When my friend, Carolyn Kates, filled me in on her new venture with co-creator, Josh Timmerman, cannabis pairing dinners by Lego Optimo, I was mildly intrigued. Having been partially raised, in tandem, by a guru chasing, foot kissing, sandal wearing, macrame practicing, seer-of-the-light, tie-dyed 70’s hippie of an older sister and a Mom who was one of the original women’s libbers; a career woman, divorced multiple times by the late 1960s and on her way to burying more husbands and ex-husbands than you can count on a couple of fingers or three, I can neither confirm nor deny that either or both of those conditions may or may not have led to a pre-teen introduction to the weed of wackiness… hemp in all of its baked-in glory.
If, however, any such happenings had transpired during the long and winding path to my current condition, I suppose it was inevitable, then, that with the legalization of marijuana on the entirety of the Left Coast, there might also be some private lamenting as to the decline of the rebel factor of doing such a thing. A decline that is in direct proportion to the increase in governmental oversight; such oversight generally meaning that the “stick it to the manitosis-ness” of doing something that was once illegal, shadowy and frowned upon has all but disappeared with the advent of its legality and the absolute absence of any hint of anti-sociality, which has now been ruled and regulated right out of existence.
I mean, what’s the uniqueness value of any act that anyone of a certain age can now partake of as easily as a can of soda?
What was once a black market, underground economy and a secret/not so secret society of sorts over a substance that some might say has no more debilitating effects than caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, now has the wherewithal, on its own merit, to be a huge, new, bathed-in-sunlight industry. And, while the template for legalized cannabis’ impact in all of its potential iterations may still be developing, there’s already a history and a gauge for its perpetuation from other states and municipalities who embraced its legalization sooner than later, and from other industries, not all that far removed, which have thrived for decades in the light of day and neon of night and might, now, even be a bit threatened by the new kid on the block.
That’s a lot of words for a food writer to get to the food part of a story. And then again, we’re not quite there yet, which is also an indicator of what to expect of this subject in the foreseeable future… a subject upon which a lot of words have already been foisted, from a multi-hundred page manual of laws and regulations to all of the opining of those finding it to be the oh-so-coolest subject du jour, or du noir. But, give it a month or so. Around these parts, the new interesting thing to gab about is just around the corner.
When it comes to food and cannabis, there seem to be two distinct camps forming. On the one hand, and not all that new, are the “infused” dinners. These have been happening in San Diego for some time now, as private “supper club” experiences, invitation only, and, generally require a marijuana medical card to attend. The medical card requirement alone was always a deterrent to me, as though I would ever have had any personal requirement for one, since so much doubt surrounds the question of whether I have ever even ingested marijuana on purpose. Because, really, having a marijuana “medical” card means you’ve pretty much voluntarily registered as a felon, if ever the federal government decided to enforce the current drug laws. At the very least, you’ve left a trail of bread crumbs for those in high (yet, not “high”) places to follow right up to your bong water stained, felony-complicit couch.
I had considered attending one of these “infused” dinners more than once. Infusing means that some form of the active ingredients from the “Mary-est of Janes”, whether CBD, THC, or any of the other cool jargon and alphabet soup, is cooked right into the food. If there’s anything that I’ve learned about ingesting potential reality altering ingredients, or, at least what I’ve seen in very realistic seeming movies, it’s that it’s always good to have an off switch. And, by that, I suppose I mean, I ain’t ingesting anything that I don’t have reasonable, dependable knowledge about what the results of such consumption might be. And, I’ll be the judge of that… thank you very much. Short story long… I never attended an infused dinner, because I really don’t like the idea of someone else guessing at my level of tolerance for a reality altering chemical.
Certainly, the argument can and has been made that, hey, these guys are professional chefs. They know precision. They understand the feather light touch it takes to get just the right amount of an ingredient into a meal. But… wait. That’s exactly the point. They’re chefs. They do food. And, spices. And, herbs. But… not THAT herb. The worst thing that happens if a chef over-salts or, worse, over-basils a dish is that a diner needs extra refills of water or smells like a spring garden for a day or two. Get the active or purportedly not-so-active ingredient of cannabis wrong, and that’s way easier to do than you might think, and someone could be in for a rough trip. Chefs ain’t chemists. Or, pharmacists. I just as soon they don’t experiment on me. Call me old-fashioned. Better yet, serve me one. Stirred, not shaken.
So, when I got the invitation to attend, as media, Lego Optimo‘s first iteration of their new dinner series, I accepted. The argument of control, in this format, was removed, or, at least considered, on behalf of the potential participants. The cannabis was to be paired with the food offerings, in the same way an equivalent dinner with wine or beer pairings might be. In other words, ingestion and the amount of, if any, were both optional and controllable.
And, yet, doubts persisted for me. Some were normal, such as cost (at $150 a head, it’s not a cheap dinner), and others were unique to the pairing, as in, “Do I really want to hang out and get high with a bunch of randos?”. Then there’s the question I wonder about every dinner pop up, “Who’s cooking and how good might the food be, in spite of the cost or pairing?”
And, one by one, my doubts were knocked down, like the little gopher thumper thingies at the county fair.
Chef Flor Franco, pretty much royalty in certain culinary circles of San Diego and Mexico, had been on my radar for a long time. When I heard she and her new event spot, Franco’s on 5th, were to host the upcoming six part Lego Optima series, I figured, if nothing else, this was the perfect chance to finally try her food. In fact, she expressed out loud what I was thinking while we were visiting Urbn Leaf a week before the dinner to learn about the cannabis so she could figure out the food to pair with it, “How is it that we’ve not connected before?” Chalk one up for Lego Optima… even for veteran food people, doors were being opened by the experience.
Add into the mix that Chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris, whose restaurant Manzanilla in Ensenada could be considered iconic, at the least, and anarchic without too much effort, which establishment may be the finest example of Mexican fare where you’ll never see a tortilla, were cooking up delights for the first installment in the Lego Optima series, I suppose it got pretty easy to dispel all concerns of how good the food was gonna be.
Getting high with a bunch of randos in public… well, this was a “pairing.” And, taking a page from Fluffy Unicorn‘s playbook, I decided that I did not have to partake of the pairing in the fullest sense. Inhaling the unlit bouquet of the provided cannabis in conjunction with the food, in a wine snob sort of way, should be more than edifying enough an experience. Keeping my wits about me as an unbiased observer in an unaltered state would be the responsible thing to do. I even said that out loud. And, I meant it when I said it…
Cost… well, remember, cannabis ain’t cheap. It never has been. Now, it’s legal, and with that condition, of course, comes taxes and all kind of fees, added en masse to every microgram of cannabis you buy. Facilities need to be certified and guarded, lots and lots of paperwork needs to be filled out and, did I mention?… State coffers need to be replenished, which are a direct result of taxes collected. In fact, regarding this topic as a whole, taxes are really kinda the point.
The Lego Optima experience starts with words… and cannabis. There’s a tour of a local cannabis purveyor, Urbn Leaf. During the tour, you learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about cannabis, or just enough to make you the most knowledgeable person on the subject that anyone in your circle knows; how terpenes contribute to the distinct aroma, some of the legalities of the new era, how to navigate your way through purchasing the newest player on the recreational substance scene.
You also pick up your “goodie” bag. And, man, there’s a lot of goodies. So, let’s take cost out of the equation, because you could certainly go purchase this all on your own and then eat some takeout on the couch. But, for the sheer value of the goodie bag in combination with the chefs and food that were promised, yeah, this event was priced just right to keep the riff-raff out. By riff-raff, I really mean anyone who was there for the weed and not the food.
It shouldn’t be so shocking to say that every detail of the dining experience seems to have been considered for the diners. Except, it is. For most of these types of events, it’s, predictably, about the establishment. The diner isn’t usually considered until they walk through the front door, and what they do outside the doors is kind of an eyes closed, fingers in the ears, la-la-la-la kind of thing. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Imbibe and partake all you want… you’re on your own.
With Lego Optima, one of the first emails you get is from Uber, providing you two $5 rides to get you to and from the event. Sure, $5 might not be enough to get you all the way to and from, but it’s probably $10 more than any other event has ever given you for transportaion.
Then there’s the party bus. It was psychedelic and smoke filled for the 12 minutes or so it took to get the party-goers from the dispensary to the dinner. There were pics inside. They were blurry.
There was also a smoking room at the venue in addition to the great outdoors for those who wanted to grab some “fresh” air between bites. Vapor producing accoutrements in multiple iterations were provided for guests’ betwixt-course enjoyment. Nothing, it seemed, was spared to ensure attendees were fully… attended to.
Who am I kidding? This article was never about the food. But, really… the dinner was. As one prominent restaurateur noted, on a night enhanced by intangibles even more ethereal than smoke, “The food keeps bringing you back.” It did. It was the tether to reality that, even now, provides the tenable proof that this evening did, in fact, occur.
There’s five more dinners in this series. The next one’s coming up on March 15th. Get your tickets here. Javier Plascencia will be cooking. Smoke or not, it’s gonna be a party. I will most definitely see you there. Or, at least, nod hazily in your direction. Second hand smoke and all… you know. Cheers, my friends!