Jewish-American Celebrity Chef Dives Into Marijuana-infused Desserts

Cannabis rugelach? It's not too exotic for Mindy Segal's new venture.

Chef Mindy Segal walks the red carpet during the 2015 James Beard Awards at Lyric Opera of Chicago in Chicago, May 4, 2015.
AP

When Mindy Segal decided she wanted to work with marijuana, the James Beard award-winning pastry chef knew she could do so much better than that tired cliche — the brownie.

Instead, she’ll tap her understanding of transforming sugar into tempting treats to launch a line of chocolate brittles, granola bites, eventually even a hot chocolate — and all of them laced with butter infused with cannabis oil. In the process, she’ll become one of the first celebrity chefs to lend her name and brand to the budding edible marijuana industry.

Segal, who owns Chicago’s Mindy’s Hot Chocolate restaurant and authored the cookbook “Cookie Love,” is partnering with Cresco Labs with hopes to produce the sweets for distribution in Illinois in February. The company also is in discussions to distribute the products in other states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington.

Medical marijuana became available for sale in Illinois last month and it is one of 23 states in the U.S. where it is now legal. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

The goal with this new project, Segal said, is an extension of what she calls her core value as a chef: making people happy.

“We’re going to come up with recipes that are portioned and dosed properly,” Segal said. “So we’re healing, and that’s the whole idea that we’re healing, making people have appetites, not have pain.”

Segal wants the final product to have a “no-taste taste.” She’s experimenting with three different flavors of brittle, including one that blends salted toffee, smoked almonds with dark chocolate, and possibly graham crackers and caramelized marshmallows. She said she sees working with marijuana as a professional challenge.

“I’m trying to elevate the industry,” she said. “I’m applying what I know against what I don’t know and that’s how I’m approaching this. And that’s how I approach my work as chef.”

Segal has partially credited her Jewish upbringing as inspiring her cookie career. In the forward to “Cookie Love,” she writes that she received a KitchenAid mixer for Hanukkah when she was 13. The mixer quickly became her “instrument of choice,” and she used it for experimenting with cookies, she writes.

Many of her creative cookies draw on her Eastern European Jewish heritage - her book has an entire chapter on rugelach and kolachkes, for instance, although traditional fillings such as chocolate and cinnamon have been swapped for flavors such as strawberry and oatmeal, and kumquat with blackberries and black pepper.

Segal also draws on the Middle East for inspiration. She discovered Middle Eastern flavors during a trip to Israel at age 16, she told The Forward, and some of her recipes include ingredients such as orange blossom water, rose water, almonds and halva.

Here’s how Segal explains her latest venture in an interview with The Associated Press:

AP: What attracted you to using medical marijuana as an ingredient? Where did you get your inspiration?

Segal: I wanted to do something that made a difference. I wanted to do something that would take me to sort of like this new frontier. I wanted to take the things I’ve learned in the 30 years in this industry and go into an industry that would challenge me. When you’re a chef or you’re a person who is in constant pursuit of excellence, I want to constantly be challenged. I want to constantly pursue excellence.

AP: How are you legally able to make these items in Illinois?

Segal: I am working in a lab in Joliet that is licensed to cultivate and grow marijuana and to produce edibles. I am not doing it in my restaurant. I’m not selling this product in my restaurant. They’re going to be sold in licensed dispensaries all over Illinois. We plan on going to other states, as other states have medical marijuana legalized and legal for recreational, too. We would license the product to licensed operators in those states. We’re designing a product line that can be licensed to other people.

AP: Who do you see as the customer for these items?

Segal: I make a great chocolate chip cookie and my customer for a chocolate chip cookie is anyone who likes a chocolate chip cookie. So obviously I’m hoping my product will entice everybody and anybody who has the right to purchase the product or is interested in edibles. I’m thinking that my product is going to attract people who are knowledgeable and enjoy food and want to enjoy the experience and not just the effects of it.

AP: Where do you see the future of the edible marijuana industry going?

Segal: I see this being a new frontier for chefs like me. There is no turning back. There are going to be more people more talented than me, as talented as me, who are going to get into this industry. I’m excited to see where it’s going.