BY RICK WEINBERG, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS JOURNAL
As Senior Vice President for a consulting company in Orange County, Calif., Cristina Espiritu values a wide range of companies for mergers and acquisitions, buying and selling, financial reporting, litigation, bankruptcy and tax planning purposes.
In the past several years, she was exposed to valuing several cannabis-related companies and she quickly learned about the explosiveness of the newly-established, meteoric-growing industry from a financial perspective.
“I was fascinated,” she says. “I couldn’t believe how the industry was growing. In California, the cannabis industry is projected to be $6 billion — this year alone. Nationally, by 2021, the industry will be $50-60 billion – it’s growing at a rate of 20 to 30 percent annually.”
What specifically captured her attention to the cannabis industry was the rising phenomena of the food and cooking component of it.
“I’m a genuine foodie,” she says with a laugh. “I have always been interested in food, and the culture and history behind it. I grew up in the Philippines, where gathering around the kitchen table and eating a meal together is a way to foster connection and communication between family and friends.”
Cannabis cuisine captivated her “because it is creative and new, and it really is the ‘wild west’ of modern cuisine,” she says. She astutely surmised that “gathering around a table for a cannabis meal engages and heightens all the senses and sparks interesting debate, conversation, and communication.”
With a desire to take the entire scope of the cannabis cuisine concept to a new level, she began doing some research on the internet on cannabis cuisine as well as cannabis chefs, events, recipes and directories. She was shocked to find nothing substantial.
So she decided “to create a site myself.”
What evolved was the 420 Foodie Club (420, 4:20 and or 4/20 is a code-term in cannabis culture that refers to the consumption of cannabis, particularly smoking at 4:20 p.m.). The web site has emerged as the definitive space for everything cannabis, including events, seminars, a comprehensive directory, interviews and bios of top cannabis chefs and, of course, recipes of cannabis dishes and desserts.
It has developed into a thriving community and resource for people who love to cook, make, consume and learn about cannabis cuisine.
“Part of what I’m trying to do is ‘destigmatize’ cannabis food as more than just ‘pot brownies’ by showcasing the diversity and creativity of the modern wave of cannabis chefs and edible makers,” Ms. Espiritu says.
The one thing she is highly passionate about “is creating connections and a great way to bond over food,” she says.
Through 420 Foodie Club, users read about and find cannabis food entrepreneurs, learn to make creative cannabis recipes, review the latest edible products, and learn about the hottest cannabis food events such as a wonderful journey and cannabis dinner in Joshua Tree, Calif. Or participating in a scintillating cannabis dinner on the beach on the California coast at sunset.
Ms. Espiritu has spent 11 years valuating companies. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in Psychology and Business and she also has a joint JD/MBA degree from Penn State University.
“My background is in finance, so I’m always looking at what companies are out there that are getting play — companies that investors may be interested in, companies that haven’t been explored, and that’s what I found in the cannabis industry,” she says. “The best thing about it is that it meshed with my passion — food.”
Ms. Espiritu is highly conscious about the educational growth of the industry – cooking wisely and dosing correctly.
“Typical infused dinners by cannabis chefs are usually five courses — the events last for five hours — and the cannabis meals are carefully moderated,” she says. “It’s not about getting completely stoned and falling on the floor. After these events, because it’s monitored so closely, you can easily drive home.”
The chefs Ms. Espiritu works with are not only educated about making cannabis-infused food, but also making sure the dosing is absolutely, 100 percent perfect and easy for participants to understand.
At a recent event, buffalo wings were served un-infused for a group of 12. Four people did not want their meal infused so the chef infused cannabis in the sauce dip only. He offered dips of five milligrams, 10 milligrams and 15.
“These meals are ‘low and slow,’” Ms. Espiritu says. “Start with low dosages and go slow so you can relish every moment.”
Ms. Espiritu plans to launch a cannabis cuisine institute for cooking where chefs can earn cannabis cooking certifications.
“The reason for starting the academy is to educate regular chefs who want to get into the industry by giving them the tools to start their own business, which includes learning the ins and outs of cooking with cannabis and its effects on the body, teaching them about cooking techniques, and also teaching them about the legalities and other practical advice of starting a cannabis-based business,” she says. “We are aiming to create a more holistic approach to teaching.”