Chef turned cannabis culinarian, Joaquin (Quino) Baca is one of the key creative forces behind Azuca.
A member of the Azuca team since the very beginning, Quino has helped build out a product line of pioneering cannabis edibles that not only taste amazing, but also set an industry standard for what it means to provide consumers with a trustworthy, consistent and reliable cannabis product.
Quino’s resume touts headlining names like Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ko and Ssäm Bar, which he opened up with food industry mogul and former business partner David Chang before venturing off on his own to open up Brooklyn Star in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Southwestern-meets-New-American style restaurant was a local gem and married Quino’s New York-based ambitions with his penchant for the smoky, Southwestern flavors he grew to love while living with cattle-ranching relatives in Texas. His latest restaurant, Teo, is set to open later this year.
Curious to hear chef Quino’s perspective on his new role with Azuca? We were, too.
In a recent Q&A session, Quino shared his thoughts on helming the kitchen crew of Azuca, his favorite product, and what he’s up to when he’s not in production mode (spoiler alert: chefs are always on the clock). Read on to see what he said.
How have your skills as a chef transferred to your role at Azuca?
Production and R&D are two major parts of my role at Azuca. The production part is second-nature to me. Logistics, organization – those are integral aspects of running a restaurant kitchen, and that’s what I do for a living. On the R&D side, my chef skills and experience come into play by way of problem-solving and ideas for inspiration. What I’m doing at Azuca is still ‘chef work,’ just on a slightly different scale with a slightly different medium.
What has surprised you the most about the process of producing a cannabis edibles line?
What’s most surprising about this whole process is being in a field that’s in such a nascent stage. There’s nothing to go on – no recipe book, very few pre-existing guidelines. It’s all super fascinating, but also a huge challenge because we have to come up with answers to problems that haven’t been solved.
Has that been the biggest challenge then – the fact that the edibles world is, for the most part, uncharted territory?
That’s definitely been one of the major challenges. Having to start from scratch is tough in and of itself, and with so few guidelines and regulations, the learning curve is steep. Other challenges we’ve faced so far have been related to the science and technology that’s involved with making such a precise, fast-acting and reliable product.
As chefs, we know how to make dishes and their component parts, but we’re used to taking tastes here and there, and figuring out what’s missing. When we do this, the end product is undoubtedly delicious, but there’s also a slight variance from dish to dish. We don’t do that with Azuca products, this is not that kind of environment. Scientific exactitude is of the utmost importance here, so we’re always sure to be hyper-organized and exact in everything we do.
What have been the successes?
Being that the edibles world is one without a lot of guidelines, trial and error has played a big role in getting us to where we are today. A lot of our successes have come about as a result of accidents and mistakes because they allow us the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and see where we went wrong. We’re constantly learning better and more efficient techniques, improving our products and dreaming up new ideas so that Azuca remains an innovative and exciting – while also reliable and trustworthy – product for our customers.
How did you become involved with Azuca?
I’ve known Ron [Silver; Azuca founder] since 2004, when I opened up Momofuku in the East Village. Ron and his family quickly became super regular customers at the restaurant and, since the initial design of Momofuku consisted of a small open kitchen, we got to know each other pretty well.
Ron and I have a lot in common since we’re both restaurant owners, and over the years we’ve had multiple talks about partnering up on a new venture – the problem was that the timing was never right. This time around with Azuca, the stars aligned. I’m in the middle of closing one restaurant and opening another [Teo], so when Ron came to me needing another set of hands, I thought, how can I resist?
What’s your favorite product from the line?
Pâte de fruits. A cool, old-school classic.
Where do you see Azuca in five years?
In five years, Azuca will be an industry gold standard. As a company, we are dedicated to removing the intimidation factor from edibles and providing people with a variety of products that allow them to customize their experience to their liking.
Sure, some people like to see brightly colored, Willy Wonka-inspired candies on the shelves, but we’re a product line, not a candy company and the reality is that a large number of people consuming edibles have little to no experience with cannabis. The friendly yet sophisticated, adult approach that we’re taking with Azuca is really important in this market and is going to be what helps solidify our reputation as one of the most trusted names in cannabis.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
As a restaurant chef, I’m always working. I also do carpentry, so right now I’m putting finishing touches on my new restaurant, Teo, before it opens later this year. Outside of all that, I love spending time with my son, Mateo – whose name inspired Teo – and I have hobbies like cycling, but my true passion is restaurants.