Iliana Regan often posts photos on Instagram of dishes she plans to add to the menu at Elizabeth, her Lincoln Square restaurant. But recently, her social media sneak peeks have included items that most, if not all, of her customers won’t ever taste. Nor will she.
Regan is working with Bedford Grow, a cannabis cultivator in southwest suburban Bedford Park, to produce a line of marijuana-infused edibles, making her the second award-winning Chicago chef to get in medicinal edibles game.
Hot Chocolate’s Mindy Segal has garnered considerable buzz for her pot-laced goodies, which were first announced by Cresco Labs in late 2015, around when Regan says she started working on ideas for her own line. Segal’s sweets are now sold as Mindy’s Artisanal Edibles at dispensaries across Illinois.
It’s too early to say when Regan’s edibles will go on the market, says Paul Chialdikas, Bedford Grow’s vice president of sales and marketing. She’s still testing recipes, which by law has to happen at the cultivation facility. But she has a name for them—Hoot Infused Edibles—and the prototypes so far, which include owl-shaped gummies, nubby granola bites, and gem-like hard candies with elderflowers suspended within, look the part of her Michelin-starred “New Gatherer” cuisine.
“We’ll launch with the gummies, and then we’ll move into hard candies and go down the line,” Regan says.
State law also prohibits Regan from tasting any of the edibles she makes—not that she would if she could. Marijuana was “never my drug of choice” back in her party days, she says. Alcohol was; she’s been sober since 2009. “I don’t by choice take anything that affects me from the neck up,” she says.
Regan says having no direct past experience with pot brownies isn’t what makes this venture both difficult and, in her words, “fascinating.” It’s the science involved in ensuring that each treat contains the proper ratios of marijuana concentrate and fat (the former binds to the latter, she says), and that they can be packaged easily and still look and taste good.
“One of the challenges is that you have to make them shelf-stable. That’s why a lot of edibles come in the form of candies, because sugar is the preservative. But you have to create something that has fat in it to some degree,” she says.
She wasn’t trying to get into the weed business. A customer of hers at Elizabeth, who happens to be a partner at Dispensary 33 in Uptown, first floated the idea by her. She was later introduced to Bedford Grow by one of the cultivator’s clients, says Chialdikas.
Regan, who studied chemistry in college before switching to fiction writing, says she read up as much as she could on edibles and the properties of THC, the active compound in marijuana, before stepping inside the Bedford Grow lab this summer to make her first test batches. “It’s a lot of learning, and I still am learning,” she says.
So far, the feedback from taste-testers—patients with medical marijuana cards—has been positive. “Nobody’s said it didn’t taste good or they didn’t like the flavors, so I think it’s working,” Regan says.