. Scrape off and discard the blackened skin from the cooled pepper. Halve, deseed, and slice into thin strips.
- Cut squash and zucchini into 3-inch logs then slice into thin strips.
- Arrange the tuna on a clean serving platter, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, then spoon over the passion fruit vinaigrette. Arrange pepper strips, curl squash, and zucchini strips, and capers on top. Dust with finely grated parmesan and garnish with dill fronds.
This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.