Better Than Pot Brownies, by a James Beard Award-Winning Chef

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When the news broke that the decorated pastry chef and cookbook author Mindy Segal had partnered with Illinois’s largest medicinal marijuana grower, eyebrows were raised — and not because the outspoken Chicago iconoclast would be out of place making pot pastries. Rather, the thought of being able to purchase edibles crafted by a James Beard Award-winning chef — Segal would be the pioneer — seemed more like a stoner’s dream come true than a legitimate business venture.

And yet just a few months later, Segal’s first batch — aptly called Mindy’s First Batch — will be available in Illinois medical marijuana dispensaries starting the first week of April, with national markets to follow later this spring. Any medical marijuana card carrier can indulge. T sat down with the Mindy’s Hot Chocolate namesake to get an exclusive first look at her limited-edition alternative to pot brownies.

How does a James Beard Award–winning chef get into the marijuana business?

About two years ago, my lawyer was handling some work for people who were working toward dispensary licenses, so he knew that the whole thing was going to happen, and he told me, “You need to get in on this on the ground floor. It’s perfect for you.” There were lots of thoughts in my mind. The way I processed this was, at first, the way everyone else processes this: It’s marijuana. It’s illegal. It’s a drug. And then I started thinking about all the drugs that I take — all the opiates and the painkillers and the Advil and the Zoloft and the Tylenol PM — and I started thinking, Well, what makes marijuana any different, except that it’s natural, it’s holistic? It has so many medicinal qualities to it.

So I had to process all of that, and then I had to ask myself, Will this affect my reputation and what’s connected to me? Will it affect my book sales? Will it affect my restaurant? And then I started thinking, Well, if it does, then that’s too bad. Why am I a chef? Why do I cook? Why do I have a restaurant? Initially, the reason was, I want to make people happy. I want to make people feel good. This is just another extension of why I do what I do.

How did you decide what to bake?

It was very easy. It’s the law that I can’t do anything that’s perishable. It has to be shelf-safe. And coincidentally, I already had a line of stuff that I wanted to package, which included brittles, granola bars and bites, and obviously hot chocolate.

Your “first batch” of edibles sounds like it could have been lifted from your book, “Cookie Love”: dark chocolate brittle with smoked almonds and crunchy toffee bits; milk chocolate brittle with peanut butter and crunchy peanut brittle; toasted pistachios and candied citrus brittle; caramelized white chocolate brittle with graham cracker, butterscotch and crunchy blond chocolate perles …

My cookie recipes are very unique to me. They don’t look like candy bars, and they don’t look like brittle. I can’t even explain them, they’re so cool. So I have these cavities, and I put chopped brittle inside first, then the almonds, then I take the candy caramel, and put it in individual places, then chocolate. Then I tap it. So when you open them up, they look weird and funky. And when you bite into them, they’re chewy and crunchy at the same time. They’re so good.

What does the edibles market currently look like? What are you up against?

Most people use butane or CO2 extraction which keep the terpene in, and so when you eat them, you can taste the marijuana. You’re eating candy bars — Cheeba Chews (like Tootsie Rolls) — or EdiPure products; they buy, like, sour gummies and spray them. We’re changing the landscape of edibles. There’s no question about it. We are using pure cannabis oil extracted via fractional distillation, a process that 100 percent extracts the terpene out of the cannabis so that there is no flavor. It’s also very expensive.

So by the nature of your high-quality product, you’re weeding out the market, so to speak.

Those people who are eating edibles that are young and just want to get high, they’re going to get older. And in a couple of years, they’re going to have a job and more money and a more sophisticated palate. There’s nobody that’s not going to enjoy this product. They’re higher end. No pun intended.

You’re the first James Beard Award–winning chef to cross over into the edible marijuana market. What does it mean to you?

This is not a joke. I’m super-excited about it. I’ve really gotten into it. I mean, I’m smoking so much more weed than I ever have! (laughs) But now, it’s about much more than the product for me. I’m really into the advocacy of legalization and the education of people that are sick, of people that are doing it recreationally to do it wisely, to do it smartly. I’m in deep. This has become my life. I’m still in the restaurant industry and still going to write cookbooks, but I want to help people and educate them about their well-being with marijuana in their life. I’m also very politically involved in it now. I want to be a spokesperson, and I want to be an advocate, and I want to be a model and a leader in the industry, and I want to approach it the same way I approach my food: with integrity and core value. And I’m not just schmaltzing. I’m serious. This is serious. I’m very, very, very into it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.