In the world of cannabis dining, the special ingredient makes a meal into a full-on experience, and these three proprietors do it just right
When California’s Prop. 64 — the legislation that lifted the prohibition on legal cannabis consumption — went into effect in 2018, chefs and diners were at the ready. Everywhere I looked, it seemed a new cannabis dinner had popped up in San Diego. I went to almost every offering in town. I ate. I smoked. I got stoned. I wrote about it. It was a blissful time!
Two years on, the landscape has changed quite a bit and most of those early adopters are no longer hosting dinners. For starters, the limits of and legalities around above-board cannabis consumption, especially when mixing food and cannabis for sale, are constantly being challenged. And the financial realities of operating a cannabis business are increasingly prohibitive, owing to high prices and taxes on cannabis products.
Which means only the strong survive.
I decided to dip back into San Diego’s cannabis dining scene to see who’s doing what and how imbibers can get the best experience. What I found was threefold: an infused dinner experience that’s just as good as some of the best restaurants in town; a more holistic-focused dining experience that can be combined with wellness activities; and a cannabipairing experience that provides a safe, inclusive option for imbibers and non-tokers alike.
Nestled in an unassuming suburban neighborhood close to Lake Hodges is the home of Anne and Ivan (who prefer to keep their last name private), the married couple that runs the cannabis-infused dining and catering experience Mangia Ghanja.
There, they produce a luxury dining experience that easily rivals any restaurant service with the added bonuses of customization, extremely high-quality cannabis oil and the warm, fuzzy feeling that can only come from being treated like a celebrity.
Whether hired to cook in a private home or hosting in their own dining alcove at home, what follows is a multicourse meal of the guest’s choosing, bits and pieces of which are infused with concentrated cannabis oil made in the Rick Simpson style. (Simpson refers to a famous Canadian cannabis activist who claims to have cured his own cancer with a meticulously-dosed, high-quality oil that happens to be ideal for using to infuse food.)
Ivan, who is a self-trained chef, doses everything himself according to their clients’ wishes. Do you want to feel a little funny, get giggly or be completely stoned? He can adjust for anything. Do you want Maine lobster or filet mignon? How about a raspberry souffle? He can do that, too.
In addition to the excellent food, the couple provides other bells and whistles, like non-infused dishes, wine, a non-infused charcuterie board and a fleet of pre-rolled joints to enjoy out by their beautiful pool or someone’s own yard. During one dinner I attended, they used cannabis flower to smoke cheese toasts with a tabletop smoker, which added a nice green flavor. Every time I leave, the feeling is the same: I’m very pleasantly high and also feeling like I didn’t miss out on the restaurant experience at all. Mangia Ghanja is one of the best dining experiences around, cannabis or not. mangiaghanja.com
Another couple, Alessandra Sorrentino and Pablo Nascimentt, created Higher Purpose as an opportunity to share their philosophy of healing with food and creating a community that elevates in more ways than one.
The couple operates in Los Angeles and Las Vegas (where Pablo, who is originally from Brazil, lives) as well as San Diego (where Alessandra lives). Pablo acts as a dual health coach and chef, one who often cooks with cannabis. His resume boasts stints cooking for Whole Foods, Mercedes Benz, the Brazilian Presidential Office and upscale hotel chains like MGM and Hilton. Alessandra is the hospitality wizard and also a yoga teacher and healer in other modes, particularly with children and people with disabilities.
Pablo and Alessandra focus on planning infused dinners that speak to whole-body healing, which includes the mind just as much as the corporeal. For instance, Higher Purpose recently hosted a dinner that also included a yoga and sound healing component. They also hosted another dinner that combined dining on infused food with vision boarding. Guests to one of their planned private dinners or retreats may also experience breath workshops, ocean walks and other feel-good add-ons. The food, which comes in five to eight infused courses, is always sourced locally and as organically as possible. Pablo also puts a premium on meticulous dosing. higherpurposevision.com
Carolyn Kates and Franco on Fifth
Edibles can be notoriously hard to properly dose, plus, everyone metabolizes cannabis differently. That’s why Carolyn Kates — a local nurse, cannabis industry darling, event planner and one-woman jack-of-all-trades — refuses to play that game, instead offering cannabis pairing and event planning services.
Kates, who currently works at the new Paul Basile-designed Columbia Care dispensary in Pacific Beach, is obsessed with safety and legality. “You’re going to come to me if that’s what you care about,” she told me over the phone.
Back in 2018, Kates ran the Lego Optimo dinner series, a short-lived cannabis flower and vape pairing dinner that featured farm-to-table cuisine and legal bud. After the cost of running those became too prohibitive, she went contract-only. Today, she does weddings, birthday parties and other private events using only legal, tested cannabis flower, oil for vaping and edibles purchased at dispensaries.
One thing Kates learned from the Lego Optimo days was that her chosen event space, Chef Flor Franco’s Franco on 5th, was completely legal to host cannabis events in. Because the space doesn’t have a liquor license and they aren’t infusing food, Kates says she prefers to host events there, where she can set up her vape, edible and pre-rolled joint bars, table-top vapes and a variety of joints that can be paired to smoke before and after courses in an on-site consumption lounge or outside.
Kates brings her chefs, one of whom is frequently Ms. Franco, to the dispensary, where they select flower based on its terpenes and aromas — then they select the food to pair with it, subverting the usual process of pairing cannabis second. No budget is too small, Kates says. Contact Carolyn via phone or email: (619) 846-9886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.