More states are legalizing recreational marijuana and as a result, real pastry chefs are getting into the edibles game.

Donuts from Acres Cannabis
Credit: Amy Castaldo

As state legislators become increasingly accepting of legal marijuana for recreational use, an industry catering to people who like to eat their weed has quickly grown. Selections of THC-laced chocolates, gummy bears and Rice Krispies treats are de rigeur at emporiums in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and, as of July 1, Nevada.

There is a common problem with most edibles out there though: They don’t taste very good. But people make allowances when the end-goal is getting high. Acres Cannabis in Las Vegas aims to up the edibles game in the newest legal market for pot. The goal there is to create edibles that transcend the acceptable low-bar standard and live up to what you get at a top restaurant on the Vegas Strip.

The fact that Michael Morton is one of the dispensary’s partners helps things along. Morton is also the force behind successful Vegas eateries that include wine-centric La Cave at Wynn Las Vegas, tapas-focused Crush inside MGM Grand, MB Steak at the Hard Rock, and La Comida, which serves Mexican food downtown.

His pastry chef at MB Steak, Kimberly Valdez, is a veteran of SW Steakhouse and Lakeside, two top restaurants at Wynn. She oversees the edible upgrade at Acres. “It’s a challenge,” Valdez says, wearing chef’s whites and holding containers of weed-enhanced icing, standing inside Acres’ cooking facility. “You need to create a good pastry while maintaining a note of marijuana” – which, according to John Mueller, CEO of Acres, is required by customers who want to know that what they are eating will help them achieve the desired effects.

Coming in, Valdez faced an interesting hurdle. It takes five days for marijuana infused edibles to get cleared for sale. But peddling day-olds would not cut it. So she is executing an interesting solution: Weed gets implanted in icings and frostings and caramels and ganaches – which, refrigerated or frozen, hold up for extended periods of time – rather than in the baked elements themselves. This allows the cookie or donut or cake to be freshly made, without marijuana, in a chef-approved style, while whatever goes inside or on top can be appropriately infused and prepared ahead of time.

As Valdez explained, “I want the pastries to be the vessels while glaze and frosting and ganache serve as the carriers for cannabis.”

As this story is being reported, delicious donuts, fresh from the fryer, topped with blueberry and lemon icings (infused, respectively, with weed-oil derived from strains of Blueberry Kush, Lemon Haze) get amped up with fresh fruit on top. “The toppings are there to enhance flavor,” Valdez says. “We want the beauty of the flavor to stand out.”

By the end of July, Valdez will kick into her second phase: pastries that have the sophistication of high-end desserts and the THC-content (10 milligrams, which is emerging as an industry standard) that achieves the other kind of high. To that end, Valdez will soon be serving up chocolate domes filled with weed-jammed peanut butter, blackout cake in which the white-cream center and fudge-ganache carry THC, and lemon cake with cream cheese frosting. “The frosting, for example, is made with marijuana butter,” says Valdez, acknowledging that her haute cuisine garners support from restaurant colleagues. “I think they are proud of me. A lot of chefs get high – and I am doing stoner food for real.”

An occupational hazard, Valdez concedes, is that occasionally the chef gets freshly baked along with her goods. “I taste as I go along and sometimes I get a little high in the process,” she says. “Early on, I tasted a butter [made with marijuana oil] and I tried fighting the high. I wanted to be composed but it was a bad fight. I drank so much water and, still, the weed won.”

While stoned chefs – and the offbeat ingredient combinations that seem to come from those who imbibe – are nothing new, the kitchen at Acres Cannabis stands as one of the few where being high is a sign of due diligence. But that does not detract from the seriousness of Valdez’s endeavor. “I take a lot of pride in what we are doing,” she says. “I know people who use marijuana medically and now they don’t have to gnaw on nasty edibles. They can enjoy cookies and donuts that are freshly baked. That makes me happy.”