A look into the art of Experiential Cannabis Dining with Chef Manny and the Herbal Notes team at their Botanas & Blunts event hosted in San Diego, California.
Herbal Notes, a group of culinary creatives specializing in experiential cannabis dining, is paving their way as impactful community leaders. Their overall mission: to educate. I explored the world of experiential dining at the most recent Herbal Notes event Botanas & Blunts, an evening dedicated to celebrating locally caught San Diego seafood and top-shelf herb. The evening was presented by Chef Juan Carlos Recamier of Ceviche House and Chef Manny Mendoza of Herbal Notes.
“Herbal Notes is an experience-based platform centered around shared knowledge, culinary exploration, and genuine relationships.”
A crisp winter Monday evening brought my foodie partner, Fio Rossel Borkert, founder of Rossel & Co., and I to Ceviche House in Old Town San Diego. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by familiar friendly faces and funky beats by the Dj.
Local sponsors of cannabis and lifestyle brands were staged to the left. The Herbal Notes classy yet minimalist style was evident from start to finish. Each setting had a beautifully printed menu and a pre-rolled joint carefully placed. The light tones and upbeat tunes set a vibrant scene. Their team created a safe space for all cannabis users new and experienced to enjoy a relaxed evening of fine dining paired with fine herb.
Atmosphere – Light Tones. Welcoming vibe. Comfortable environment
The event brought together a diverse crowd, bringing ages ranging from 21 on and cannabis users of all walks. The experience drew friendly banter, shared knowledge, ongoing praise of each dish and the imagination running wild as is often the case with the help of cannabis. “Genius” ideas coming through with the relief that we were recording our experience so we’d remember.
I asked the two young women next to us from the East Coast, what their thoughts were on the experience. They expressed that everyone seemed very professional and that they enjoyed the diverse yet “ordinary” group of people. We discussed and related over the strictness of our home states, as is a frequent topic amongst people from states where cannabis is not yet legal.
The night was both highly entertaining, relaxing, and overall educational. I found myself pausing throughout the evening to merely observe and relish in the fact that this was real, that we live in an age where we can enjoy cannabis with our peers in a friendly, safe, stigma-free and inviting atmosphere.
With a smoky haze, the evening continued with laughter, coughing, clanking dishes, and experimental, funky music. Halfway through the evening, we were brought fruits and vegetables carved to perfection for a stoner’s enjoyment. They were paired with herbal varietals and an educational session on strains, personal favorites of the SD Tree Co. team. The end came to a close with a prolonged applause to the teams and mingling our way out.
The first course began with zest and spice! Not overwhelmed by a “weed” taste at all, the burst of flavor consumed us and our munchies. Each plate was hand delivered by the Herbal Notes team. Frequent long pauses in conversation occurred to absorb and contemplate what was going on with our taste buds.
A hot and sour caldo and tangy shrimp skewer, followed by the “Smoked Out Oyster” which was presented by the chefs themselves, a fruity tartare with a crisp, sweet potato chip, the sour purp ceviche, colored with butterfly pea flower. Hearty carnitas with warm fresh tortillas and salsa was a nice transition from seafood into “comfort” style grub.
Fried Octo Tako was an excellent finish with so many flavors in one bowl, a fried ball of heaven with sides of sauces and microgreens. A finale of chocolate ice cream, dulce de leche type sauce, and Maria Juana galletas. Each crunch, bite or sip kept us entertained and satisfied. A real stoner’s delight.
Alcohol was not served at the event. Alcohol often does not fair well with cannabis for many. The hearts of these chefs and their team shown in their welcoming atmosphere, how they led the experience, their wisdom and their mission using their creative and culinary genius.
The Mission behind Herbal Notes
The Herbal Notes Team – At a Herbal Notes event, you will feel the drive behind the Herbal Notes team and partnering chefs and community members. They’ve aligned with a mission that is bigger than themselves. They focus on the craft and the experience of the people, and it shows in their carefully crafted and deliberate presentation. Chef Manny is driving a new age, beyond a trend, in this cannabis revolution. One that is on the ground, for people, by people.
Words From the Chef
I met with Chef Manny two weeks after the Blunts & Botanas event. He and the team had just returned from Chicago. A story in and of itself for another time. He was generous with his time and shared his adventures in the windy city, his hometown and where cannabis still holds a strong stigma.
He discussed plans for expanding back to the places that shaped his culinary journey and where he can partner with those he’s built relationships within places like Chicago, New York, and Miami. He praised his team of creatives that are taking the mission to the next level.
Like many, Manny’s culinary and cannabis journey began simultaneously as he took after-school cooking classes growing up. He described it as a natural marriage. “All we did was cook and smoke,” he laughed. He expressed his admiration for the casual social aspect of cannabis in his life with friends and family. Those thoughts and memories were always in the back of his mind he explained before he even considered culinary school. Agriculture pushed him to move to California, the growing of both vegetables and cannabis. We related on this presently underground “scene” of food and cannabis, how it doesn’t need to be. Manny expressed how cannabis is so deeply a part of us, that it’s literally a part of our nervous system.
“To have some government entity say, you can’t have something that’s already suppose to be a part of you, makes you put it all in perspective… It’s only been illegal and criminalized for 60 to 70 years, but it’s something that’s been cultivated for thousands of years all over the world. In a narrow case of time, all of a sudden, SOMEONE decides it’s a bad drug, it should be illegal, they send people to jail, they get put into this prison system that’s you know… completely broken.
It puts people into a vicious cycle and returns them back into these broken communities with people who can’t even fathom opening a legal cannabis business to market, where privileged people can just walk in and say “Oh I kind of want to get into that,” and it’s all lined up for them. All these communities like where I come from they have no bridge program, no equity program in place to help them. It’s something to consider when talking to people about cannabis. It’s more than about getting high,” Chef Manny stated.
“Herbal Notes events are all-encompassing- educational, elevating one another. It’s about getting people from all over together at the table through food.”
Chef Manny is on a mission to create a culture where cannabis is approachable for anyone, and not just to “get high.” He’s passionate through advocacy to reach people who need cannabis as a medicine and don’t have access to it. According to Manny, in Illinois, it costs over $600.00 to get a medical card, if you qualify and if you have a severe debilitating illness.
Manny reminded me that there are still a lot of people out there who have spent decades keeping cannabis illegal, “The only way to change their perspectives is to get them at that dinner table and surround them with the right people, with the right environment, and say This is what we do. We’re still fine; we’re still functional. I’ve seen people become best friends at my dinners, I’ve seen people cry at my dinners. It doesn’t matter about the money and if this is some sort of green rush. They need to stop thinking how much money can they make and start thinking how many people can we help,” explained Chef Manny.
Did you receive past resistance from those back home?
“I use to for sure. That’s why I had to move too. I had this idea five years ago. After culinary school, I went back to college and got into nutrition and music. The music, food, and weed all melted together and I knew I wanted to have these dinner parties, with a live DJ, and hang out. It’s what I always envisioned, a place that people can really vibe into, and that’s why we bring in these interactive pieces so they can just relax and trust that they’ll be taken care of,” described Chef Manny.
Chef Manny shared his knowledge and approach to cannabis, he explained how necessary it is experiencing cannabis in moderation, and microdose to figure out what best suits your own needs if you’re new to cannabis. The experience created by the Herbal Notes team is new and innovative. His dishes were well balanced in both taste and dosage. The Herbal Notes team joined us later on, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Their goal is to go on a national tour, educating people in each city. Chef Manny is a pioneer stepping into untapped territories with a dedicated team to make it happen. He’s starting in Chicago his hometown and a place he feels needs healing.
I look forward to future collaborations with Chef Manny, the Herbal Notes team, and the other thought leaders in the Cannabis community. Manny and his team have completed 16 dinners so far, and they’re far from done. Experiential Cannabis dining is just one-way community leaders are creating a safe space for people to explore cannabis with a new and open perspective and breaking down long-standing stigmas. It’s absolutely fitting as cannabis and food have been longtime friends.
To learn more about the Herbal Notes team and their partners: please visit Herbalnotes.co!
Special shoutout to: Field Guide Co for providing imagery.
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