ELEVATING LOCAL CHOCOLATE
The organic lifestyle continues with Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate Boutique.
Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate Boutique may appear to be jumping onto the organic bandwagon, but what sets this quaint Cebu-based business is that it is the first local chocolatier who uses local ingredients to create world-class products and advocates sustainability for local communities at the same time. Raquel T. Ochoa, Ralfe Gourmet Inc. President, says, “Our vision is to be the pioneer in the evolution of the Philippine cacao industry, with a passion for excellence.”
HEEDING THE CALL OF CHOCOLATE
Ochoa has always been drawn toward this sweet treat. “I believe this is a calling and that my experience with my grandmother has honed me as a tablea maker,” she shares. It is the same spirit she had when she started the business upon the prodding of an Argentinean friend, Norma Nolly. “She boasted of her farm-produced extra virgin olive oil. She asked me what she could take to Argentina. I thought of tablea, our local chocolate. I bought a pack and asked her to taste it.”
Although the initial samplings were not successful, Ochoa was relentless in her efforts to produce the perfect tablea. In all her travels, she would continue to buy and test out different brands, only to get the thumbs-down from Norma — until one day, Ochoa hit pay dirt. “I remember that I used to make tablea with my Lola Nila. I made the first tablea and asked her to taste it. She said it was the best so far and asked where she could buy. I told her that I made it and she was so surprised!”
A SWEET CHALLENGE
Setting up Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate Boutique and getting patronage for locally made tablea were not easy feats for the owners. Ochoa admits that there were many challenges she had to overcome when introducing her product to various chefs. “Pastry chefs never thought that this backyard product can be an ingredient in pastry products and has been labeled dirty chocolate,” she says. “Most tableas in the market give you grainy tsokolate, with a lot of sediments. It is also adulterated because some tablea makers add extenders, which include peanuts, ipil-ipil seeds, buto ng langka, camote, and even avocado seeds.”
She adds that bean processing, as a backyard industry, can be unhygienic. Cacao beans are sucked to get rid of its pulp so that the beans dry faster. After, the beans are just dried anywhere. In most cases, they are left in the open where animals roam freely. However, the lady behind the artisan chocolate boutique was unstoppable in perfecting the creation and production of the perfect tablea. “I am personally in charge of making our chocolate and take care of the product development.” Coined as the tablea connoisseur by her friends, Ochoa banks on her tablea experience with her Lola.
THE TASTE OF SUCCESS
With gentle persistence, Ochoa was able to persuade hotels and chefs to start patronizing her tablea. “Then I thought of incorporating tablea with other pastry creations and the rest is history,” she says proudly.
Now, Ralfe Gourmet Inc. is not just a tablea supplier but also a chocolate boutique where one can sample tablea-concocted treats. “Our first product is the tablea, the basic ingredient for all our chocolate creations.” Some of their creations such as the chocolate truffles have foreign origins, but according to Ochoa, “instead of using the original ingredients, I substituted them with ingredients that are sourced locally or its counterpart. By doing this, I am able to highlight our tablea as the key ingredient for these creations.”
The company will also be reviving their Chocolate Appreciation, where Ochoa shares her cocoa experience with their guests. “It is like feeding the mind and body (and soul) with chocolate.” Her business partner Edu Pantino, who studied cacao farming in Mindanao also expounds further on tablea production from farm to table. “This month, we are also opening The Chocolate Chamber (TCC). It’s a chocolate salon where guests can enjoy their cup of chocolate in fine bone china with their favorite flavored chocolate drink, starting with 21 flavors. Chocolate High Tea is served from 3:21-5:21 p.m.”
ADVOCATING THE LOCAL 'TSOKALATE'
One thing that defines Ralfe Gourmet is its dedication to sourcing ingredients locally. For the tablea, the ingredients come from small farms in Cebu and Bohol. “The bulk of our supply is from Mindanao through Cocoa Phil. They source the beans from small-scale farmers.”
Ochoa is proud of the unique taste of Philippine cacao beans. “It has been a common observation that our chocolates taste different. In one of our packaging boxes, we highlighted that our chocolate creations is a salute to Philippine cacao.”
Ralfe Gourmet hopes to be the top-of-mind pasalubong stop when it comes to chocolates. Says Ochoa, “It’s been a common practice of having chocolates as pasalubong. This time, I want our chocolates to be the pasalubong when friends go to other countries. In this way, our clients become my collaborators of telling the world of our very own chocolates.”
It’s my dream to tell the whole world that we Filipinos know how to make chocolates and that our very own chocolate, the tablea, is not just for tsokolate or champorado, but can be an essential ingredient in pastry creations. In doing this, I always...