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Chef Spotlight: Haejin Chun of Big Bad Wolf

June 14, 2019

Sharing a “Last Meal” with one of San Francisco’s most promising pop-up chefs

Photo credit:  Robert Gee

 

If you had one more night to live, what would your last meal be? At a May dinner in San Francisco, Chef Haejin Chun of Big Bad Wolf welcomed a small group into her home for a private dining experience that featured the ultimate 20-course “last meal” tasting menu. I was lucky enough to be one out of the four special guests that attended this celebration of food highlighting an array of sentiments, ceremonies, and delectable dishes inspired by Chef Haejin’s life. This was the type of dinner that you don’t forget. From start to finish, each course played an important role in creating an overall masterpiece of flavor and higher consciousness.

 

The dinner began with a ceremonial welcoming as Chef Haejin sat us in her Big Bad Wolf dining room, which was previously her bedroom before she started hosting her acclaimed Anti Mukbang Mukbang Club dinner series at home. The table was perfectly set, including a personal cannabis preroll of SF Roots’ Cookie Stomper with a note that said, “With this joint, we give you creativity, hunger, and relaxation, making you feel like the Big Bad Wolf you are.”

 

After partaking in the herbal apéritif, our palates were treated to a series of sentiments and small plates that were carefully prepared, each with a unique story deeply connected to Chef Haejin’s past. A few fanciful course names included “Nostalgia: Oranges on the Floor with Grandma”, “Flaming Hot Cheetos and Not Regrets”, “Letter from Someone You Love”, and “Chocolate on Your Birthday and Your Death Day”. A few other favorite dishes included the Pan Fried Black Sesame Mochi, Oysters and Rosé, Goddess Salmon, Bulgogi Dumplings, and an indulgent Cheese and Charcuterie Platter that offered the perfect balance of salty and creamy flavors. It was clear why these dishes made Chef Haejin’s last meal list, all accompanied by her signature Big Bad Wolf’s sauces.

 

It wasn’t just the food that made this dinner so unique—it was Chef Haejin herself. When you dine with her, you quickly learn how passionate she is about her craft and connecting with her guests on a deeper level. She’s created a new form of dining that brings heart and soul into the experience.

 

I had a chance to speak with Chef Haejin after the dinner to learn more about her culinary journey, her connection to cannabis, and what inspired this thought-provoking meal.

 

Why did you become a chef and what do you love most about your job?

 

Being a chef is a passion and a personal obsession, but that alone isn’t my “why” or driving force. It’s simply a means to fulfill a bigger purpose; building a community and bringing people together. Throughout my life, I haven't found anything else that does this on the same level as food—gathering people from all walks of life, bridging gaps, making connections, and sharing a dialogue through the universal language of breaking bread together. What I love the most is witnessing people who were initially complete strangers walk away as friends, the genuine smiles around my communal table, and the kind of openness that sharing a meal prepared with thought and care ignites in each and every one of us. I want my guests to feel special, like they're a part of something bigger, reminding them that someone gives a damn. I also just really love food.

 

What is your relationship with cannabis and how have you integrated it into some of your dining experiences?

 

Cannabis has been in my life for two decades. It’s not just a lifestyle, but also a huge part of who I am. It was only natural with legalization that my career as a chef would organically open up to the cannabis realm. It was like my life was finally connecting all of the dots. It’s been an exciting new presence in my workflow. I’ve had infused dinners, partnered with many amazing cannabis brands, had some deliciously high times in the test kitchen, customized terpene profile pairings for specific dishes with specific strains, and so much more. I’m having so much fun! Cooking for people who consume cannabis is a dream come true because when you're high, not only is your appetite stimulated, but everything tastes better. It makes my job that much easier #munchiesforlife.

 

Chef Haejin Chun preparing cannabis-infused cuisine 

photo credit: Lana Vy for Thursday Infused

 

What inspired you to start the Anti Mukbang Mukbang Club series?

 

At the end of last year, I was feeling burnt out from Big Bad Wolf’s large-scale dinners and events. I wasn't feeling the same connection with my community as when we first started our pop-ups. When there are 40 - 100+ guests, I just don't have the capacity to exchange the kind of heart-to-heart connection that I’d like to. I barely have time to say “hello” and “thank you” to each and every guest, while cooking, running a team, and commanding the entire event in general. The thing that was most important to me was getting lost. I was spreading myself way too thin and feeling major FOMO—like I was outside looking in rather than in the kitchen looking out.

 

When people asked me what my goal has been for Big Bad Wolf, my answer has consistently been, “I can’t see that far ahead, and I don't want to...but definitely not a brick and mortar.” If you told me three years ago we’d come this far, I wouldn't have been able to fathom it. I can't pretend that I have control over or know what’s going to happen—it’s bigger than me. What I wanted the most was simply to be able to sit down with and enjoy everyone’s company, to partake in the meal, the vibes, and the magic. For this series, I wanted to scale down to smaller, more intimate dinners in my home, where I could do just that. That’s when I decided to turn my bedroom into a temporary dining space. There were also a few concepts that I had in my back pocket, like the “Last Meal,” that only made sense on a much smaller scale (serving four people only). With high rental fees and a lack of available venue spaces in San Francisco, smaller events such as this aren’t possible at those margins. The name “Anti Mukbang Mukbang Club” came from two Korean-based, cultural phenomenon’s: Anti Social Social Club and mukbang videos.

 

Your "Last Meal" event was an amazing experience. How did you think of this theme and how long did it take you to finalize the menu?

 

In the culinary industry, a pretty common question that comes up is, “What would you eat for your last meal?” There’s actually an entire coffee table book dedicated to this question. I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology, memories, and nostalgia around food—how it connects us to specific moments in our lives. When I was coming up with the menu, I was on a high, profusely writing down everything and anything that came to mind as my last final meal. That part was easy. It was narrowing it down that was tough. I think my first draft menu was about 48 items long! I eventually narrowed it down to 20 courses. What was even more interesting was what made the final menu and why. I realized that the simpler, more comforting foods continuously trumped the decadent, luxurious dishes. Surprisingly, one of the foods that continued to make the list was perfectly sun-kissed orange slices. Humble, simple, but so refreshing, orange slices are tied to numerous memories that I have with my grandmother during hot days, sick days, or just hanging out with her in general. In that sense, this menu was difficult because I had to turn off my chef brain where I’m always catering to other people, but rather listen to what I really wanted (even though I was a bit nervous putting orange slices on a 20-course tasting menu because people expect to be wowed!)

 

Chef Haejin's Big Bad Wolf "Last Meal" menu featured at the May 31, 2019 event

 

I love how you incorporated an opening ceremony, different sentiments from your life, and a closing meditation throughout the meal. What inspired you to add these components?

 

I wanted my guests to feel something on a deeper level—to trigger certain memories and sentiments. I wanted this dinner to be more experiential and conceptual. I added these components to honor the things I would want to be reminded of, or think about if it were truly my last meal.

 

Before I became a chef, I went to art school focusing on installations, creative writing, and community arts. My senior thesis was actually based around the idea of death with my last show titled, “When I Die, This is Where I’ll Live.” I think the concept of death in reflection to life is something that I’ve always been fascinated with, drawn to, and curious about (I actually just connected these dots, thanks to this question!)

 

When creating the Big Bad Wolf dining space in my home, I wanted the space itself to feel intentional, special, and transcendent rather than feeling like you were just having dinner in a chef’s home. I started building the space organically. When I was finished and I stepped back, I realized I had built an altar—far from coincidence, but also completely unintentional at the same time.

 

Big Bad Wolf altar featured during the Anti Mukbang Mukbang Club series

photo credit: Big Bad Wolf

 

When I was writing the closing meditation, I wanted to bring calm, peace, and whatever message we uniquely have in each and every one of us delivered by someone who holds a sacred space within us. Here’s an excerpt from the meditation,  “Sitting across from you is the person you trust the most. You acknowledge that infinite bond. They lean in closer and whisper a message for you and you alone...and then it's over.”

 

The sauces you featured throughout the menu were out-of-this-world delicious. How long did it take you to perfect these recipes? Do you have a personal favorite?

 

I’ve been nicknamed the “sauce queen” by a select few. I think, as a new chef, most of my confidence currently lies in sauces. It took me a long time to get to a place where I could figure out how to balance bold flavors without it all getting muddled together—how to showcase a brightness, a complexity, while still in harmony. I’m not sure how long it took or if ‘perfect’ is even a word I would ever use. It was an uphill climb while also being intuitive. There were a lot of late nights I lost sleep thinking about sauces. When it’s not quite there, it’s like a puzzle piece is missing and I’m trying to figure out what ingredient it needs to complete the picture, to make a “WOW.” I think the Thai-Chili Goddess Sauce is one of my greatest accomplishments. I’m pretty proud of it. I also really love my Habanero Yuzu Hot Sauce infused with cannabis honey, and the Fermented Bean Paste Mignonette I paired with the oysters on the “Last Meal” menu. Sometimes I taste something and it ends up surprising me too. I think, “I can’t believe I made something this good.” We all have something we nerd out on, for me it’s sauces.

 

Chef Haejin's BBW Chili Sauce served at Thursday Infused

photo credit: Lana Vy

 

What's next for Big Bad Wolf? Will you be hosting another event series? If so, would you do the "Last Meal" concept again since this was such an intimate experience?

 

I would love to give the “Last Meal” experience to as many people as possible because it’s so much more than food. It was powerful and definitely left a mark on everyone who got to be a part of it, myself included. If I were to ever find the right venue for it or even a small private dinner, I would be down, but with how intimate, spiritual, and detail-oriented the food and service is, it would be hard to do that on a large scale.

 

Coming up next, Big Bad Wolf has a "Womxn" cannabis dinner, a 10-course “Greatest Hits” dinner, as well as a pop-up in Los Angeles in collaboration with LAPCG & Sunday Goods. We are also cooking for the GRASS X GRASSS launch party, which is an educational platform for Asian Americans to have an open dialogue about the industry and their personal experience with cannabis. Big Bad Wolf is creating the food spread, but I’m also featured in the first GRASS X GRASS episode. Other than that, I’d like to take a vacation at some point and work on a few side projects—I’m just riding this beautiful, wild wave the best I can! Showing up every time I get that chance and watching it unfold beyond that. I am so thankful, true gratitude is being present in that moment. I’m also really excited for everything that’s coming ahead.

 

Chef Haejin Chun

photo credit: Patrick Aguilar

 

To learn more about Chef Haejin Chun of Big Bad Wolf or to book tickets for one of her upcoming events, follow @BigBadWolfSF. Trust me, this is a dining experience that you don’t want to miss!

 

Peace, Love & Cannabis,

 

Jamie Evans

The Herb Somm

 

 About the Author:

Jamie Evans is the founder of The Herb Somm. She is an educator, host, and writer specializing in cannabis, food, recipes, wine, and the canna-culinary world. In addition to her work in the cannabis industry, Jamie has over eleven years of wine industry experience and is a Certified Specialist of Wine. Having represented a wide array of organizations and wineries, she is best known for producing high-end events and developing top-notch public relations, marketing, and hospitality programs. She was also recently named as one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

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