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Bay Area Cannasseur: Underground cannabis parties pop up in SF

by Sari Staver

Ryan Bush and his wife, Coreen Carroll, operate an underground cannabis pop-up dinner event. Photo: Sari Staver
Ryan Bush and his wife, Coreen Carroll, operate an underground cannabis pop-up dinner event. Photo: Sari Staver  

Despite the 2016 legalization of recreational cannabis in California, the state still bans the use of pot in, or with, food served in restaurants or other public spaces.

Some people are working to change that.

Voila: the Cannaisseur Series is a twice-monthly underground pop-up where you can enjoy a gourmet meal with seasonal California ingredients paired with intermezzos of cannabis flowers, edibles, and extracts offered by chef Coreen Carroll and her husband, cannabis entrepreneur Ryan Bush.

While the menus vary, the events always begin with small infused bites served as hors d'oeuvres, followed by four-course meals paired with flowers provided by local cultivators. Throughout the event, the chef and the cannabis producers explain the passion and process that go into what they serve.

At the sumptuous brunch I attended in June for LGBT Pride, four drag queens entertained during, and after, the meal and we each went home with a gift bag. The brunch began with delicious coffee mocktails made with Somatik's cannabis-infused coffee and THC-infused beet quail eggs with pea shoot pesto. A salad topped with infused olive oil preceded the main course, cabernet braised buffalo short ribs with gorgonzola polenta. Dessert was a sweet garbanzo crepe with fresh fig jam and Ghirardelli chocolate. The exquisite presentation and fresh ingredients in each course reminded me of Berkeley's Chez Panisse or San Francisco's Zuni Cafe.

The parties, which cost $175 per person paid in advance, have sold out each time they've been held, Carroll said in a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. She advised people who are interested in attending to check out the website and add their name to the mailing list.

The couple came to San Francisco from Florida seven years ago "to get involved in the cannabis industry," said Carroll. Bush had previously operated a digital marketing business while Carroll worked in medical device regulation.

But when they arrived in San Francisco, Carroll wanted to fulfill her longtime interest in cooking and enrolled in the San Francisco Cooking School. Bush enrolled in Oaksterdam University to learn about the cannabis industry. The couple soon launched an edibles company, Madame Munchie, which produced infused macarons - French-style macaroons - which were quickly picked up by dozens of dispensaries.

"I found myself baking 3,000 cookies a day," she said. The company is still operated by the couple's former business partners.

In the meantime, Bush began working as director of business development at a cannabis start up, Meadow, and Carroll itched to begin a catering business. Soon, the couple were cooking full course meals at home, which they served to a dozen people at a time, through the dining website, Eat With.

Before long, their ambitions outgrew their tiny San Francisco apartment, and the couple decided to find a larger commercial space where they could serve a sit down meal for 40.

The couple attended a number of pop-up food events, where chefs often cooked with ingredients - such as foie gras - that were banned in retail commercial kitchens, said Carroll, who added, "We said to ourselves, 'why don't we do the same with cannabis?'"

On May 3, 2015, the cannaisseur series was born. From the very first event, the parties sold out in advance without any advertising beyond their mailing list and circle of Facebook friends. Events are held in private locations, and disclosed to reserved guests the day before the event.

"We thought we were onto something people really wanted," said Bush.

"Yes," agreed Carroll, "we've gotten wonderful feedback" from guests.

Several, she said, come to each party and a handful of others come frequently. "I think the fact that we sell out shortly after each event is announced says people are enjoying themselves," she added.

The couple plan to continue throwing parties at least twice a month, depending on what other commitments they have. Nothing has been scheduled yet for this month, because Carroll and Bush will have a booth at the upcoming Outside Lands Music and Art Festival, in Golden Gate Park August 9-10, which will have a section of cannabis booths, although consumption at the event is barred.

At the recent cannaisseur brunch, two LGBT-owned startups took part in the event.

Christopher Schroeder, the founder and chief executive officer of Somatik, provided the low-dose coffee mocktails. The beverage consisted of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a rosemary-infused sugar syrup poured into the iced coffee, topped with sparkling water. Schroeder and his partner, Clayton Coker, also created espresso contannas, served after the meal.

Schroeder, who brought his father as a guest to the party, said the events "are a unique opportunity to mix with all kinds of people who love food," he said. He brought his dad, a local psychotherapist, "because he's the person who originally introduced me" to cannabis.

The drag show at the brunch "was a great addition, especially because the performers joined us for the meal," he added.

Andrea Brooks, a lesbian who founded Sava, a local cannabis delivery company, also attended the brunch and provided pre-rolled flowers from her Mendocino farm, Sunrise Gardens.

"I had such a blast at the party," said Brooks. "I loved starting the day with a group of people in a wonderful mood."

Brooks hopes the city will eventually relax its strict regulations to enable people to legally sponsor similar events.

"San Francisco is lucky to have so many talented cannabis entrepreneurs who are ready, willing, and able to provide" similar celebrations when the legal restrictions are removed, she said.

Recently, Carroll and Bush have been involved in the formation of a new organization, the Crop to Kitchen Community, spearheading the movement to legalize cannabis cuisine. The group, which met in June at Terrance Alan's restaurant Flore, meets again Monday, August 6, at Uma Casa. (Further information and tickets for the event ($20) are available at https://www.facebook.com/cannacooks/photos/a.587697418282637.1073741828.585722501813462/647729795612732/?type=3&theater).

Carroll foresees the twice-monthly meals to continue for the next couple of years. Then, depending on what the law allows, "who knows?" she said.

"We hope this sort of thing will become more mainstream," she said.

In November, Carroll's first book, "Edibles: Small Bites for the Modern Cannabis Kitchen" will be published by Chronicle Books.

The book will include 30 recipes, both savory and sweet, with an emphasis on low dose recipes.

"It's for the soccer mom," Carroll said.

For further information about upcoming pop-up dinner events, visit http://cannaisseurseries.com.

To pre-order Carroll's new cookbook, visit https://www.amazon.com/Edibles-Small-Modern-Cannabis-Kitchen/dp/1452170444.

Bay Area Cannasseur runs the first Thursday of the month. To send column ideas or tips, email Sari Staver at sari@bayareacannasseur.com.

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