This April, join us as we take a deep dive into the future of food. Here's where now meets next.
"I think everyone and their brother is looking to get into this right now," cookbook author Raquel Pelzel says.
The "this" in question is the world of edibles—a truly budding industry right now. Though only four states have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use, another 20 and the District of Columbia have legalized it with a prescription. And those numbers could go up this fall with legalization measures on the ballot in several states, helping the artisanal edibles industry bloom even bigger.
Legal Sparkling Tonic | Photo: Courtesy of Mirth Provisions
"It's like the Wild, Wild West; there's so much possibility," Pelzel adds. She's not the only one thinking like this. Chefs like Chicago's Mindy Segal, New York's Miguel Trinidad and others are using their culinary acumen to replace bad pot brownies and gummy bears with weed-infused spicy cheddar crackers, a buzzy iced coffee drink and even steak tartare with truffle oil that's got a little something special.
We chatted with five people who are taking the edibles world higher with weed-infused tasting menus, edibles cookbooks and cookies so pretty, they look like they were pulled straight from Martha Stewart's oven. This isn't your standard puff piece.
Photo: Jennifer Olson
The News Maker: Mindy Segal, Mindy's First Batch
Arguably no one in the edibles space has drawn more attention lately than Segal, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef who announced in December that she is working to create an edibles line in Illinois to be sold at medical dispensaries. It's about "giving back to those suffering from chronic conditions by reinventing the marijuana-infused sweets industry," she said at the time.
Though the line was slated to be released in February, the test batches of Segal's first two products—a dark chocolate brittle made with toffee, smoked almonds and caramel, and another with milk chocolate peanut butter and peanut brittle—were released just last week. "Once we get feedback info, we'll know how to proceed with other products," she tells us from the laboratory of Cresco, her partner, which distills cannabis into a product she can cook with.
Those "other" products will include several brittles and granola bars, which Segal says are the same as what she would serve at her restaurant and dessert spot Mindy's Hot Chocolate. "I've been making these brittles for years. So I'm just converting them," she says. That's something Cresco has enabled. The pot-infused oil she is using for most of the products is flavorless.
While Segal knows she is one of the first chefs of her caliber to enter the cannabis world, she says, "I'm growing as a chef. I'm meeting patients who are in need. . . . I'm providing a service just as I would in a restaurant—just like making chicken soup." She adds, "I'm hoping others will follow me."
Photo: Chris Garcia
The Entrepreneur: Miguel Trinidad, 99th Floor
Around the country—in both states where it's legal and where it's not—there have been whispers lately of underground pot dinners, meals where chefs are infusing dishes with cannabis in inventive ways: Think beyond brownies to steak tartare with cannabis-infused truffle oil and salad dressed with canna-oil.
One of the people behind those dinners is Trinidad, the founding chef of New York's hit Filipino restaurants Jeepney and Maharlika. He and his business partner, Doug Cohen, have put on the five-course dinners for up to 60 people in L.A. and reportedly for smaller groups in New York City (though Trinidad won't confirm or deny that fact). Trinidad, who calls himself a connoisseur of cannabis, embraces the flavors of different strains and says he lets them inspire the meals: A citrusy Hawaiian kush, for example, led to a vegetable-focused meal, while a sour chem gives his signature vegan chocolate ice cream a cinnamon flavor.
But the dinners are just one arm of what Trinidad and Cohen are growing into an edibles enterprise called 99th Floor. This summer, the two will debut their dosed hard candies at California dispensaries. The candies, which Trinidad likens to pastilles, will come in flavors like blueberry, guava lemonade, strawberry, raspberry, guava, coffee and lemon. "I don't want to do brownies, cookies, Rice Krispies treats. Everyone does it, and they're not that great," Trinidad says. The idea is to ultimately launch in other states, and there's talk of an edibles cookbook, which, like some of his dinners, Trinidad won't confirm, simply saying, "We are considering it."
Photo: Evan Sung
The Writer: Raquel Pelzel, In the Marley Kitchen
Before signing on to write a cookbook with Bob Marley's daughter, Cedella Marley, former Tasting Table food editor and cookbook author Pelzel says, "I had never cooked with marijuana." So there was a bit of a learning curve. The first time she toasted weed for a recipe the temperature was too high. "There was a giant poof of smoke. I yelled, 'Everyone hold your breath,'" she jokes. But she notes, "I started to geek out about this whole new area. There's so much science behind it all."
Fittingly, her book, tentatively called In the Marley Kitchen and slated to come out from longtime cookbook editor Pam Krauss's imprint next year, breaks down how and when to add cannabis to the 60 to 70 recipes in it. "It's like a variation [to the recipes]," Pelzel says. "Lots of edible cookbooks don't have that option."
In the book, weed works its way into lots of Jamaican dishes that Cedella cooks at home, with "Scotch bonnet, turmeric, Jamaican curry powder, fresh thyme, and lots of traditional Jamaican ingredients and flavors," which mask the flavor. But in other places, it's highlighted, like in a Grape-Nuts ice cream: "The cannabutter almost took on this brown butter flavor. It tasted almost sage-y. It tasted beautiful," Pelzel explains. But she warns, "You've got to be careful—it's almost like oversalting a dish. You can always add more, but you can't take it away."
Photo: Joe Holdsworth Photography
The Baker: Diana Isaiou, American Baked Co.
"Up until now, everything was geared toward 18-year-old stoner dudes," American Baked Co. owner Isaiou says. Her new baking company in Seattle turns out weed-infused spicy cheddar crackers, chocolate-covered espresso beans, sugar-crusted raspberry fruit pâté and lemon sandwich cookies with raspberry filling that wouldn't look out of place on a Pinterest board. But taste them, and you'll know they are edibles. "It's a mistake to not leave any taste [of the cannabis]. Terpenes [the compounds which give marijuana its flavor] are kind of like the terroir of a wine," she says. The look, branding and taste of Isaiou's products are crucial to her. She's spent most of her career working as a recipe developer, consultant and food stylist for companies like Starbucks.
Two years ago, when Washington State started accepting applications for licenses to open marijuana-related businesses, she signed up, almost on a whim. "I always wanted to open a food company but never knew what kind," she explains over the phone as she drives a shipment to another town.
Her license came through only last fall, and getting the business up and running hasn't been without its challenges. Those fruit pâtés involved a lengthy discussion with a state inspector about what defines a "gummy." In Washington, she explains, edibles "can't be especially appealing to children or brightly colored or be a gummy." As a mother, she understands the concern. "We put our stuff into boxes where you can't see the things inside. A kid can't open this container. . . . I'm trying to think ahead of the curve to what people would have a problem with. Because I'm a parent, I want to alleviate those fears."
Photo: Courtesy of Mirth Provisions via Facebook
The Buzz Maker: Adam Stites, Mirth Provisions
Stites was camping in Washington State when he first started to think about a weed-infused coffee drink. "I've always been a big French press guy, and I was thinking, 'Man, I could infuse cream with cannabis.'" When he got home, he tried it and started to feel the effects about 15 minutes in. "Fourteen hours later I woke up," he says. Despite a too-high first dosage, he says, "I knew I was on to something."
He's gone on to create a line of cannabis-infused sodas called Relax. It's legal with fruit grown in the state's Yakima Valley. There's a fizzy lemon and ginger one made with indica, which relaxes imbibers, and a pomegranate option with a sativa blend that's "uplifting, something you have before you go out," he adds. Recently, the team added a cranberry soda to the mix with cannabidiol (CBD), "which works in concert with the THC. . . . It brings the anxiety level down. It's a clear, level, focused high," Stites says.
In two months, things will come full circle when he releases a bottled coffee beverage laced with chocolate and vanilla that's meant to be served cold (though, you could heat it up, he concedes). "You feel the effects of caffeine immediately, and the cannabis takes 30 to 60 minutes to kick in. It's a really balanced mellow strain to counteract a bit of the uppityness of coffee," he explains. Don't worry, with the right dosing, no one will be sleeping for 14 hours.