Until recently, David Yusefzadeh would never have imagined he’d be part of Massachusetts’ burgeoning cannabis industry. Clean-cut and dressed in khaki pants and a button-down shirt, he looks more like an MBA student than a stereotypical pothead. But thanks to his medical marijuana card, Yusefzadeh has become a daily user—and it’s changed his life for the better. By launching Cloud Creamery, the first chef-driven cannabis ice cream company on the East Coast, he hopes to do the same for others.

One Chef’s Budding Career

Yusefzadeh was on his way to a jazz festival in Vermont in June, 2011, when he was overcome with nausea. He pulled over at a rest stop and, after vomiting blood, became alarmed. Yusefzadeh had been experiencing increasingly severe stomach cramps that he attributed to a tough workout, but now he was starting to think it might be something more serious. He got back in his car and headed straight to the hospital, where he learned that he had Crohn’s disease.

“When I was diagnosed with it,” Yusefzadeh remembers, “the doctor said, ‘Listen, this has been in your body since you were born. It could have appeared at any time. But your profession, your level of stress on a consistent basis, has absolutely accelerated it to come out.’”

At the time, Yusefzadeh was a sous chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay. He managed to eat well and exercise despite working extremely long hours with little sleep, but it wasn’t enough to stave off an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s. Yusefzadeh began treatment and adjusted his lifestyle as best he could. But he faced constant flare ups, fatigue, and even hot flashes, a medication side effect that proved particularly challenging while working in a broiling kitchen. It didn’t take him long to realize he might have to look for an alternative career.

“You never want to be told you can’t do something,” Yusefzadeh admits. Born in Minneapolis and raised in Kentucky, his early interest in cooking led to culinary school and the opportunity to work in some of the best restaurants in the world. Since receiving his diagnosis, he’s somehow even managed to meet the demands of being an executive chef, several times over. But it hasn’t been easy. Yusefzadeh has been on six different pharmaceutical treatments for Crohn’s disease in the past seven years—each with its own limitations and unpleasant side effects.

Cloud Creamery

It’s Cool to Be Kind

At a family member’s suggestion, Yusefzadeh tried marijuana to alleviate his cramps and nausea in between medical treatments. The results were life-changing. Instead of heading to the hospital or being put on steroids, he could cook up a crockpot of cannabis-infused coconut oil, put a spoonful into a smoothie, and get immediate relief. Once Yusefzadeh received a medical marijuana card, he was eager to scope out the edible offerings at local dispensaries. But what he found —typically cookies, brownies and candy high in sugar and additives —was disappointing.

“I had no idea where the ingredients came from,” says Yusefzadeh. “There was nothing artisanal or thoughtful about it. It felt shallow.” He began to experiment with recipes for marijuana-infused edibles, including ice cream. The result? Cloud Creamery, Yusefzadeh’s newest venture and the first cannabis ice cream company to open its doors in New England.

Janice Bissex, a registered dietitian nutritionist, holistic cannabis consultant and cookbook author who is also on Cloud Creamery’s board, explains the need for healthier options. “I think historically, edibles in the cannabis industry have not been terribly high quality. There’s nothing that says comfort food more than ice cream. If I’m working with clients undergoing chemotherapy, I can’t think of anything more comforting to eat to help with their pain, nausea, and anxiety.”

Cloud Creamery

Most ice cream contains between 10 and 12 percent milkfat, but Yusefzadeh is aiming for his products to contain 16 percent milkfat. The higher the fat, the better the delivery, he says, since cannabinoids like CBD and THC are fat soluble. Like all products created within the state-sanctioned cannabis industry, every batch of Cloud Creamery ice cream is tested and highly regulated to ensure complete transparency and accurate dosing. But the true test will be how well-received his ice cream is once it becomes available at dispensaries around Boston this June (for medical use) and July (for adult use).

While Cloud Creamery will offer obvious frozen favorites like chocolate and vanilla, Yusefzadeh’s creativity shines with more inventive flavors, such as lavender honey, and black sesame with miso caramel. “It’s about bringing healing to people, and wellness, and pleasure,” says Mary Canning, whose Cambridge-based store Follow the Honey is one of Yusefzadeh’s suppliers. “Ice cream is deliciousness in a bowl, it’s such an iconic treat. The way he’s doing it is so elegant and appropriate.”  

If things go well, Yusefzadeh hopes to expand his product line and distribution beyond Massachusetts to the rest of New England. He’s as passionate about making a difference in people’s lives as he is about the advantages of medical marijuana. “I think it takes people like us to push the envelope and start to do something different that really helps people. There are so many benefits,” he reflects. “It’s just a matter of time, I think.”

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Header image courtesy of Cloud Creamery.

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