EL­E­VAT­ING LO­CAL CHOCO­LATE

The or­ganic life­style continues with Ralfe Gourmet Choco­late Bou­tique.

F&B World - - Start-up Stories - By Les­lie Lee

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...

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