Cannabis food fusion heats up with Chef Dennis Lee, Sublime Concentrates deal
Innovative San Francisco chef Dennis Lee of Namu Gaji, known for its Asian-inspired, farm-to-table cuisine, is set to bring new flavors to cannabis edibles under a partnership with Sublime Concentrates, a Bay Area maker of award-winning vaporizer cartridges.
The first marijuana edibles to hit the market will be sweet and are expected to land in 200 dispensaries across California in April under a manufacturing deal with what Alex Fang, chief executive officer at Sublime, described as one of the world’s leading confectionery companies. He declined to name the company. Savory treats with THC (tetrahyrdocannabinol, a psychoactive substance) and CBD (a non-euphoric anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory substance) are also planned, as are bacon-flavored edibles with CBD and glucosamine for dogs.
“We’ll start with microdose mints and a few other products that do not exist in the market but are staples for most people of my age, in their 30s — a lot of confections that people would identify from their childhood that we’ll bring back and market for adults,” Fang said. “It’s a whole lot of throwback stuff that people will get very excited about.”
Lee, like many in the restaurant industry, uses cannabis rather than alcohol to relax after 16-hour days that strain the back, hands and feet, and are filled with mental stress. He’d started experimenting several years ago with making his own edibles at home because what he found in dispensaries didn’t satisfy his nuanced palate.
“Cookies that you see on the market are either way too strong or they’re all undercooked — there’s no caramelization anywhere, because oftentimes, during that nascent era, people were just trying to get f—– up; they didn’t care about the taste, and when you overheat cannabis you lose some of the potency,” Lee said. “So I baked the cookie slightly under(done) and finished at a high temperature so the outside formed a crust and wasn’t compromising the integrity of the THC, but so you would get some great texture. That’s great in a cookie on its own, let alone medicated.”
Other experiments included salts, an olive oil, and flavored powders “like a Pixy Stix, except savory,” he said. He made a cheese pizza flavored-powder that “you could just open up and pour in your mouth or sprinkle on eggs or salad,” he said. “Low dose THC is generally what I was doing, because that’s what I wanted.”
The two men met about a dozen years ago, when Fang was a studying to become a financial planner and brought his books to Lee’s first restaurant and ate at the counter. A friendship bloomed.
Fang worked as a financial adviser for years, and on the side, co-founded a nonprofit, Surf for Life, which enlists volunteers to build clinics, schools and medical centers in developing countries. When a friend asked him to dip a toe into the emerging cannabis industry in 2015 as an investor, he took the plunge. He developed products at home at night and tested them out, which turned out to be a challenge when meeting with financial clients the next morning. When his partner wasn’t able to come up with his share of the 50-50 investment money, Fang took over.
Fang said Sublime, which closed a round of series A funding, is the first institutionally funded extraction company in the state. He cold-called a list of confectionery companies before landing a manufacturing deal, the details of which he expects to release in coming weeks.
Lee, who has opened four restaurants in San Francisco during the past decade, said he is excited to try something related to food in an industry that is new. His goal is not to mask the flavor of cannabis, but to work with ingredients that enhance it.
“It’s similar to cooking — it’s more about finding a balance or a harmony or a synergy so the flavor of every ingredient is there to be there, so that it’s not like you’re trying to hide one flavor with another,” Lee said. “And Alex is a genius, period. He’s been working with cannabis on his own for a long time. The vape pens and the terpene profiles are all things that he has developed. In that area, he’s sort of a chef in his own right. He’s not cooking up food but he’s formulated these flavors that have won awards in many arenas. Because we’re producing our own distillates, I have a much higher level of control in the flavor profile of the cannabis input.”
To see where Sublime Concentrate products are available, click here.