Meet Chef Wendy Zeng, Ardent Owner & Winner of Chopped 420

You may recognize Wendy’s name from when we shared her cannabis-infused Sichuan chili oil recipe during the holiday season, or from her infused traditional dan dan noodles recipe Lunar New Year feature. 

After competing and winning in the 420-friendly food competition show, Chopped 420, we spoke with Wendy about her experience and the recipe she made that won over the judges! She touches on what it’s really like to be an Asian in Cannabis and the importance of representation as the industry continues to evolve.

Read Wendy’s full interview below and check out additional resources from Asians in the cannabis community in celebration of Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM).

Tell us about yourself. What’s your background?

I was born in the city of Chengdu, within China’s Sichuan province. I started cooking in my grandpa’s kitchen when I was 6 and have always been immersed in the flavors and techniques of the region’s complex cuisine through exploring my hometown and regular family trips to the countryside. We moved to Memphis, Tennessee when I was 10, and quickly fell in love with southern BBQ and soul food. Despite moving halfway around the world, I found a sense of familiarity through food as a way to celebrate family, honor history, and the dishes that bring us together. I’ve been lucky enough to call LA my home for the last 14 years and I’m constantly inspired by the food and cannabis community here.

What was your Chopped 420 experience like?

Stressful and fun! Surreal and meant to be… sometimes, the best experiences are the ones that give us conflicting feelings. I had a ton of hesitations about going on the show but in the end, I believed it would be a cool experience as long as I did it with intentions aligned with my values. Win or not, I wanted to represent my communities (Asian x fem x food x cannabis) and what we’re about. It was so validating once I met the other chefs. They were all down to earth, community oriented people that aligned with what I’ve experienced in the cannabis hospitality scene. I’m so glad I took this opportunity to challenge myself and most importantly, have fun in the process.

What recipe did you make that won the competition?

Once it was just down to the 2 finalists, we were judged on all 3 courses so it’s hard to say which exact dish took me to the top. Overall, the judges thought I had the most interesting infusions across all three. I think I used more than half of the items in the greenhouse so there were multiple infused elements in every dish I made. I wish I still had access to the greenhouse, haha! There were so many cool products and strains inside. I was in my happy place!

What was the surprise basket ingredient you had to work with + special “cannabis pantry” item?

Each round we had a different mystery stash box filled with random “stoner foods.” The weirdest items were in the 2nd round. We had a Rochester specialty called “the garbage plate,” which consists of home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans, or french fries topped with cheeseburger patty and dressed with spicy mustard, chopped onions, and hot sauce. Sounds like a dream or a nightmare depending on who you ask. We also had chocolate dentures (because that’s a thing?), nopales, and pork chops. With so many random items, I ended up doing tacos three ways to showcase complimentary flavors among these seemingly random items. I made a grilled pork taco, a refried potato and nopales taco, and a ground beef taco. Nopales are notoriously slimy so I made sure to pan sear with lots of oil and deglaze the pan with some CBD apple cider vinegar. I also made a mole sauce with the chocolate dentures and smoked some cotija cheese with some actual cannabis flowers as a topping for my tacos.

What is your favorite infused dish to make using the Ardent FX?

We were allowed to make a specialty infusion to bring into the competition with us and I’m so glad they had the Ardent FX on site for me to use. I made my famous chili sauce, which I used in my spotted prawn ceviche in the appetizer round. I’m all about democratizing access when it comes to food and knowledge so I love sharing my recipes, especially the ones that highlight my hometown. I’m currently developing a recipe to launch a chili sauce you can buy online and in stores.

Photo Credit: Haejin Chun, @bigbadwolfsf

How has life changed since the episode aired on 4/20?

BUSY! I’m trying to make sure I make time to relax and enjoy all the wonderful humans in my life. Sometimes when you’ve got good things popping off, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself to keep producing, keep creating, keep working. I don’t want to be so caught up in the hustle that I’m no longer enjoying the journey. The show also kickstarted some dope collabs. All the chefs from the show are now friends with each other and we’re working on producing some cool events this year. That’s what this is all about, lifting each other up and witnessing each other’s success together.

What does the plant mean to you?

Healing and connectivity. It’s always been a connective medium leading me to form friendships and experiences that teach me more about life and myself. I use it to expand my consciousness and connect to perspectives outside my own. Whether it’s having more empathy and tapping into creative problem solving or coming up with new culinary creations, cannabis helps to enhance the experience. It’s also a helluva de-stresser and hangover cure.

Talk to us about being an Asian in Cannabis.

Being an Asian in cannabis is both challenging and exciting. On one hand, just like how we don’t have proper representation in history or media, the issue extends into the cannabis space too. I follow so many amazing Asian chefs who are finding the most creative ways to incorporate cannabis in their cooking. They are so impressive and deserving of the spotlight. Sichuan food is perfect for infusion because our cuisine is all about layered flavors that play off of each other. Terps galore! I’m hoping by using it just as another herb/spice, it can help create new associations for people, especially Asians who still largely think of cannabis as a “drug”. The direct translation for drugs in Chinese is 毒品 which means “poison”. I hope we can replace the “poison” association for the Asian community with “a great time with friends” association.

Interested in learning more about Wendy? Follow her on Instagram!

What the Asian Community in Cannabis is Saying

Credit: Highly Human, @highlyhuman

Ardent stands in solidarity with the Asian community and encourages our Owners to explore the voices and resources featured below. Given the increased anti-Asian racism and attacks on the elderly community, the AAPI community seeks accountable allyship and support during this time. Our hope is that by offering these resources, the Ardent community will continue to educate themselves and share their learnings with one another.

Amplify Asian Representation

The need for representation in the media is essential for change. Grass x Grass is a collective that aims to inspire, educate, and empower Asian-Americans to work with, heal with and openly enjoy cannabis. In Episode 1 featuring multidisciplinary Creative, Monica Lo of Sousweed and Ardent Owner; Chef Haejin Chun of Big Bad Wolf SF; Jordan Lam of California cannabis brand, Permanent Holiday; and Geraldine Mae Cueva, Ardent’s in-house Community Manager. The group navigates conversation around de-stigmatization of cannabis within their Asian families and how their cultures allow for differentiation in the industry.

Learn More About Black & Asian Solidarity

Coming together means engaging in conversation with the community to learn from another. In collaboration with Kieryn Wang of ALMOSTCONSULTING and co-collaborator of InclusiveBase, the team at Sesh-Ins hosted a dialogue around Black and Asian solidarity to understand the parallels between the communities. The resources compiled provide the history of allyship, activism, and organizations to connect with and learn from.

Equity & Supporting Asian-Owned or BIPOC Businesses

Nina Parks kept leaning into the conversations she was having at San Francisco’s public cannabis meetings that would eventually turn into the city’s equity program. Together with Tsion “Sunshine” Lencho, Amber Senter, and Andrea Unsworth, they founded Supernova Women — an organization dedicated to empowering women of color and giving them the tools they need to be successful stakeholders in the legal cannabis industry. Additionally, Nina became a co-founder of the Original Equity Group — a facet within the San Francisco Cannabis Equity Working Group — lowering the barriers of entry into the space through an educational crash course that navigates both regulation and business. As an active participant in bringing diversity to the industry, Nina also founded her own cannabis brand, Gift of Doja, to bring to the California legal market.

Take Time to De-Program & Heal

Will Ace founded Highly Human to raise awareness and consciousness through designs and experiences intending to normalize discourse on cannabis and mental health — topics uncommon in many Asian-American upbringings. As a space that centers the LGBTQIA+ Global Majority (BIPOC), Will believes it’s important we cultivate a community of care and support. As a member of his virtual community he encourages practicing mindfulness, compassion, and grace while unlearning and learning through this process.