Photos courtesy of Dennis Lee and Namu Gaji
In San Francisco’s Mission District, Korean restaurant Namu Gaji has enjoyed a good amount of success — earning a spotlight in The New York Times and a packed house on the regular. One third of the trio of brothers who run the place, Dennis Lee, is delighted about Namu’s victories thus far, but keeps his gaze forward. Among other ventures, he’s in the developmental stage for a line of edibles under the name Smaak.
Lee got with Merry Jane to talk about nascent triumphs, learning to cook with marijuana, and his burgeoning new business. He also shared a recipe for what he called “California Smørrebrød with Avocado and Medicated Smaak Furikake and Medicated Smaak EVOO, Soft Scrambled Eggs with Medicated Smaak Pizza Flavor Seasoning and Roasted Asparagus drizzled with Medicated Smaak EVOO” — but we call it “the most ballin’-ass breakfast on toast ever.” Enjoy!
1 tablespoon butter
3 grams medicated Smaak pizza powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 slice Danish style rye bread
1 tablespoon Smaak EVOO
Medicated Smaak furikake, to taste
Flaky sea salt, to taste
3 asparagus spears, split
Butter, salt, pepper, Smaak EVOO, to taste
For the scrambled eggs, start with medium-high heat and butter. I like to use a cast iron skiller, but non-stick is fine.
Scramble eggs plain with chopsticks or fork and pour into the pan once the butter is completely melted. Season with salt and pepper in the pan. Continuously push the thin cooked layer of egg over on the bottom of the pan with a rubber or wooden spoon as it continuously forms, as if you are making a bunch of thin layers of egg. When it looks about 90 percent cooked, turn off the heat. Fold and gently chop with the spatula or spoon and plate right away. Sprinkle medicated Smaak pizza powder over the soft scrambled eggs.
Lightly toast Danish style rye bread. Do not over-toast, as the bread is already dense and full of texture. Butter the warm bread and top with fanned avocado. Drizzle some medicated Smaak EVOO and finish with medicated Smaak furikake and some flaky sea salt. Be sure to use the olive oil first, as it helps the furikake stick to the avocado and meld the flavors together.
Pan roast split asparagus spears with some butter. Don't worry about the butter browning, it adds a depth of flavor. Roast for about two minutes on each side using medium to low heat. Sprinkle the asparagus with some salt, fresh cracked pepper, and lime juice in the pan.
Plate the the asparagus and drizzle some medicated Smaak EVOO on it. Serve everything together with a wedge of lime. If you're lucky, it will look something like this:
Below, we talked to Dennis about the recipe, as well as his work as a chef and cannabis enthusiast. Continue reading for more!
MERRY JANE: The New York Times featured your culinary work. What did that signal for you, career-wise?
Dennis Lee: That was a crazy experience. People from all over see that, so we got a lot of messages from people from our past and present as well as other media inquiries, but most importantly our mother was so proud she pretty much walked around with that article in-hand. Career-wise, I would say it was great exposure for us and our story. It spoke to how important what we represent as a family business is to our culture today.
Tell me a little about your forthcoming line of edibles.
The brand is called Smaak. It's inspired by the Dutch word for flavor or taste and South African slang meaning to like something. We are bringing our food knowledge to elevate the flavor and ingredients used in making edibles. We are also using the business to collaborate with other food businesses and try and break some of the barriers and stigmas around cannabis. We have delicious low-dose, CBD, and high-strength products like gummies made from natural fruit concentrates, butter mochi, mini chocolate chip cookies — as well as kitchen pantry-type items like salt, extra virgin olive oil that is grown in Carmel Valley, and seasonings like cheese and pizza-flavored spice mixes that you can eat like a pixie powder or sprinkle over some eggs or a salad.
How did you make moves to divert attention and focus from Namu Gaji?
I'm always doing something. I'm blessed to have a great team of people around me, our community, my brothers, my management team. We are a group of very hardworking people with similar values.
What kind of dishes did you start with, when first experimenting with marijuana in your cooking/baking?
Started with the basics. Canni-butter, cookies, brownies, etc. Then I got my hands on some really nice concentrates and began using some more modern techniques infusing oils and making powders.
Can you explain some major lessons learned through the initial processes?
Cannabis is a plant. Like all other plants, you have to treat it as such — i.e. not all jalapeños are the same heat and flavor. Not all lavender is the same. Another very important lesson is just observing and appreciating the nuances of dosing and appreciating that different people have different reactions. There is a vibe or energetic character to all foods, some are heating some are cooling ... and this should be taken into consideration when using the combination of food and cannabis.
What do most people get wrong about edibles?
Not respecting the food, the ingredients, and just seeing the food as a vehicle to get high. Also, exposing the cannabinoids to high temperatures ... and not cooking things enough.
Tell me a little about the dish you're sharing with us today. Any pairing tips?
Something simple, scrambled eggs with some of our Smaak pizza flavored powder and avocado toast with Smaak furikake drizzled with Smaak olive oil.
For more on Namu Gaji, visit the restaurant's website here and visit if you're in San Francisco!