The Ube Doobie is a chewy, vivid purple pastry showered with toasted coconut flakes. Rob Menor, the chef who created it, describes it as a “big purple blunt,” partly because his recipe calls for a double dose of cannabis butter and coconut oil.
But “the star of the dish is that purple taste of the Philippines,” he says. “That sweet purple yam.”
Menor, who’s 36, grew up in Stockton, California, otherwise known as “Little Manila.” But he didn’t start cooking professionally until he moved to Lombard at 18 and began grinding at a series of low-profile kitchen jobs. “I was just a dishwasher that kept showing up,” he says. “I’m a dishwasher with a punctual habit.” He attended the erstwhile Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago too, but he didn’t make a name for himself until he moved back to northern California and started cooking Filipino street food at pop-ups, markets, and private parties under the handle Adobo Loko. He hit the road as well, mounting an exhausting schedule of traveling pop-ups across the country over the years. You might have tried his adobo pulled-pork sliders and sisig fries at the inaugural Kultura Festival in 2014, or Filipino tapas, aka pulutan, at Kimski two years ago. Last October he showed up as part of the promotional tour for Jacqueline Chio-Lauri’s book The New Filipino Kitchen, for which he wrote an essay; on that stop he made arroz caldo at Mariano’s in Lincoln Park, and dinuguan, aka “chocolate meat,” at E+O Food and Drink in Mount Prospect.
“Just campaigning state to state,” he says. “You know, like a candidate.”
Collaboration and connection are critical to his particular mission. “A lot of different Filipino chefs decided like, ‘Let’s move forward with a different philosophy than those before us.’ They want to take ownership of our food and represent it without fear. Whereas in the past it was like we had to strip so much away from it to make it available.”
Another one of those chefs is Charleen Caabay, who cooked in the Bay Area and conquered Chopped, but is now the cofounder of the Portland-based People’s Dispensary (which has applied for two dispensary licenses here in Illinois). In 2015 Caabay gave Menor a batch of her own cannabutter. The Raiders were playing the next day, and he wanted something to munch on during the game, so he whipped it into a bibingka, the slightly sweet, cheesy coconut rice-flour cake that appears most frequently around Christmas.
“I put it in my coffee too,” he says. “It was a good combo. I was like, ‘Damn, this bibingka and coffee, this is really something right here.’”
The BUDbingka was born, and so was the idea for Menor’s edibles line, 8th Street Treats (named for the Stockton street he grew up on), which he’s launching next month on Instagram.
“The future of food is going to be in cannabis,” he says. And legalization in Illinois is a big part of the reason he moved back to Chicago in February. “I knew something was gonna happen in Chicago,” he says. “It was time to come back and get planted down and base a couple things here.”
He got lucky and landed a job at a downtown cloud kitchen right before COVID-19 kneecapped brick-and-mortar restaurants, and he also thinks those are a big part of the future of the industry.
“They operate different commissaries and shoot food out to different luxury apartment buildings downtown,” he says. “I think it really opened it up for entrepreneurial-minded people to realize, ‘Man this is gonna be the growth right here for chefs.’ It lets chefs work for ourselves, with our own ideas in our own spaces.”
That model’s been an inspiration for his development of 8th Street Treats, which will also feature the Kush’inta, his version of the sticky rice cakes kutsinta, locked and loaded.
Oakland hip-hop legend Too Short has shaped his model as well. “He would drop these special request tapes for people who would want him to represent their party or put them on a record. That’s sort of the grind. I just thought, ‘Man that would be a pretty tight concept to apply.’”
In April, via Instagram, Menor began taking special requests and accepting donations from friends and acquaintances for Ube Doobies, each fortified with 20 mg of THC. Over the next year, he’ll be taking requests for the Kush’inta and BUDbingka too. And for football season he has a surprise in wait: another iconic infused Filipino dish, his first savory in the lineup. He’s keeping it to himself for now, but it’s a roasted protein situation, which I can only hope is some version of the essential Filipino pineapple-glazed holiday ham. But that’s just a guess.
He’s enrolled in Oakton Community College’s cannabis certification classes, with the aim of applying for a state infuser’s license. He’s planning a return to pop-ups too. A ten-seat, three-course infused menu is in the works for October. Special requests for Ube Doobies in September will include a socially distanced spot.
In the meantime “there’s always gonna be a lot of drops, and releases, and other new stuff along the way,” he says. v