When restaurants, chefs and other residents of the culinary world use the words “elevated experience,” I generally roll my eyes. And not because I don’t respect what they’re trying to achieve in the kitchen, but because the term is vague. What I take it to mean is they’re trying to concoct dishes that taste better (of higher quality) than similar plates you’ve had before. If you like your movie nachos, then try these elevated nachos with gouda. If you enjoy a hot dog, then try this elevated dog with 400% pure beef on a brioche bun, plus gold-flaked mustard, and so on and so forth.
However, when D.C. chefs working in kitchens with marijuana say “elevated experience,” it takes on a slightly different tenor. Rather than the subtle upgrades mentioned above, these locals are attempting to shift the image of your run-of-the-mill edibles. If you’ve ordered them, you’re probably used to days-old brownies, stiff cookies and gummies. This isn’t bad. It’s what we’re used to, and ultimately enough to get us elevated in a different way. But what if you could elevate your taste buds and mind at the same time?
For District Fray’s April issue, we decided to chat with four people behind three businesses who are, in their own way, challenging the idea of what marijuana plus food equals. From private dinners and catered events to decadent cookies and gorgeous cakesicles, these chefs (both savory and pastry) are putting a new, and frankly better, spin on elevated food.
Author’s note: These businesses operate under D.C.’s Initiative 71, which means they do not assign a monetary value to anything with marijuana or THC in the ingredients. Instead, the items noted in the story are gifted along with the purchase of a different product, such as stickers, shirts and other accessories. For more information about I-71, visit www.mayor.dc.gov.
Sucrée Sweets Co.
After a whirlwind few years, which took Shannon Rizvi from D.C. to California to D.C. again, the chef is here to stay with her brand-new business Sucrée Sweets Co. The small shop, known already for tasty gummies and incredibly mouth-watering cakesicles, kickstarted business operations in January of this year. The idea was the culmination of Instagram DMs exchanged between childhood friends and Northern Virginia natives Rizvi and co-owner, operator and chef Charlynn Pham.
“It was a leap of faith,” Rizvi says. “We don’t have wholesale clients, but I thought, ‘We can do this.’ We’ve been doing it. We’re killing it.”
Rizvi’s background in food stems from her time in culinary school at The Art Institute of Washington, where she picked up a penchant for savory foods. Since, she’s done work in kitchens and made edibles for other services in the area, though she admits the latter can be tedious if not boring, despite paying the bills. With Pham, a self-described at-home baker and the brains behind the duo’s photogenic cakesicles, the two have produced delicious alternatives to your standard edible fare.
“I was bartending full-time, and a lot of bars [closed during the pandemic],” Pham says. “I was wondering if I should go and find another bartending job, or go full force into pastry arts and baking. That’s what I wanted to with my life.”
Pham and Rizvi started talking about the possibility of joining forces after catching up when the latter moved back to the area in September 2020. Eventually, the messages became exchanges of pastries, baked goods, other dishes and ideas for the future, until Pham finally said, “If you ever want to go into business together, let me know.”
“She said she’d been dying to get her hands going and baking like crazy, and I was like, ‘Let’s do it,’” Rizvi says.
Rizvi says step one was making money by churning out gummies and showing Pham how to dose, test recipes and figure out what they needed to get off the ground. So far, Sucrée offers raspberry, straw-nana and mango gummy coins, along with butter pecan Ferrero Rocher-sicles. The THC potency ranges from 20 milligrams in the gummies to 150 milligrams in the cakesicles. They also make full-size cakes for special orders.
“The other day, we went to Paris Baguette and got a whole bunch of their pastries,” Rizvi says. “We’re trying to figure out how to make cakesicles in all these different flavors. We’ve been working on pistachio and ruby chocolate ones — just weird stuff.”
Though their collective focus is on building out sweets for Sucrée, Rizvi also curates private dinners for small groups through her @chef.shan Instagram account. Before the pandemic, Rizvi hosted small get-togethers with friends and served infused dishes such as puff pastries with brie and apricot jam, roasted Brussel sprouts with pancetta, and braised short rib.
“After going to culinary school, I just had a love for food,” Rizvi says. “You can showcase cannabis in a beautiful and elegant way. It doesn’t have to be brownies and [Rice] Krispies. I want to give people that experience of when they eat something, they’re blown away.”
So far, the dinners have been for close friends and friends of friends. Rizvi handles all of the courses and serves the food, and if the customers choose to pair the dishes with drinks, Pham joins as a collaborator.
Infusions are small, she says. Rather than each bite culminating in an attendee being too high to function, the plates are microdosed to elicit a sensation of relaxation.
“It’s definitely more about the food,” Rizvi says. “You can’t get this experience at a restaurant.”
A five-course dinner with three beverages costs $250 per person, with an optional alcoholic or nonalcoholic drink pairing.
Both Pham and Rizvi have expressed surprise at how successful they’ve been early on, and are confident the business will continue to grow as the city begins to reopen post-pandemic and marijuana legislation becomes more user- and business-friendly. Both cite the ultimate dream of having a brick-and-mortar but know a physical location is a long-term goal.
“We definitely want to get a website going so we can reach more people, and we also want to hire employees,” Pham says. “Right now, it’s just the two of us doing everything. It can be overwhelming. Long-term, I’d love to have a Sucrée Sweets storefront and bakeshop.”
No matter how fast or slow things go from here, the two South County Secondary School alums will cultivate business together.
“It was easy because I know who she is as a person,” Pham says. “It wasn’t like I was jumping in with a stranger. Everything is moving very fast, which I like.”
For more information about Sucrée Sweets Co. and their products, check them out on Instagram @sucreesweets.co. For more information about private dinners hosted by Rizvi, send her a DM on Instagram @chef.shan.
Green Panther Chef
Jazmine Moore, better known as Chef Jazz, grew up in a culinary household with a restaurateur for a mother. Because of this, the world of food always held her interest and eventually prompted her to attend Baltimore International College for culinary school. In 2006, Moore was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which stripped her of the ability to eat solid foods and robbed her of an appetite.
“After I graduated, I was diagnosed,” Moore says. “My mother introduced me to cannabis, but I didn’t want to be associated. I started introducing it through my juices, and surprisingly, it would stimulate my appetite. And in turn, I started to eat soups, stews and salads.”
Thirteen years later, Moore promotes the medicinal properties in her cooking through Green Panther Chef, her business offering catered events, consultations and virtual educational cooking classes, all with the hopes of sharing what she calls an edible experience.
“Most of the time, people want this food for birthdays or celebrations,” Moore says. “But, we also have people who are interested in food with cannabis for things like pain, gastrointestinal issues [and] insomnia. It’s 50/50, in a way. We have people who try it for their health.”
Because cannabis is fat-soluble, Moore says it works great with butter, cheese and fish. After feeding her family and friends meals with her recipes, she was prodded to work it into a business following D.C.’s Initiative 71.
“French cooking is full of fats and butters,” she says. “I was kind of pushed and urged to do it. It’s been a great journey.”
Green Panther Chef offers private dinners for homes and events with a customizable menu. Moore says they operate several dinners per week, where they serve anywhere from 20 to 120 guests at each. Potency depends on the client, but Moore always recommends low and slow.
“Sometimes you have to step in and say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to do that to you,’” Moore says about people who want high dosages. “We teach courses for people to learn what your numbers are because if you take too much, it can put you in a horrible situation.”
A big part of Green Panther Chef is all forms of education with regards to the use of cannabis in dishes and how to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle. While legislation around the drug is constantly changing, both locally and nationally, she hopes to continue teaching other cooks, chefs and eaters about the benefits of infused foods.
“I would love to create a culinary school for cooking with cannabis,” Moore says. “That’s my ‘big hairy ass’ goal [laughs].”
After a decade of jobs in both the back and front of the house at various restaurants, Esteban Cantillo has experienced all aspects of the cooking industry. Upon getting furloughed due to the pandemic, he decided to try his hand at edibles for fun.
“At first, it was a way to keep our sanity,” Cantillo says. “Then it turned into its own thing. It wasn’t a huge plan to make it what it is now, but it sort of hit the ground running.”
As if steered by fate or serendipity, Cantillo has routinely been thrown into roles involving pastries despite his affinity for savory meals. Because he lacks a sweet tooth, his at-home experiments turned into goods shared with friends and family, who provided exceptional feedback. By June 2020, BĀkT DC was born.
“It didn’t really hit until the holiday season,” he says. “The first two or three months were great, but I wasn’t convinced until the holidays. From there, we started taking it more seriously and decided to go full on with this.”
If you heard BĀkT’s menu, it wouldn’t sound alien compared to most places offering edibles. However, upon perusing the website and glancing at the photos, you’d inevitably wonder whether you accidentally stumbled onto a food photographer’s professional page, as the decadent treats are both vibrant and alluring.
“You still hit home with the classic cookies,” Cantillo says. “It’s nothing too stuffy or out of this world. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. With no plans to make this what it is, it [has] one day into the next become a quality baked goods shop.”
The potency of the cookies and brownies range from 100-140 milligrams, and cakes range from 300-500 milligrams. Just by looking at the desserts, it would be hard not to eat each in its entirety, but that’s not advisable for everyone. Cantillo quips that he’s had serious internal debates about, “How good is too good?”
“If it tastes so good that you want to eat more, should we dose it less?” Cantillo asks. “We’ve had the conversation with a lot of customers about them being dangerously delicious, so it’s a fine line. It’s a personal experience. You have to test it to see.”
Consistency is key for Cantillo in both the product and service, from packaging to delivery.
“We want to be approachable. We’re trying to give a great experience and be consistent throughout.”
Though he’s stuck with sweets for the time being, Cantillo hopes to branch out to private dinners and other savory dishes in the future. Until then, the accidental pastry chef will be hard at work crafting edibles disguised as works of art.
“We want to do at-home dinners and tasting menus, somewhere you can get things outside of cereal bars and brownies. There are definitely a lot of things on our radar.”
Don’t miss our virtual Cannabis City panel presented by District Fray and BĀkT DC on Thursday, April 29 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Register here.
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