A Cultural Love Story | High Times


For Alessandro Zecca and Danielle Duran-Zecca, a husband-and-wife team of culinary dynamos, the concept of romance language takes on many forms. It’s in their signature cuisine, “Mexitalian,” which merges Zecca’s Italian heritage with Danielle’s upbringing in Los Angeles as the child of Guadalajaran immigrants. It’s in their buzzy new LA restaurant, Amiga Amore, which serves up Mexitalian dishes in a cozy space created by the couple themselves. And it’s also in their shared love of cannabis and its incorporation into their fine-dining pop-ups. 

Like so many love stories, this one started in New York City.

“I went to culinary school in Pasadena at Le Cordon Bleu,” said Duran-Zecca. “The restaurant scene in LA wasn’t as booming as it is now, and I needed a change. I got an opportunity in New York City and bought a one-way ticket, sold everything but two suitcases, and went to go work at Le Bernardin to get Michelin star training.”

After working in the famed French eatery for one year as a line cook, learning and elevating through the ranks, she landed a sous chef position at The Modern restaurant in The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Through that position, she met Zecca.

“We had so much in common,” she said. “He was opening up a restaurant, and he was also on crutches. He had hurt himself and we ended up living like off of the same train. I helped him home… I was just a really nice girl.”

Originally from Italy, Zecca had been working in New York as a restaurant manager. Having grown up in the kitchen of the restaurant where his mother worked her way from server to owner, he was ready to open a spot of his own.

In 2009, he hired Duran-Zecca (at that time, just Duran) to be the chef of his first restaurant, Vespa, in New York. It thrived until an astronomical rent raise in 2017 forced the restaurant to close.

“We had gotten everything out of New York and we wanted to start a family,” said Duran-Zecca. “We wanted to have a restaurant again of our own, and we just didn’t feel like we could get it again there.”

The pair moved back to Duran-Zecca’s native Los Angeles and began hosting pop-ups around the city featuring a cuisine they dubbed “Mexitalian.”

With dishes like huitlacoche cacio e pepe and chile Colorado cavatelli, Mexitalian merges their respective lineages in an unexpected way that reflects their many years in fine dining. The food is chic and delicious, with an air of whimsy as opposed to the pretense that often makes fine dining feel inaccessible.

It was through these Mexitalian pop-ups that they linked up with Cannabis Supper Club, an LA-based cannabis dining collective, and started incorporating weed into their culinary experience. Before that, the frequent smokers had only dabbled with making edibles for friends, mainly using cannabis as medicine for themselves.

“My relationship with the cannabis plant is strong and passionate,” said Zecca. “It lets my creativity flow and helps me relax when I need it most.” 

“It’s my medicine,” said Duran-Zecca. “My family comes from a lot of mental health issues. They all have anxiety, bipolar, this and that. I just never wanted to take pills. But being a chef is a high-stress job. [Cannabis is] my relaxation.

“When I got in touch with the Cannabis Supper Club, it mashed what I love to do outside of work, which is smoke, with my love for fine dining. We were delivering a higher, no pun intended, experience.”

Their cannabis dinners are centered more on the idea of pairing cannabis with food, either with dabs and flower or by adding THC or CBD drops to dishes after they’re prepared, as opposed to infusing the food itself, which can be tricky when it comes to consistent dosing for large groups. 

“We weren’t necessarily infusing the food, but we were pairing it like you would with wine,” Duran-Zecca said. “It was beautiful. The care that went into growing that flower is the same care that went into growing the farmers’ market mushrooms that I used, you know? And it wasn’t about getting faded or anything like that. No alcohol was served. All guests can partake in the cannabis aspect of the experience as much or as little as they please, then take the goodie bag home and experiment.” 

After five years of running pop-ups around Los Angeles, gaining momentum behind their Mexitalian cuisine, the couple was able to open Amiga Amore, a brick-and-mortar Mexitalian restaurant, aptly near where Duran-Zecca grew up in Highland Park.

“The restaurant has been a labor of love,” she said. “It used to be a jewelry store, so there was no kitchen. There was no bar. There were no water lines. We did a lot of work, and we did a lot of it to ourselves.

“We’re really, really proud of it. It’s not the fanciest of restaurants, but it’s our aesthetic to feel like you’re in our home. The fancy part and the whole show come out on the plate. We want you to feel comfortable and homey and relaxed, then get wowed as the food starts to arrive.”

As for what they’re looking forward to next?

 “We’re just excited to keep being in our home, you know?” Duran-Zecca said. “I think we were a pop-up for so long that we got used to just always picking up and being on the move. It feels so nice that it is all here. I just come in and I turn on the lights.”

Mahi-Mahi Aguachile Infused With CBD or THC

Recipe by Amiga Amore
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

Broth:

2 apples (Granny Smith preferred)
2 cucumbers (either 2 Persian or ½ hothouse variety, sliced into half-circles)
1 serrano pepper
¼ cup water
½ cup lime juice

Aguachile:

1 pound mahi-mahi (or any other fish you like and can slice thin)
½ small red onion 
6 radishes, sliced thin
1 avocado, sliced thin
1 bunch of cilantro
1 jalapeño, sliced thin

Method:

  1. Juice apples, cucumber, and serrano pepper together. Mix with lime juice and water. If you don’t have a juicer, place all ingredients in a blender and purée.
  2. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the contents from the blender into it.
  3. Let this drain for 20 min. Do not push the mixture through as you want this liquid to be clear. Salt to taste and refrigerate.
  4. Slice red onion, radish, avocado, and jalapeño thin, set aside. Chop cilantro. Put a little lime juice over red onion to remove the sharp raw taste.
  5. Slice fish to ⅛ in. thick, not too thin.
  6. Arrange mahi-mahi with the red onion, radish, avocado, jalapeno and cilantro. Place onto a plate and pour broth over fish with salt. 
  7. Serve with saltine crackers, or chips of your choice.

To infuse, use a dropper to add CBD or THC to the liquid broth:

5 mg THC to start (add more if needed)
10 mg CBD to start (add more if needed)

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.





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