“I grew up in my grandfather’s kitchen,” says Chef Zeng, remembering her big family meals every weekend, in Sichuan, China. The diverse geography in the region helps to create all the specialty ingredients that are native to the area. It’s known as the land of plenty, with an abundance of ingredients inspiring the food and stoking the culture around good food.
Wendy moved to Memphis, Tennessee as a child, leaving behind the incredible food community she’d grown up in to enter a space where Asian culture was sparse. Her parents hosted dinner parties as a way of staying connected to home, and Wendy was always eager to help, continuing to hone her Sichuan cooking skills. “At the same time, I was a kid in America, starting to explore all of this amazing southern barbeque and soul food.” At a young age, she was naturally creating fusion food, by drawing inspiration from both of her homes.
Wendy left Memphis to go to college in Los Angeles and hasn’t left since. She loves the ever-evolving nature of the city, and its post-modern feel. “All the Sichuan places here are competing with each other for the palate of ex-pat Sichuan people.” Wendy loves the accessibility of authentic ethnic food all over the city, and wanted to create a community of her own.
When California legalized cannabis, Wendy realized she wanted to help other people navigate using cannabis in a safe way, empower them to address their needs, and fight the stigma around canabis consumption. Her first cannabis-infused pop-up was in a secret garden, offering dumplings from different cultures around the world, like pierogies, empanadas, and steam dumplings. Each dumpling has different infused sauces, so it was easy to dose people. People had such a good time, that they wanted more.
“Even if you’re somebody who wants to get into cannabis and wants to be a user, you might have certain associations that you don’t even want to subscribe to, but that’s just the overwhelming narrative that’s been pushed.” Wendy wants to push against that overwhelming narrative. By creating spaces that are centered around community, and self-empowerment through education, Chef Zeng is fighting the stigma around cannabis consumption, and finding her own community.
When Chef Zeng was contacted to be on Chopped420, she wasn’t completely sure she wanted to do it. She’d watched the show and seen how intense it was, and didn’t want to have to trash talk opponents or do anything that wasn’t true to herself. While on the show, she was intimidated at first, she was the underdog in terms of age and experience. Wendy was shocked when she was crowned winner. She felt that her focus on having a good time and letting go of perfectionist habits launched her into her success on the show. She remembers telling herself “I really need to just have fun because that’s what’s going to come through on screen, and that’s the vibe I want to send about what it’s like to be a chef in this space.”
What is Wendy Zeng up to now? She’s working on an exciting project, while she redefines cannabis consumption and it’s interception with great food. Months before COVID shut down the world, Wendy and her husband invested in an 9,000 sq ft property in Los Angeles, to bring their idea of a cannabis farm to table event space to life. In their garden, they grow heirloom veggies, cannabis plants, and asian veggies that Wendy remembers from growing up in Sichuan.
“The hope is that when people come to do these monthly or weekly chef tasting menus with the seasonal things we’re growing in the garden, they are also able to consume the canabis we are growing in the garden.” This mindful, holistic approach to dining and cannabis consumption, where you are surrounded by the natural ingredients you are putting in your body, is what Chef Zeng hopes the new normal could become for cannabis consumption.
Though her weekly dinners may look differnent now than those she remembers helping her grandfather with growing up, certainly, a strong sense of community and an emphasis on good food contonies to persist as a common thread throughout her life.