How Haejin Chun Uses Weed and Food to Create a New Type of Gathering
The infusion chef behind Big Bad Wolf shares her secrets to creating connections that last.
Haejin Chun is known for fun, flavorful infused pop-ups throughout the Bay Area. A small media mention of one of her first infused dinners in 2016 ensured that every event that followed sold out. Her events were distinguished by a uniquely welcoming, vibey energy, and they went under the production name Big Bad Wolf.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and any sort of communal events disappeared from all calendars, you can imagine Chun’s existential spiral. It made her question whether this was a sustainable business, and what her purpose was when the ability to create these experiences was taken away. Then, as virtual smoke sessions and weed-friendly Zoom panels began to emerge, Chun did a double-take the first time she heard mention of Big Bad Wolf dinners come up in conversation.
“The last dinner that I did was in March of 2020, right before the lockdown, and I’m still seeing collabs and connections arise from that one dinner,” says Chun. “Someone saying that so-and-so they met at my dinner just designed their new brand logo or will be a part of some cool campaign. It showed me how much bigger this all is than I am.”
Then Chun was tapped as an expert and in-house advisor for Discovery+’s weed-infused cooking show, Chopped 420, which premiered in April 2021. A few months later, when she announced a date for her first IRL event back in the saddle, she sold out before opening registration to the general public. Her initial outreach to past attendees resulted in the sale of every available ticket. That’s what really proved to Chun that she was onto something.
“It’s about watching the ripple effect of those connections—it’s what not only brings me joy, but it’s my purpose,” says Chun. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than watching people find their tribe.”
Although, on paper, the cannabis and cuisine are the stars of the show, those elements are merely steps for Chun to get to do what she’s really good at. Looking at her journey, growing up in Southern California, cannabis was “all over.” She partook, enjoyed, and may or may not have sold eighths of flower alongside bouquets from her first job at a florist. And, yes, the influences of her Korean family, regional Mexican cuisine, and a two-year stint in Paris after college have resulted in a delicious sense of flavor and ingredients.
“There’s nothing more fulfilling than watching people find their tribe.”
“Food and cannabis are more the tools in bringing people together,” says Chun. “I’m more interested in the magic that happens around the table. The seed of Big Bad Wolf was actually planted in Paris, where I hosted dinners up on the amazing rooftop of my apartment building, with everyone lounging and drinking wine until the late hours of the night. I found myself cooking and learning techniques in order to host birthday parties, brunches—whatever my group of friends had a need for.”
Chun had just graduated art school with a focus on installation, which turned out to be just as relevant a step towards Big Bad Wolf, as well.
“Events are ephemeral—once they’ve happened, they’re gone,” she says. “When I’m building these pop-up spaces, it’s unique every time based on the layout and vibe of the space, and that’s kind of exactly what I did in school: built interactive spaces. The skillsets translate.”
When her Parisian salon host fantasy came to an end, she tried running a jewelry brand back on the West Coast, but couldn’t ignore the rising culture of pop-up experiences all around her. So, she decided to throw one. It wasn’t a weed-centric event, per se, but people smoked out back or joined Chun for a sesh between courses. It was “organically involved.”
People kept buying tickets, so she kept organizing dinners. That early writeup garnered her a dedicated following, California legalized cannabis within the next year, and the Herb Somm blog reached out shortly after for a specifically cannabis-centric experience, followed by other friends in the industry. As Chun puts it, “it would’ve been more work to not lean into weed.”
“At restaurants, you never talk to the people around you and rarely talk to the chef, but here you get to meet people and have a communal experience,” she continues. “Part of the inspiration for Big Bad Wolf is something my grandma told me. In a wolf pack, the leader often leads from the back, making sure his pack gets wherever it’s trying to get. I try my best to guide my community and make sure everyone is having a good time. In all realness—it also just sounds cool.”