San Francisco is the culinary capital of California with elite restaurants like Saison, Benu, Coi, Quince and nearby classics like French Laundry and Manresa. The city by the bay is a place for chefs to inspire and be inspired, and German-born Coreen Carroll is doing just that by merging farm-to-fork gastronomy and harvest-to-hit cannabis. Carroll and her partner Ryan Bush, formerly of the award-winning Madame Munchie, host the Cannaisseur Series dinners throughout the city. The events, located in a different secret location each month, include engaging themes that motivate guests to interact and sometimes wear costumes. The next Cannaisseur Series event, a four-course Spring Solstice Dinner, takes place Sunday April 9 and includes infused mocktails, low-dose amuse-bouche and a vapor bar for sampling different extracts. The dinner includes a take-home gift bag, and Cannaisseur Series donates one meal to the SF-Marin Food Bank for each ticket sold. PRØHBTD spoke with Chef Carroll to learn more.
The dinners typically start with a few infused bites, but the main dishes are not infused, correct?
That is correct. We usually have a welcome hour where I do light infusions of passed hors d'oeuvres, but we [keep the dosage] down a little bit because we have multiple sponsors that bring in edibles, flower and different balms or tinctures. Then when diners sit down, they have an unmedicated coursed meal, and in between each course, they do an intermezzo of cannabis joints. We always start with sativas and then taste a CBD and finish off on an indica. Sometimes I like to throw infusions into the unmedicated meal—maybe a terpene infusion or a CBD—but nothing that intensifies a psychoactive high.
Sommeliers have a technique for pairing food and wine. Is there a defined technique for pairing food with cannabis and specific terpene profiles?
As far as specific terpenes, we just started dabbling in that, but for us it's been more focused on the effects. It's looking at dinner as a curated experience that's fun and flowing as soon as you walk in. I want you to be able to try everything without ever getting too high so we don't focus too much on [cannabis] flavor profiles right now, but that's going to be the next step.
The events have themes like Hightober Fest and the St. Valentine's Massacre. What are they like?
Each event is a different concept in a totally different venue. Some are seated, some arestanding, but it's always a mixer, brunch or dinner. I was born and raised in Germany so I had to intertwine that into the event for October, so we did our first Hightober Fest lastyear. It was one of our buffet mixer-style events that isn't seated. There was a welcome hour and then passed hors d'oeuvres, and we had way more vendors there. Then we started the actual curated tasting where we ring a bell, and guests go to a tasting area where you can go meet the farmers. We actually had a live trio polka band, and the cuisine was completely German, including the traditional beer and wine. People came dressed in lederhosen and dirndls, and it was a really, really great time.
I didn't wanna do a traditional St. Valentine's Day event so we did the speakeasy-style St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Instead of going red for love, I did red for blood and focused on a massacre style. It was a seated event in which everyone got four courses that all had a red focus. We served a curried-beet soup, a lamb lollipop with pomegranate sauce, blood-orange panna cotta and dishes like that, and people came dressed-up in speakeasy gear. We did a costume contest as well. My fiance and I have a grow operation, and we just had a harvest, so we rolled up some 24-carat joints as the prize.
What do you have planned for the two-year anniversary in May?
We are relaunching the website so I think the two-year anniversary will be a launch introducing the whole new look of Cannaisseur. We usually max out at 40 seats because I noticed people don't walk out the same way when we do bigger events than they do when it's a smaller crowd where people always make new friends. That's why I like to keep the seated dinners smaller. For this two-year anniversary, however, we're gonna do a big party in a mixer style with a buffet of everything you can think of under the sun.
When you're preparing the dinners, where do you seek inspiration on cutting-edge gastronomy?
I'm lucky to live in San Francisco so my inspiration comes completely from the farmers' market. I'm a very seasonal cook, and I go with what I can find, what is growing right now, and that's always my inspiration. Same with proteins and seafood. What is actually being caught fresh, what animals are at their primes? Still, it always comes back to my German roots, growing up in my grandmother's and mother's kitchens. I use a lot of German and Eastern European spices that I like to intertwine with California cuisine. If you really want to give it a name, I would say I do California-German fusion, but that is not a stand-still spot. We went to Italy multiple times this past year so I came back with all kinds of ingredients, and the last five or so events had several little Italian nuances.
What is an example of German influence in your cuisine?
Just thinking of spices, you don't see a lot of caraway in the States, and I use caraway a lot, and I have a huge array of different paprikas, which we put on everything in Germany. I have [paprika] in every shade of rose and red. Something else people don't use a lot is curly-leaf parsley. Americans love to use a flat-leaf Italian parsley, but in Germany all we ever use is a curly-leaf parsley. Some of my sous chefs give me a hard time because I use that a lot. It's not like German is a secretive cuisine or that people haven't tried things. I think it's just a way of eating that includes a lot of butter and cream and cheese, and those things stick out a lot in my cuisine, too. I don't hold back. I'm not a calorie counter. I put on a plate what I would like to put on the plate.
Was there a dining experience you had in the past that had a significant impact on how you saw what can be done in the kitchen?
Food has always been such a big part of my life, and I love to eat and try new foods, so definitely.I can think of one recently that really made me step back and say, "Okay, what can I do even better?" That was an experience here in the city at a place called Lazy Bear, a supper club that is kind of the same concept as what we do at the Cannaisseur. You come in, you have a welcome hour and then you sit down at communal-style tables and enjoy a coursed meal. This Lazy Bear experience was like no other experience I've ever had. What I found so intriguing is that the staff was one-to-one to the guest. So there were 40 seated guests, and they actually had 40 staff members, but at no time did you ever notice that there were that many people walking around or taking care of you. They had this well-planned way of taking dishes away, adding another, sommelier coming over explaining the wine, and then the next dish comes out. It was like a [theatrical] play to me, and it was a really wonderful experience.
You were previously in the traditional business world. Was there a single event that motivated you to say, "I want to follow my heart and jump into the culinary field"?
No, I think I knew right from the get-go that the corporate world was not for me. It was just too much of a regimen. I was always excited to go home to make dinner. The evenings were my favorite time 'cause I could put on the Food Network and create something out of nothing. In the corporate world, I was working in medical devices and international regulations, and it was unbelievably mundane. As soon as I started, I knew this was not gonna be it, but I didn't know how to get out of it. I also knew I wanted to get out of Florida, so my fiance and I kept playing with different ideas. We thought about New York, but when he brought me to San Francisco, it reminded me of an American version of Berlin. I was like, "This is exactly where I wanna be." We came out here, I went to culinary school, and that's really where it took off. I knew cannabis was the goal when I went to culinary school because I've always been a stoner, and nobody was doing it [at the time], so I figured, "Why can't it be me?" We started an edible company that won the High Times Cannabis Cup like six months later. I was making edibles 20 hours a day, but I wanted to get my creativity out, so we started Cannaisseur in 2015.
As the dinner series continues to increase in profile, do you see yourself going back to making macarons or some other edible for the retail market?
Probably not. If anything, I would do local, fresh-style edibles. I don't want a big production. I figured out that I really enjoy creating small things and not being super repetitive. That's why none of my events have the same menu. I like to challenge myself. I like to test. I like to create new things, and making one type of edible is definitely not something I'm striving for in my future.
Can anyone go to the website and get on the mailing list for the events, or is there a screening process?
Anybody can sign up, and with the new website, you will be able to see future events. We're coming out of the underground feel that we had before and allowing people to see upcoming events, but the only way to be notified of new events is to be on the mailing list.