Heritage: Taiwanese Texan
Hometowns: Dallas, Brooklyn, San Francisco
Zodiac Sign: Fire-Tiger, Virgo
Banana you look up to: Ophelia Chong of @stockpotimages
Tell me a little bit about your childhood and the first time you were exposed to weed/first high? Along with that, what was your family's perception of weed? I feel like in a lot of first or second generation Asian American families, that shit don't fly. Seems like this is why you also started Asian Americans for Cannabis Education.
Monica Lo: I grew up in a little Dallas bubble and lived a pretty sheltered life. My first high actually happened in college—I went to an art school, so obviously it was in all social gatherings. I especially loved how creative it made us. Conversations were deeper, the art we created had more meaning, and it made shitty cafeteria food tolerable.
You’re totally right. As a first gen Asian, that ish don’t fly but, I’ve always been fairly responsible with my consumption and it was always in safe spaces. My parents never knew until I started dabbling in the cannabis industry two years ago. I have always been the rebellious one in the family and though my parents don’t always agree with my choices, I’ve been successful in my career and I lead a dope life. They freaked out, yes, but there had been enough studies on the medicinal and health benefits of cannabis that they were more open-minded.
What does it mean to you to be a female chef pioneering the cooking w/ cannabis industry? The food industry is known to be heavily male dominated and women in the kitchen sure as hell know how to roll with the punches?
ML: I’ve always worked in male-dominated industries so I have pretty tough skin. Luckily, we’ve seen a lot of women and minorities rise to the top in this new, legal cannabis industry and it’s pretty fucking awesome.
Sous vide sounds super high-tech, especially for someone like me who recently just mastered the rice cooker and coffee maker. Tell me more about your cookbook and the sequence of events that went from Sous Vide cooking, to Sous Vide weed-cooking, to Sous Weed? I know you mentioned you had a strict landlord.
ML: I’ve always been fascinated with cooking and the latest tech gadgets. A few years ago, I picked up the first ever sous vide device made by a start-up called Nomiku. My dad (a software engineer and also a food lover) had been hacking together rice cookers to cook at very regulated temperatures, much like a sous vide machine, and I was excited there was actually a device out there that didn’t have a million wires hanging out of it. I was new to San Francisco at the time and started posting my sous vide creations on Instagram. Coincidentally Nomiku is also headquartered in SF and they quickly hired me on as their creative director and second employee.
Sous vide cooking is really quite simple. You use a sous vide device to heat a pot of water to your temperature of choice, you put your food in a bag, and drop it into the water to cook to that perfect temperature.
For example, if you know a perfect medium-rare steak is 54ºC, you set your pot of water to that temperature, put your steak and marinade in the bag and drop it in the pot. The steak will cook and hold at that perfect temperature. You’ll never have to worry about over or undercooking. And since it’s inside a bag in a pot of water, you can fit as many steaks in as you’d like, making party or restaurant prep easy-peasy.
After two years of brand building and consumer education, we landed a huge book deal with Ten Speed Press. I shot 100+ recipes for the cookbook and since then it’s been a bestseller on many lists and featured on NPR. It’s currently in its 7th printing and we’re stoked!
The transition from sous vide to Sous Weed happened when I herniated a disc in my lower back. I was in excruciating pain and the doctors had put me on nine Ibuprophens and three Percocets a day. I was sick to my stomach, worried about my liver, and lived in a haze.
I decided to make the switch to cannabis for my pain management. Traditionally, when you make cannabis edibles, you need to babysit a crockpot or stovetop for hours while the infusion happens and the smell is overwhelming. I had a shitty landlord at the time so that was not gonna fly. I figured if I could seal my infusions in a bag, submerge it under water, there wouldn’t be any smell! It worked and I started healing myself with cannabis and documented my creations along the way.
The same way that people/chefs are talking about elevating Asian food through the use of fine ingredients, techniques etc.-- are you trying to do the same thing with weed cooking to also elevate and change perceptions? Why is food such a good medium to do the latter through?
ML: I’m just trying to treat cannabis as a culinary challenge like any other. Cannabis at it’s core is a vegetable. It’s versatile, nutritious, and so much more than just brownies and gummies.
Can you talk to us a little bit more about Sous Weed? How did you, Scott and Jose all come together?
ML: Chef Scott and Chef Jose both came from impressive culinary backgrounds in NYC, working with the likes of Jean-Georges and Thomas Keller. We hired Scott to be the executive chef at Nomiku and Jose went to run the kitchens at Google. Since I started dabbling in Sous Weed at Nomiku, I pulled the two of them in when interest started to pick up and we all began hosting secret pop-up dinners together.
What does it mean to you to be an Asian American?
ML: This question is really difficult. For me, it means not always being able to fit in with my Asian counterparts and also not feeling American enough. It's guilt for not keeping up with my Asian heritage but also pride for being a daughter of immigrants who came here with nothing but has achieved the "American Dream." It's the ability to embrace both cultures yet reject them as well.