Chris Yang has a background in science, but when the current healthcare system got him down, Yang applied that knowledge to a new passion: cooking with cannabis. Over time (and some social media hustle), he developed the skills and savvy to launch PopCultivate, a Los Angeles-based supper club serving about five courses per installment (don’t worry — only every other is infused with herb).
Yang got with MERRY JANE to talk about his career switch, weed newbies, and the power of Instagram. Plus, he shares a stoopid delicious recipe for your new favorite summertime main dish: Cannabrown Butter Gnocchi.
Cannabrown Butter Gnocchi
3 cups AP Flour
1 cup russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 lb. cannabutter
2 sprigs sage
⅓ cup feta cheese
¼ cup vodka
¼ cup cream
Micro basil, to taste
Make the gnocchi with AP flour and boiled russet potatoes. If you are not familiar with how to do so, review a recipe to brown the butter. On low heat and with constant stirring, cook the butter until it changes to an amber brown color. The aroma will turn nutty and sweet. Strain in a fine strainer or coffee filter and set aside
Add half of the brown butter back into the pan and add flour to make a rue. Add vodka to rue and cook until ethanol evaporates. Add the remaining butter and whisk. Whisk in additional flour if the sauce is too runny. Stir in heavy cream. Taste to season. Reserve for assembly.
For the fried sage garnish, fry one sage leaf at a time. Once color changes, set them on a paper towel and let dry. The leaves will crisp after 5 minutes.
To assemble, boil the gnocchi in rolling water. In the meantime, heat a pan with some browned butter sauce. Strain the gnocchi dry and then add to the pan with sauce. Toss the gnocchi so it is well coated.
Garnish with feta cheese, fried sage, and micro basil.
MERRY JANE: You started as a biochemistry major and ended up running a successful weed-infused dining series. Tell me how that focus shifted.
Chris Yang: It's funny how any work you do is not lost or wasted efforts. I studied biochem with a focus on organic chemistry, which allowed me to gain technical skills and scientific understanding of how to manipulate cannabis and cannabinoids into the form I need. Three years ago, I decided that the healthcare industry isn't for me because of the moral conflicts of the industry. I landed in food a few months later when I started an Instagram account and learned how to cook from YouTube. Two and a half years and 70+ pop-ups later, PopCultivate was born.
How do you decide whether to infuse a food or drink with THC or CBD? Which seems to be more popular?
Each cannabinoid delivers a different effect and contributes differently to the overall experience of the night. We use a combination of both to deliver the exact high experience journey that people expect.
Explain how you cultivate your clientele. How have you seen it grow and/or change?
Word of mouth is a strong growth factor for us. PopCultivate patrons come to our events to be part of our community: A non-pretentious community of tastemakers who enjoy good food, good art, and good company. We also get a good number of cannabis-curious recreational users. We provide a dinner that is a safe environment for those to explore and discover what we are about. We pride ourselves in having patrons share their first cannabis experience with us at a PopCultivate dinner.
What's the most major challenge of the experience-based cannabis industry?
There are lots of challenges in this industry as there are in any other industry. The biggest limitation in the cannabis industry is that our growth rate is in the hands of lawmakers (whom are notorious for their working speed).
Tell me a little about the dish you're sharing with us today. How did you develop it? Any pairing suggestions?
This is a brown butter gnocchi that we served for our May dinner. It was part of a menu titled "taste of summer." We served it with a brown butter cream sauce, fried sage, feta, and some micro basil. This dish was made with a lot of love. Every piece of gnocchi was hand-rolled and pressed. This dish started with just two components, which were sage and brown butter! Funny how inspirations can lead us to beautiful creations. Because this dish is meant to be rich and very satisfying, I would recommend a cannabis strain with some acid flavor profiles like a super lemon haze.
For more on PopCultivate, visit the company's website here
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