Janet Zuccarini is founder and CEO of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group, which has venues in Los Angeles and Toronto. Recently they opened Gusto Green restaurant in Los Angeles focused on cannabis Green Street development. The new spot is one of the first federally licensed restaurants to serve hemp-based dishes, supplied by Ziese Farms—the first farm licensed to produce food-grade hemp.
Gusto Green, as an idea, has been in the works for several years as I tried to find the right home to bring the idea to life. I had this amazing dining experience in Singapore where you went to visit a traditional Chinese medicine doctor at a counter and then went to sit in a restaurant with the food he basically prescribed you to eat. It was 27 years ago. And I thought, while I was having this meal, this was the future of food, where food is medicine.
Since then I have opened up a variety of different concepts. I started with an Italian restaurant 25 years ago. Now we have Thai restaurants, Jamaican restaurant, Middle Eastern restaurant, etc. But I must have a connection with food. I lived eight years in Italy. I have lived in Southeast Asia, which is why I have an affinity for Thai cuisine. I’m also just a food lover. I love to eat. I like cooking. I love restaurants.
In Europe, France and Italy, we eat well and enjoy life. I want to cause something like this. My diet has changed a bit over the years, influenced by the environment and what’s happening on our planet. How I Want to Eat – and I think there are quite a few people who lean that way, especially in LA – puts plants first. I eat everything, so this restaurant is suitable for omnivores. But we make sure that if it’s meat, it’s grass-fed. If it’s fresh, it’s sustainable.
Seven years ago, Green Street developer Sean Beddoe first approached me and showed me the space. He explained that Green Street was going to be all cannabis-related businesses. He wanted to know if I would be okay with that. But I consider cannabis as another plant. We weren’t even talking about CBD yet. At the time, I said we would eventually be allowed to legally infuse CBD, so let’s launch this brand, and when it’s legal, we’ll be ready.
We are always looking for ways to incorporate hemp into the menu. We made a hemp spice zaatar. We have a gluten-free cookie that contains hemp leaves. We also take the whole hemp leaf and put it into a batter until it becomes almost like a kale chip, and it has some great flavors. What farmers have been doing is growing different hemp leaves with different flavor profiles. So you could have one more lemony, another a little more peppery. It is interesting for a chef to start working with these sheets.
There will come a day when you can infuse both THC and CBD. I’m looking at it more from a health benefits perspective. People are moving away from smoking, so they want to have THC and CBD in different ways. But that could be in 10 years. That’s why we don’t wait.
Yet hemp is not at the heart of all of Gusto Green’s business. I don’t want it to be. This may seem borderline gimmicky. We’re just serious about treating food as medicine. I’m a big believer in eating whole foods. We look at the farmers market and change the menu to go with it, being hyper seasonal, hyper hyper local.
We call ourselves omnivore friendly, but we try to lean on plants. We have a lot of plant-based food products. If you want gaucho steak, you can get it. But it’s grass-fed, and it will be the best source of good quality meat. After all, you might have a group of friends, and one friend isn’t vegetarian or vegan. Or maybe that person is pescatarian. We don’t want someone to say, “Well, I don’t want to go because I don’t eat that way. We want to have food for everyone.