From native traditions to gourmet creations-A A +A
Friday, February 28, 2014
WHEN most people think of local chocolate, there tends to be the association of this longtime favorite being served as sikwate with puto and fresh mangoes, or as champorado. Not many would think to serve it with scones and finger sandwiches on fine china. But the chocolate connoisseurs at Ralfe Gourmet did, and with their many other ideas of making a gourmet experience out of the native tablea, The Chocolate Chamber was opened.
“We want to elevate the image of tablea,” says managing partner Edu Pantino, who conducts Chocolate Appreciation seminars by appointment.
Edu is one third of Ralfe Gourmet, with founder Raquel Choa, and Raquel’s husband Alfred. ‘Ralfe’ is a combination of the names Raquel, Alfred and Edu. While all of them are very hands-on with Ralfe Gourmet as a business, each has their own roles: Raquel is the tablea connoisseur who learned much of what she knows from her grandmother while growing up, Alfred is the machinery expert, and Edu is everything from cacao technician to marketing officer.
Because of their passion to share the goodness of tablea while elevating its image, they are intent on a less commercialized approach. All the chocolate comes from their own farm in Balamban, and every scone, biscuit, cookie and spread is made in-house. The hot chocolate comes in many different flavors, from traditional to the best-selling Hibiscus. As part of the flair, customers can choose what color cup they prefer to use.
The Chocolate High Tea showcases the sweet and savory sides of chocolate. Presented on porcelain plates are raisin and lemon scones, homemade marmalade, pralines, artisan sandwiches of the day made with chocolate bread, and green salad with cocoa butter dressing. It is served daily from 3:21 to 5:21 p.m. Edu explains that the time frame is a tribute to the historically significant year 1521, when the Spanish arrived in the Philippines. “It was the Spanish who introduced tablea to us after they realized that it could be grown here,” says Edu, in the same way it was grown in Mexico, the original source of cacao beans. At the time, these beans were so precious they were being used as currency, and the secret for making tablea was kept among only a selected few. Everything that The Chocolate Chamber offers aims to celebrate our beans and our tradition.
To really put the focus on chocolate, coffee and tea are not served here, although there are chocolate and tea infusions. Aside from the many varieties of hot chocolate, there are a selection of cakes, including the Vegan Chocolate Gateau which uses no eggs nor oil. For something more savory, there is the pizza platter with two kinds of grilled sausage baked on a chocolate crust, and beef pastrami and turkey sandwiches.
The elegant ambiance of The Chocolate Chamber adds to the experience, with soft music, white tablecloths, and beautiful porcelain cups and saucers that many would reserve only for special occasions.
The Chocolate Chamber is located on President Quirino St. in Mabolo. It is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 1 to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 01, 2014.