After spending six years as a producer at iTunes, Eric Eslao left Apple to focus on an entirely different sort of venture: his cannabis-infused chocolate company. “I had an amazing job at iTunes. I couldn’t have asked for anything better—except for this,” says Eslao about running his Oakland-based brand Défoncé Chocolatier. (Although the name sounds bougie, Défoncé simply means “high” in French). What prompted Eslao to make the jump from tech exec to ganjapreneur? “When California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act [the proposal that would legalize recreational pot appearing on ballots this fall] started to gain momentum, and Défoncé started to attract high-quality investors, it made sense for me to jump into the cannabis industry full-time.”
Eslao brought on designers from Apple to create packaging for the artisanal bars, which come in flavors like white chocolate-matcha and roasted hazelnut-dark chocolate. He sources “single-origin” cannabis from organic farms in the Sierra Foothills, employs chocolatiers from Berkeley’s TCHO, and does exhaustive testing to make sure THC levels in the bars are consistent (a Défoncé chocolate bar contains 18 pieces, and each piece contains 10mg THC—easily within the recommended dosage).
It’s clear: We’re living in a post-brownie edibles world in which discerning consumers demand product consistency, company transparency, and straight-up deliciousness. Legal marijuana sales in the U.S. are projected to hit $6.7 billion this year, and dispensary owners claim edibles account for half of that number. Everyone wants in on a piece of the pot pie, and serious ganjapreneurs are gunning to be the Coca-Cola or McDonald’s of the edibles world by establishing their brand early on.
Luckily for you, this means that edibles companies are amping up the quality and creativity of their products. For health nuts, there’s Pura Vida organic granola and Auntie Dolores superfood truffles. For the pastry-obsessed Francophile, there’s Madame Munchie medicated macarons. Want an infused root beer float? Swap the IBC for Bubba Kush Root Beer. If one artisanal chocolate brand isn’t sufficient, there’s always fleur de sel caramels from Marigold Sweets or tangerine dark chocolate bars from Kiva Confections. And for pets experiencing pain and inflammation, there’s even CBD-infused Treatibles chew treats.
But what if it’s a fine-dining cannabis pop-up that you seek? Chris “The Herbal Chef” Sayegh hosts multi course cannabis dinners which you can attend if you’re a medical card holder in California and sign up for his collective. “Not every course is infused,” explains Sayegh, “It’s a symphony. It’s about carrying you nice and lightly up to an elevated state.” At a recent dinner in Hollywood, Sayegh presented diners with a THC-infused carrot gnocchi with pea emulsion and wild mushrooms, paired with the aromatic terpene extract of Blue Dream marijuana.
Sayegh's medicated foie gras custard with blackberry gelée, and lapsang souchong infused chocolate
“The way that I use cannabis is like a wine pairing,” says the molecular biology student-turned-chef. “Anyone can get you super high, but this is about getting you just high enough so you see the beauty of what’s put before you.” Sayegh has each of his guests complete a questionnaire to gauge an appropriate dosage specifically for them, then he micro-doses each course according to that person’s tolerance level. Sayegh and his colleagues in the edibles industry do everything in their power to prevent their customers from overdoing it. “As soon as you have a customer who takes too high a dose, you lose a customer,” explains Erik Knutson, owner and co-founder of Colorado’s Keef Cola.
Sayegh is planning to have a brick-and-mortar restaurant up and running within the next three months, right around the time California will vote on the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. In the meantime, the chef is using the facility to manufacture THC and CBD-infused frozen meals that are tailored to the specific micronutrient needs of cancer patients, diabetics and geriatrics.
As soon as federal legalization happens, Sayegh will most likely be able to ship both the THC and CBD-infused products anywhere in the country. “When cannabis becomes federally legal, that’s when I can really hit my stride,” says the ambitious chef. And for the rest of the edibles community, widespread acceptance is getting closer and closer. “I think we’re only five years away from recreational legalization federally,” predicts Eslao, “It’s only a matter of time.”