PRO­FILE

The Bisaya le­gend of Maria Ca­cao finds a mod­ern in­car­na­tion

Cebu Living - - Contents - By DENISE DANIELLE AL­CAN­TARA Im­ages by JIM UBALDE

“The story says when Maria Ca­cao trav­eled all over the world, she rides in a mag­i­cal ship,” nar­rates Raquel Choa, owner of The Choco­late Cham­ber. She grew up hear­ing the story of Maria Ca­cao al­most ev­ery night. She dreams of see­ing the en­chantress’ palace at night. She sur­vived life in the moun­tains be­cause of ca­cao. Com­monly known as a deca­dent in­dul­gence, choco­late is part of Raquel Choa’s life.

How did you dis­cover ca­cao and your love for choco­late?

I was ex­posed to ca­cao when I was seven years old. I wouldn’t call it love, but ca­cao is part of [my] life: there was a need to drink it when I was grow­ing up. But I didn’t know then that choco­late came from ca­cao.

Was it very abun­dant where you lived?

Yes. I lived in the moun­tains of south­ern Cebu dur­ing my younger years, and ca­cao trees grow in their forests. They are es­pe­cially abun­dant dur­ing the sum­mer.

What would you usu­ally do with ca­cao back when you didn’t know it was choco­late?

Part of my af­fair with choco­late is the story of the seven rivers, which I had to cross to go to school then. Then, we could not leave the house with­out drink­ing sik­wate to re­lieve hunger.

Up in the moun­tains, we would eat rice once a year—dur­ing sum­mers when we would visit our grand­mother to ask for rice—be­cause the land was mostly rocky and wasn’t fer­tile. Ca­cao was re­ally part of our ev­ery­day lives. We could store it for longer pe­ri­ods, and ev­ery time we were hun­gry, we would turn to it. We didn’t know then that it was choco­late be­cause we didn’t have ac­cess to the world be­yond the moun­tains. There was no elec­tric­ity, no tele­vi­sion, no ex­po­sure at all to [com­mer­cial] choco­late.

Aside from sik­wate, how else did you pre­pare ca­cao?

We used it only for hot choco­late be­cause

cham­po­rado re­quired rice. Also, my mother thought it would be most prac­ti­cal to pre­pare sik­wate be­cause it went straight to the stom­ach.

So when did you start learn­ing more about ca­cao?

Five years ago. When my par­ents got sep­a­rated, my mother brought my sib­lings and me to live in the moun­tains, and that was when my af­fair with choco­late started. Af­ter seven years, they got back to­gether, and so we had to re­turn to Manila. That’s when I re­al­ized that ca­cao is truly a hid­den trea­sure. When I left the moun­tains, I also left ca­cao be­hind, as if it were a se­cret.

What did you do in Manila?

I had sev­eral jobs: I was a garbage col­lec­tor, I did laun­dry, and I also be­came a house­maid. At 13, I asked my mother if we could re­turn to the prov­ince, but she re­fused, say­ing there’s no money in the moun­tains, that it’s hard to sur­vive there. That was the com­mon no­tion about life in the moun­tains: that there’s no liveli­hood there. No one re­al­ized the hid­den trea­sures in the moun­tain­side. When I found out that ca­cao is choco­late, it re­ally em­pow­ered me. My foun­da­tion as an artist re­ally came from my life in the moun­tains. I grew up with my chil­dren, and we would make paint­ings to­gether. It’s not part of my sys­tem to watch TV be­cause I’ve al­ways thought it’s a waste of time. Even af­ter get­ting mar­ried, I worked con­tin­u­ously and re­lent­lessly, be­cause I be­lieve God put us here on earth to work.

How did your choco­late busi­ness start?

I had met an­other mother who’s Ar­gen­tinian, and I started teach­ing her how to cook good Western food. We be­came friends, and one day she shared that she owned 50 hectares of olive trees back in her coun­try. She then asked me, “What do you have here in the Philip­pines that I can bring back to Ar­gentina?” I thought for a while then an­swered, “Tablea.” She asked what that was and I ex­plained that it was made from ca­cao. I brought her store-bought tablea but she was dis­mayed with the taste. I was so ashamed that I asked if she could give me more time [to find her an­other one].

Then I de­cided to make my own. When she tasted it, she was so im­pressed. From there, we started our lit­tle choco­late busi­ness. Un­for­tu­nately, she had to re­turn to Ar­gentina soon af­ter, and I was left with 300 ki­los of

tablea. That’s when I be­came re­source­ful and started do­ing choco­late buf­fets.

Lots of peo­ple soon dis­cov­ered my busi­ness, in­clud­ing Ces Drilon and Karen Dav­ila. Drilon asked me what the mis­sion/ vi­sion of my com­pany is. Not know­ing any­thing about busi­ness, I asked her what that term meant. Af­ter she ex­plained it to me, I then said, “My dream is to tell the whole world that we Filipinos know how to make choco­late.”

I con­tinue to cre­ate lots of things from ca­cao. I don’t want to cre­ate for the sake of trends; I al­ways cre­ate for a rea­son and for a pur­pose. Ev­ery­thing, all the choco­late that you see in my stores, has a story be­hind them.

Is it your ad­vo­cacy to spread the word about lo­cal ca­cao?

I do choco­late feed­ing in the moun­tains ev­ery year. I grew up not know­ing the uses of ca­cao, so my ad­vo­cacy is rais­ing ca­cao aware­ness among farm­ers, and for con­sumers to give value to our choco­late—that be­hind ev­ery bar of choco­late are the peo­ple who had pro­duced it, which are the farm­ers.

I need more Filipinos to be aware of the uses of ca­cao so that one day, the Philip­pines would be known as the “choco­late is­lands.” That’s why I made ca­cao de bola. If there’s a

queso de bola, there should be a ca­cao de bola.

Why is there a need for peo­ple to know about ca­cao?

Be­cause there are many mis­con­cep­tions about it: that it’s fat­ten­ing, it in­duces high blood, etc. Pure ca­cao has 11 per­cent fiber, 18 per­cent iron, zero sugar, zero sodium, and zero choles­terol. I be­lieve that ca­cao is not only a sweet dessert but is also medicine. Ev­ery time I gave birth, I would drink

sik­wate be­fore push­ing out the baby. Like I said, it is re­ally a part of my life.

What’s next for Choco­late Cham­ber?

Raquel Em­molience, a beauty brand that I will launch and would fea­ture primers, mois­tur­iz­ers, and spa or mas­sage prod­ucts. We’re also con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing small kiosks that would be called Batirol by Choco­late Cham­ber.

RAQUEL CHOA OPENED CHOCO­LATE CHAM­BER

IN 2015. SINCE THEN, SHE NEVER STOPPED IN­NO­VAT­ING. SHE REP­RE­SENTED THE PHILIP­PINES IN ‘LE SA­LON DU CHOCOLAT IN NEW YORK AND

PRE­SENTED THE CA­CAO DE BOLA.

RAQUEL CHOA NOW OF­FERS DIF­FER­ENT HOT CHOCO­LATE VA­RI­ETIES IN­CLUD­ING MAYAN, AZTEC, MEX­I­CAN, AND SPAN­ISH AT THE CHOCO­LATE CHAM­BER (ABOVE). THE REG­U­LAR CHOCO­LATE CUP­CAKE IS TOPPED WITH CA­CAO DE BOLA AND CA­CAO BLOS­SOMS (LEFT).

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