While growing up, sisters Roshelly and Shanelly Pena would have never thought they’d one day become chefs. Let alone chefs who curate savory cannabis-infused menus — yes, entire menus — of what they refer to as “power dishes,” desserts, and mocktails, all centered around flower. The sisters turned business partners are founders of the Higher Dining Experience, a lifestyle cannabis brand that meshes ambiance with Latin flavors and a side of high times.
Higher Dining has become a hub for cannabis users and newcomers alike, looking to flavorfully experiment with the psychoactive. On the menu, you might find carne asada with a sauté of THC-infused chimichurri, guava chicken wings made with canna oil, or zooted cinnamon toast crunch cereal that you can munch on while getting baked. “Our goal is to always heighten the [THC] experience,” the sisters told LATINA. The Higher Dining culinary series is a social and interactive invitation to taste different strains, handmade pre-rolled joints, and microdosed creations that reach a maximum of 35 milligrams of THC.
Shanelly and Roshelly Pena. Courtesy of Higher Dining
“We love hosting events, we love cooking, and we love weed.” Roshelly puts it simply. In 2017, they came up with the plan to host their first cannabis dinner party in their mom’s backyard in Northern New Jersey. “The day of our first event, it started pouring, so everyone had to take it inside. It was so funny — seeing how my mom, who was so against this plant, allowed our guests to roll up at her dining room table and enjoy the medicine, the event, and the experience we were creating.”
If there’s one thing you’ll sense above all else in a Higher Dining main course, it’s Shanelly and Roshelly’s Dominican roots. It all started in their family kitchen. “[Our] mom’s always been a host — like a Dominican Martha Stewart — and has always been so elaborative with whatever she hosts. Even if you go to her home and you’re just going to have coffee, she makes it an experience.” That taste of Latinidad seeps through their dishes. As does Roshelly and Shanelly’s acute understanding of varying cannabis strains. Higher Dining has built a synergistic community and, as Roshelly puts it, has given their clients an experience where they can enjoy a joint alongside a curated meal.
Courtesy of Higher Dining
Today, the drug-war era stigma against marijuana use persists, despite its mass commercialization across the U.S. A survey on the now billion-dollar trade, “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Cannabis Industry,” reports that as of 2022, only 23% of executive roles are held by women in the cannabis industry, and only 12% by racial minorities.
The Harlem-born founders are aiming to change the conversation about what cannabis can be while challenging those statistics. Back in 2017, when the Pena sisters first started their business, Sour Diesel and Haze may have been the more commonly known strains, but now there’s so much more variety to experience. “We want our guests to always have a great experience that is also tasteful. Everything about the [cannabis] plant plays a role, from the THC levels to the terpenes (aromatic oils that give weed its distinctive smell). And it tastes good!” They source the “medicine” — a term they use to refer to the flower — themselves, mentioning that even by smelling the strain, you can tell the kind of high you’ll have. “We classify the strains based on the terpenes known to the strain. We also create our own flavor profiles based on what we smell and taste,” they explained. By using Grade-A cannabis, they ensure their clients are provided quality supply, especially since each strain has a different taste and effect.
Shanelly and Roshelly envision their events as a place where people can come together, and feel safe and free while enjoying the use of the recreational and medicinal plant. It serves as an environment where guests bond over the way cannabis makes them individually feel, where a social high is welcome, and the experience becomes not only about taste, but about community.
Roshelly, a pastry chef, and Shanelly, fresh out of culinary school when this all began, went into it with a “let’s try it” mentality. When the very first Higher Dining supper was a huge hit, the question of what was next was now on the table. “How are we going to provide for our [cannabis] community?” Though a brick-and-mortar location is in the works, the sisters don’t plan to shut the door on hosting pop-ups in different cities. “I think that’s where Higher Dining began and it’s kind of our essence.”