Sometimes, one stumbles across a person who is teetering on the precipice of something big. They’re excited and a little bit apprehensive about their upcoming project, and you, from your distance, know that they have nothing to worry about. Like Zuckerberg coding in his dorm room or Sedaris drafting “Santaland Diaries,” Mindy Segal is about to launch her line of edibles in dispensaries across the nation.
I met the James Beard award-winning chef at her restaurant, Mindy’s HotChocolate Bar, in the hip Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago on a snowy day in January. Her acclaimed restaurant is packed for a Friday lunch, but the noise level is low. People are comfortable in the open dining room with white brick walls, a full oak bar, green bottles and dried wheat decorations and Tame Impala playing in the background. Segal apologizes for being 30 seconds late, and leads me to a back table near the open kitchen.
We start talking about the mentality of a pastry chef, and she says it’s about being meticulous and detail oriented. A child drops her fork in the restaurant. Segal stops mid-sentence to bring her a new one. This will happen again over the course of our conversation, and again Segal will make sure all of her customers receive impeccable service.
Segal has been turning her meticulous eye and discerning palate to the cannabis industry since December, when she announced she would be partnering with Cresco Labs — one of Illinois’ largest cannabis cultivators — to launch a national brand of edibles.
“I’m going to approach this whole process as a pastry chef would and think about what my line would be if it didn’t have marijuana in it,” says Segal, sitting with her sweater sleeves rolled up to reveal her many colorful tattoos. “It’s the same level of excellence, same level of branding, same level of care to our message and what we’re doing.”
Over the winter, Segal and her team developed the first products she’s going to roll out in Illinois: brittle bars, granola and hot chocolate. The only problem is, Segal wasn’t granted her agent card from the state that will allow her to start working with the marijuana herself in January, so she had to fly out to Colorado to start perfecting the infusions in her product. Luckily, she sees an aspect to this hoop-jumping that she finds “actually fun” because she says, “I’m super excited just to be in the cannabis industry; it’s like a whole new career.”
Segal’s products will be available in Illinois during the springtime, before they get consecutively rolled out in California, Colorado, possibly Nevada, Washington and finally, Oregon. The national roll-out is crucial, because, as Segal says, the state of Illinois’ medical marijuana program is fairly restrictive, and the lack of registered patients could collapse the industry before it leaves its infancy.
For the national market, Segal’s goal is to create edibles that lack the usual herbal taste of marijuana. “I don’t want any flavor at all,” Segal says. “The taste depends on how far you go with extracting the terpenes and the cannabinoids — and we’re going all the way and we’re getting a pure flavor.”
If Segal succeeds, or comes anywhere close to replicating the quality of the hot chocolate she serves now at her restaurant, her edibles will be flying off the shelves. When I tried her “old fashioned” hot chocolate, which is decadent hot chocolate poured over two house-made marshmallows and topped with chocolate ganache, I burned my tongue trying to gulp up more after my first heavenly sip. The drink tasted like rose-tinted memories of snowy lodges and camping trips as a child, like an improvement on Willy Wonka’s chocolate river.
“Charlie, one of the owners and founders of Cresco Labs, said we should microdose my product because my product is going to be so good that people aren’t going to want to stop after one piece,” says Segal with a chuckle. “We want people to be able to enjoy it.”
Segal and Cresco Labs plan to roll out both bars and bites of their products, so that customers can chose whether or not they want to microdose. Their edibles will also have flavor combinations, textures and a quality of chocolate that are more refined than most, placing them firmly on the top shelf.
“It’s hard for me to speak of myself in grandiose terms, but I want to be a leader in the edible industry like I was in the pastry and food industry,” says Segal. “What I care about is that it’s changing the way people think about marijuana and the perception of it, and that an accredited chef who has a fairly decent reputation is going to be in this industry is a game changer.”
The orange haired, hazel-eyed chef is the first major award-winning chef to announce a foray into the cannabis industry, which rightly places her as a pioneer in the new wave of scientifically tested, professionally created edibles.
But that doesn’t mean that she’s the first pastry chef to dabble in edibles.
“I don’t know what chef hasn’t made an edible,” she laughs. “But I don’t know any that have come forward. So far, it’s just me!”