New Yorkers know Miguel Trinidad as the Dominican chef who revolutionized Filipino cuisine. Trinidad lived in the Philippines for a few months, and he appreciated the cuisine’s multi-cultural fusion that includes Malay, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese influences. His Filipino restaurants, Maharlika and Jeepney, are both hits with critics and consumers alike. The executive chef’s next challenge is introducing Michelin-level gastronomy to cannabis-infused food with 99th Floor. Founded by Trinidad and his partner Doug Cohen (of Stadium Status Group), 99th Floor holds private multi-course dining events designed for gastronomers with experienced palates. In spring 2015, 99th Floor did a test dinner in San Francisco, and the first official dinner took place in Los Angeles in October. Next week, the chef hosts his annual 4/20 dinner (two seatings) with five courses that include steak and an infused cocktail, and then 99th Floor makes its official Bay Area debut on April 23 with the Cannabis Cuisine Experience in Sonoma County made with locally sourced seasonal ingredients. PRØHBTD spoke with Trinidad and Cohen to learn more.
Can you start by giving me the rundown on 99th Floor?
Miguel Trinidad: When we came together to do 99th Floor, Doug had this brilliant idea to curate cannabis, but we wanted to take a different approach. Many people who eat edibles have a pretty awful experience. They're stuck in a corner, they're way too high and they don't want to try it again. We wanted to curate these dinners and our edible line to educate people on how to take edibles. It should be like drinking a glass of wine where you're not chugging the whole bottle at once. You're sipping and enjoying the euphoria that comes with it.
Doug Cohen: Miguel is obviously an incredible chef, and we really wanted to bring the concept of edibles outside something lowbrow to something much more elevated as a concept. Being able to have sous vide pork belly as weed food is a completely new concept and different presentation than eating a brownie or candy.
Where are you holding these dinners?
Trinidad: Right now they're all private.
What are some of the cities you want to focus on for the private dinners?Trinidad: We would like to hit the Denvers and the Portlands and the states where it's legal for sure, but I would say California is the focus area—LA, San Francisco.
Have you had an instance where someone ate too much and got too high?
Cohen: We haven't had a situation where a person gets too high. Throughout the course of the dinner, we stick to a low dosage, something that's comfortable to handle for any one person. We err on the side of lightness. However, you know, we do have some heavy hitters that come in so we can increase the dosage for those experienced individuals.
How many courses is the typical meal, and what is the average overall dosage?
Cohen: Each dinner varies. The one we did in New York was a five-course meal, and the overall dosage was between 15 and 20 [milligrams]. We did have some heavy hitters for the later portion of the dinner, and we increased their dosage to about 20 to 25.
Miguel, both Dominican and Filipino cuisine involve different influences and fusions. In what ways did working in these cuisines prepare you to be a better edible chef?
Trinidad: It prepared me in a sense that I have a broader menu to work with. Incorporating THC in different forms—infused oil, agave, using it as seasoning—my background and my knowledge of Dominican culture and Filipino food really gave me a broad spectrum.
What are the keys to properly pairing strains with different flavor profiles in the food?
Trinidad: One of the keys for preparing different strains is understanding what the strain is and understanding its flavor notes. We have happy mistakes happen. For example, we used a sour chem strain of wax with a vegan chocolate ice cream. The sour chem coconut milk really gave off a cinnamony flavor, and it tasted like a Mexican hot chocolate. There are some things that you prepare for and then there are some happy accidents that happen. It's all about experimentation and trying to push the envelope on what you can do with it.
If a strain has a particular flavor when you smoke it, will it have a similar flavor when you cook with it?
Trinidad: For the most part, yes. It all depends how you cook with it. Of course, when you burn it, it gives off a different flavor. It'll activate the THC in the flower itself, which then makes it easier to infuse an oil or butter. You will extract more of the flavor that way.
Do you find that indica or sativa strains work better for cooking?
Trinidad: It depends on the dish. Up until now, we've been using a blend of sativa and indica. It's all playing around with the dosages because you want people to enjoy themselves, laugh, have a really good time, feel comfortable. We have a friend who does special blends for us, and so far it's been working perfectly.
Cohen: Because of the way THC is processed, it is a different chemical when you smoke it [than eat it]. It's somewhat debatable whether sativa and indica as an effect really matters. We all sort of know what an edible feels like, and we all know what a sativa feels like and what an indica feels like. I don't necessarily know if, when people describe a typical edible high, there's really any concept of whether it's a sativa or indica. When you buy commercial edibles in the market, it's rare that they specify what it is because generally it's being made from large vats of shake. There's no concept of what it is or what it isn't. A lot of the profile making something a sativa or indica lies in parts of the plant that don't necessarily make it through into the edible. I guess, just to give a weed-nerd answer, it really may not matter.
As far as plating the dishes, do you make use of any visuals that tie back to the plant?
Trinidad: We haven't up until now. When it comes to plating the food, you just want to make it look beautiful. People eat with their eyes first. We're not making the pork belly look like a cannabis leaf. We just want it to smell delicious, taste delicious and give you the proper effects.
Cohen: One of the things about creating these movements within cannabis is taking back what it means to smoke. There are all these negative connotations of being a stoner or whatever, but we’re all responsible adults. We're people who have kids and jobs and high-end tastes. A lot of people I know who are really into smoking have some of the best palates for food and wine and other nice things. Part of taking away that stigma is recreating what it is that we do: Creating this high-end food experience around weed the way some people might do it around wine. If you get too obvious and try to do too much, you tend to teeter that line and bring it back towards kitsch, and that’s what we’re trying to move away from.
Chef, did starting 99th Floor have a positive or negative impact on your brick and mortar restaurants?
Trinidad: It's had a positive influence. We have a lot of people following us in social media who are regulars at the restaurant and want to be a part of it. There have been no negative connotations because of what we're doing. Like Doug said, a lot of us enjoy smoking weed, and we're still responsible human beings. There hasn't been any negativity that has fallen upon us as of yet.
New York City’s previous two mayors took hard stances against cannabis. What has been your experience in NYC as far as cannabis, and what direction do you see it headed with the changes in drug policy?
Trinidad: In the early '90s, the city used to have pot parades at Washington Square Park. They almost are this thing of legend. They used to make it legal to smoke in Washington Square Park for a day. They would get all kinds of crazy performers, and people would be smelling and smoking and just celebrating weed in this really public area. This is way before the weed culture had become what it's become with all the advanced strains and chemistry and concentrates. This is '94, '95. One year, Cypress Hill came on a helicopter and just threw all this weed into the crowd. [It involved] some pretty crazy things that, if I hadn't been there, I don't know I would believe they really happened in the city. Having said that, New York's marijuana laws are unfortunately, like most marijuana laws, racist laws that really hurt poor minorities. It is a system that is really based against them. I don't really see that having changed at all in a really long time. Now that they decriminalized possession of less than an ounce, things are easier, and the laws sort of lightened up, but we're still looking at laws that are truly racist in nature. If the laws themselves aren't racist in nature, the way they are enforced ultimately end up being that way.
From the past dinners, the guava butter was obviously a huge hit. What were some of the other dishes that were a big success?
Cohen: We had a lot of positive response from the pork belly and hush puppies that we did for the brunch in LA. The shrimp and grits were awesome. We were doing shots of chocolate mousse at the Roosevelt Hotel. Everybody pretty enjoyed everything that we put out.
What's something you haven't served that's been banging around in your head?
Trinidad: There's a wild mushroom ravioli that I've been working on.
Cohen: Which is awesome. I love the way it tastes, and once we get the right strain to bring out that woodsy flavor of the mushroom, it's gonna be incredible.
The last question is for Miguel. You were born in a taxi?
Trinidad: Yes, but I really don't remember much. According to my mother, she was in the elevator, her water broke and she hopped in the cab. The driver saw exactly what was happening and started racing to the hospital, running red lights, and he was pulled over by the police. When the police saw what was happening, they gave the cab driver an escort to the hospital, but before we got there, I was already out. The only thing I remember is that it was really bright.