Chef Ron Silver on the Science and Art of Cannabis Edibles
Ron Silver is founder and chief creative officer of Azuca, a culinary edibles brand created in 2013 that addresses the dosing and fast-acting problem that plagues the industry. After learning there was a void in the marketplace for trustworthy edibles, Ron drew the parallel between culinary techniques and the nature of the cannabis plant, consequently developing Azuca’s patent-pending TiME INFUSION™ process.
Ron is also chef and owner of Bubby’s, an iconic dining institution for nearly three decades. What started as a Tribeca-based pie shop on Thanksgiving Day in 1990 quickly turned into a successful brunch and dinner destination that now boasts locations in Tribeca and High Line as well as six restaurants in Japan.
We spoke with Ron for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Ron, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and now live in New York City. I moved here in 1987 after a brief stint in Atlanta.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
Based in New York, I am the founder and chief creative officer of Azuca, a culinary edibles brand that serves the cannabis industry with best-in-class, fast-onset edibles formulations. A lifelong cannabis enthusiast, I recognized there was a void in the cannabis marketplace for consistent and reliable dosing. I developed Azuca’s TiME INFUSION™ technology over a period of three years, which allows edibles to take effect in 2 to 15 minutes. The revolutionary method encapsulates each individual cannabinoid molecule and makes them “water-friendly,” allowing your body’s endocannabinoid system to process them almost immediately. The process is available through our licensing partnerships with the Wana Quick THC gummies line as well as with our own THC products that are sold in select Massachusetts dispensaries through our agreement with Patriot Care. Azuca also produces a line of fast-acting, hemp-derived CBD ingredients such as sugar, simple syrup, and chocolate coins.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Aside from my own personal benefits that are derived as a cannabis consumer for many decades, the most positive impact has been the newfound ability to work with first-time cannabis users to reap the medical benefits of cannabis—whether it is for alleviating pain and suffering in various ways, to helping people to go through their last moments without the cloud of opioids. When I first started using cannabis decades ago, I never expected that today the plant would help people in so many ways.
A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.
I am very old-school, and I have an encyclopedic memory of strains from as far back as 1976, when different strains started really showing up from all over the world. One of my favorite strains of all time is Santa Marta Gold, from Santa Marta, Colombia. These seeds still exist, and even though they are not the most profitable strains to grow—being big, wispy plants that take an extra six weeks to cultivate —people still do grow them. I’m also a fan of Wana Quick gummies, which are powered by Azuca, because of the fast-onset and because they deliver a controllable experience every time.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
With the constantly evolving nature of the cannabis industry, the biggest challenge we face is staying on top of the quickly changing regulations when it comes to the sale of cannabis products and how they vary state by state. For example, before the FDA changed regulations on selling CBD, we were selling Azuca-infused beverages at my restaurant, Bubby’s, and our customers loved the different CBD cocktails and mocktails on the menu. Now, we have to keep in mind new restrictions on selling CBD inside food and drink items. Our customers have been enjoying ordering CBD as a side with their coffee, tea and other drinks, but we wish we could offer even more options. As someone who has always had a deep understanding and love for cannabis, the nationwide shift toward normalization is inspiring, but it is always a challenge to market our products when regulations are constantly changing.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
I am excited about Azuca’s recent and upcoming partnerships allowing us to expand to new states, especially as we see more adult-use legalization measures being passed at a rapid pace. We recently partnered with Patriot Care, a Columbia Care company, to expand Azuca’s THC products into Massachusetts, a pioneering and rapidly growing market, and we are in talks to bring our fast-acting technology to even more audiences. Besides our own CBD products, our goal is to partner with the best brands in the industry and address the consumer demand for quality products that are predictable, precise and taste great. I think that products with anticipated, fast-acting effects, like Azuca, will continue to set themselves apart in the crowded cannabis edibles marketplace.
Another thing our own team is doing on the marketing front is a new segment in our monthly newsletter where we share a Q&A with cannabis leaders. We’ve already shared valuable insights from some of the most influential voices in the industry, such as Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s—a social justice crusader—and Rosemary Mazanet, chief scientific officer of Columbia Care, with our community of cannabis professionals. The industry is all about collaboration and I love how we can share thoughts and ideas for the greater good of cannabis.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
I am passionate about ending the disproportionate levels of incarceration of Black and brown individuals for nonviolent cannabis offenses. This is why I’m proud to support Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working to bring restorative justice to the cannabis industry and dedicated to releasing those incarcerated for cannabis and helping them rebuild their lives. Five percent of all Azuca’s sales go to the Last Prisoner Project.
A recent project you're proud of.
I am proud of Azuca’s recent expansion into Canada with our partners Indiva and Wana Brands. Wana Quick gummies powered by Azuca TiME INFUSION™ hit the shelves in Canada in March 2021, and it was a pleasure to work with one of the leading producers in Canada and the No. 1 edibles brand in North America to bring both delicious and fast-acting edibles products to our neighbors up north. It is rewarding to see Azuca’s technology used to help companies formulate products that taste better and deliver a more predictable edibles experience. Azuca addresses, mitigates and ultimately solves every industry pain point: waste reduction, shelf stability, flavor, innovation, fast onset, fast offset, and a reliable delivery mechanism. This is what I am most proud of.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
Honestly, I am a lab rat. I barely leave my table, so my main exposure is to people we work with, and I have to say that a lot of the vertically integrated operators, the ones who have survived the gyrations of cannabis coupled with the impact of the pandemic, have dug in and pivoted where needed. In particular, I have great admiration for Columbia Care and how they approach cannabis in general.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
I admire Nishan Karassik, co-founder of Phylos Bioscience. Phylos is doing an amazing job at gathering landrace seeds and preserving them, and mapping genomes and phenotypes as they develop in a seemingly endless manner. Phylos is also at the forefront of helping identify genomes that are high in certain cannabinoids or combinations of cannabinoids. All of this is in its nascent stages, and is some of the important work that needs to be done for cannabis to flourish.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
If I weren’t pursuing my entrepreneurial dreams in the cannabis industry, I would be spending even more time on my two other passions: food and art. In addition to Azuca, I am the owner of American comfort food restaurant Bubby’s, which has locations in New York City and Japan. I started Bubby’s as a pie pop-up shop in 1990 and have been at it for the past 30 years.
My background as a chef and restaurant owner also influenced how I developed cannabis edibles at Azuca, and it’s important to me to say that all of Azuca’s products are not only fast-acting, but delicious. We took an infused ingredient approach, so while the products can be used on their own, you can also bake/cook with them, and we have developed recipes for consumers to experiment for themselves. I am also a painter, and many of my paintings can be found on the walls at Bubby’s. In February of this year, we did a special exhibit in honor of Black History Month. I love being in the studio, and you see my work on my website.
Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.