Into The Chocolate Chamber and Beyond

Into The Chocolate Chamber and Beyond

Gabrielle R. Borromeo

The Daily Tribune | April 10, 2014

Ever since the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out with Johnny Depp starring as Willy Wonka, the dream to enter a chocolate haven was one I always hoped for. Nine years later, to my surprise, my chocolate dream came true and, of all places, in my father’s hometown and not Switzerland or Belgium as I had imagined.

It all began when I was invited to the Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate Boutique in Cebu City. The second I was ushered into the room of chocolates, I melted. The fountain overflowing with liquid chocolate; the walls painted in chocolate, etched with drawings that told a chocolate story; the enchanting chandelier that lit the table laden with chocolates covered in golden wrappers.

There were also tables with heavy bars of chocolates on top, jars of chocolate spreads, rolls of tablea, tetra packs of cocoa flavored drinks, a variety of truffles, a tray of delightful cookies and a basket of fresh-baked chocolate bread. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually in a chocolate room, a chocolate heaven right before my very eyes. My heart was palpitating. I was back in Cebu, my childhood hometown, and I never knew there was a place like this.

The boutique is where pure cocoa is made into pure chocolate confections. First, the football-shaped cocoa fruit is cracked open, which looks just like the inside of a guyabano (soursop) fruit — white, soft and moist. The taste is more surprising though, being sweet. The meat of the fruit is separated from the cocoa beans. It is important that these beans are carefully selected, cleaned and sorted out. The beans collected are placed in sweat boxes where their chocolate flavor will heighten and develop. This is the fermentation process. Then they are dried and roasted to perfection with controlled heat and a specific amount of time.

Next, the shell of the beans is removed to have a smoother touch and less bitter distinction to the chocolates. I was shown the different beans from every process so I could differentiate and appreciate. During the tour, a man was actually pounding the beans with a huge wooden mortar and pestle, turning them into a chocolate mass, also called chocolate liquor. But that was just to recreate the traditional way of making chocolate as Ralfe’s now uses machines to pound the roasted cocoa nibs so as not to be labor intensive.

The end of this process is the creation of tablea. I was also given the privilege to try the newly-made tablea. It was bitter, but others enjoy it this way, calling it the unsweetened chocolate.

Mountain Lass Turns Magnate

The woman behind the chocolate success that is Ralfe Gourmet is Raquel T. Choa. But her success did not come easy.

When Raquel was only a little girl, she lived in the mountains of Balamban, Cebu and had to cross seven rivers before getting to school, which meant she had to wake up very early. They lived where it was abundant in cocoa, so her grandmother Leonila, who had full passion for everything she did, taught Raquel the best use of their parcel of land. Sheimbued in her the strict regimen of how to get the best out of chocolate, turning it into chocolate liquor to create pure chocolate bliss.

Everyday, Raquel was expected to work hands-on before and after school or she wasn’t permitted to leave the house. Raquel also learned from her grandmother how to drink pure chocolate without the sugar, mostly for the reason that sugar was badly needed in their other business, coconut candy making. Now she still drinks it this way.

Whatever the family made out of the cocoa would be sold in the market and the money they made was how they lived their simple life.

Life for little Raquel was also very disciplined. By 5 p.m., dinner was served and before 6 everyone had to be inside the house since they lived in a remote area, which was rebel-infested. No one could be loitering around to avert any danger. When there were gun shots, everyone hid under the house to pray together for safety. But not even that could stop little Raquel from excelling in class; she always had high honors.

When Raquel moved to Laguna with her parents, she forgot all about chocolate and started selling sampaguita in a unique way. Being very creative, she fixed her hair with the flowers and wore it also around her. She was soon known as the sampaguita girl.

Years passed, and it was only later in life that she went back to chocolate when she married Alfred Choa, a mechanical engineer who grew up in his father’s canning business.

The husband and wife were able to formulate a production line, Ralfe’s Gourmet. It started when Raquel kept making recipes from her creative cooking, playing with the chocolates both in her mind and through her artistic food preparation. Her gastronomic concoctions were endless; she experimented on different flavors, adding them to her luscious chocolate drinks. She played with ingredients to create sumptuous chocolate cakes.

Raquel, indeed, got the experimenting from her grandmother, who loved the surprises that tablea could magically create from all her ideas. She was soon acknowledged by chefs when they knew about her chocolates, and they would even ask her to make chocolate for the hotels they were working at. Her reputation started to grow also by word of mouth. Later, even the Department of Agriculture bought from Ralfe’s Gourmet. It showcased her ingenuity as it elevated the Philippine cacao to international standards of chocolate making.

The Chocolate Chamber (TCC) is the outlet where Raquel displays all of her chocolates, ready for buying. Here, one can order a hot cup of chocolate bliss or a cold one depending on one’s pleasure. A variety of chocolate cakes (vegan, cashew, old-fashioned) and chocolate scones, buns and oh-so-flaky ensaymadas filled with chocolate liquor and chocolate chunk and nib cookies are also available for one to enjoy along with chocolate drinks flavored with hibiscus, salted caramel, chamomile, orange, vanilla, cinnamon, bubblegum, cherry, malt, etc.

The classy looking restaurant is designed so elegantly, a clear glass separating the outside from the inside. It could pass for a romantic cafe getaway in Paris. The seats are comfortable with additional scarfs in it for guests to use when cold. In this generation, TCC is definitely capture-ready for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for all the world to see!
The Chocolate Chamber is located at P. Quirino Mabolo Street Cebu City.
For more information on The Chocolate Chamber, visit the Facebook page under the same name. For more information on Ralfe’s Gourmet, visit

Gabrielle Borromeo

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Gabe organizes what she sees around her and loves to put it into words. She has been contributing her articles for the Daily Tribune newspaper, Tinig ng Marino (maritime) newspaper, Cook magazine, Appetite magazine and F&B World magazine.

You can contact Gabrielle at:

The 2016 Soiree Beaujolais

The 2016 Soiree Beaujolais

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Business Mirror | December 19, 2016

In the Philippines, it’s the time when the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Philippines gathers the French and Filipino communities to clink wine glasses alongside local and international business groups.

A year after celebrating its Silver Anniversary, Soiree Beaujolais turned its focus on the French history with “Versailles” as its theme. The Palace of Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once the seat of French Royalty, such as Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI’s spouse.

Recently held at the Marriott Grand Ballroom, guests were treated as if they were invited to a royal party thrown by the last Queen of France. As the well-dressed crowd waited to the giant doors to swing open, fine wine of the Beaujolais and Burgundy regions were passed around (Cote du Rhone AOP Rouge 2015, Fleurie AOP 2014, Brouilly AOP 2014, Vin de Bourgogne, Coteaux Bourguignons Blanc, La Fontaine a Vin Rose). Some were dressed with a hint of French royalty, but a select few went all out in their costumes to the delight of everyone present.

At the appointed time, the French Chamber Board of Directors and employees performed a royal parade; all dressed like it’s the 1780’s, before the opening of the doors. Then, the exciting drama was revealed to the public: a huge dolled-up ballroom entirely decorated in a way that gives the illusion one is really in a palace! The hungry crowd made a bee line for the sumptuous French food prepared by the Marriott Hotel Manila Executive Chef Meik Brammer and his team of Chefs. Fresh oysters, traditional chicken stew with beans, and baked beef tenderloin in crust were the crowd favorite.

After the feast for the tummy, the lights slowly turned off and the people gathered at the center stage for a spectacular opening act performance ala Cirque du Soleil. Aftewards, Issa Litton as the stunning event host, introduced Stanislas Camart and Vanesssa Hans, respectively President and Director of the French Chamber of Commerce. They both gave us an overview of the Soiree Beaujolais, its tradition and its impact on the cultural and business relations between France and the Philippines.

As Soiree Beaujolais 2016 came with a heart, The French Chamber also highlighted its foundation France-Philippines United Action (FPUA) which initiated a Silent Auction of four paintings displayed inside the gallery at the Ballroom. Philippe Gauthier, President of FPUA and Founding President of the French Chamber explained to us that the artworks displayed were donated by celebrity Solenn Heussaff and three local artists – Alfonso Recto, Piaget Martelino, and Chris Verayo. The raised fund through the auction will be used to complete the third rehabilitation site in Bogo City, north of Cebu. This will enable two families, former victims of Typhoon Haiyan, to have resilient houses.

Following the French tradition whereby cheese comes after the main course and before the dessert, twenty kinds of cheeses entered Marriott Grand Ballroom after the uncorking ceremony of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine. Then the colorful dessert table was finally up for grabs.

Then, more entertainment ensued as the talented Silver Streaks band played upbeat tunes from different decades. Finally, DJ Mars Miranda spun some billboard music until the party ended at 2 AM.

In the end, Soiree Beaujolais was more than just impressive feast for the senses. The almost 1500 guests gathered undoubtedly enjoyed their journey through the 1780’s in Versailles. We are looking forward to Beaujolais next year with the French Chamber of Commerce as they might pleasantly surprise us again with an original concept party.

Cesar Cruz Jr.

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Cesar studied communication arts at the University of Santo Tomas. He writes articles in the Lifestyle Section of Business Mirror as a lifestyle writer. He manages Pancit Malabon, his own restaurant at Banawe St.

A “Goosetatory” Delight Returns to Lung Hin

A “Goosetatory” Delight Returns to Lung Hin

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Business Mirror | December 13, 2018

The roast goose, a classic Cantonese dish widespread in Hong Kong, will be delighting taste buds at the award-winning Lung Hin in Marco Polo Ortigas.

Guest chef Billy Cheong demonstrates his culinary prowess as he masterfully prepares the prized fat bird. His special culinary technique that preserves the crisp skin and lock in the juices in the tender meat had won international accolades for him. Being born into a family of fine food lovers in their home province of Guangdong, with master chefs as relatives, he can only be destined for culinary stardom.

What is truly amazing is his recent recovery of an over a century old traditional roast goose formula from his grandfather. How about that for a classic recipe?
Premium roast goose is available for a la carte orders. Or opt to feast like an emperor with a set menu with a lineup of authentic dishes such as Steamed Garoupa with Minced Garlic and Pan-Fried Crab with Pork Belly in Supreme Soy Sauce, and Braised Seafood with Peach Gel Soup.

When you definitely got to have a taste of this Hong Kong classic- head over to Lung Hin this season and discovery the taste of true tradition.

Cesar Cruz Jr.

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Cesar studied communication arts at the University of Santo Tomas. He writes articles in the Lifestyle Section of Business Mirror as a lifestyle writer. He manages Pancit Malabon, his own restaurant at Banawe St.

Creating French Culinary Connections With Filipinos

Creating French Culinary Connections With Filipinos

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Business Mirror | December 19, 2019

(In photo: Vatel Restaurant Manila Executive Chef Pierre Cornelis)

To sample top French cuisine offerings and dining, or to satisfy cravings and curiosities in one of the world’s finest gastronomic delights, head on over to Vatel Restaurant Manila in the heart of Malate, where Executive Chef Pierre Cornelis is eager to greet guests and diners with a warm “Bienvenue!”

Just as the meaning of his first name (Pierre is French for Peter), Cornelis has actually been a solid foundation of knowledge and skills for aspiring young Filipinos who are seeking a career, and wishing to make their mark, in the hospitality and culinary industry, be it locally or overseas.

He happens to be the chief instructor and consultant of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s (DLS-CSB) School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management starting in 2009. Since then, Cornelis has actually made Manila his home for over a decade now.

Prior to his scholarly stint, the French chef was originally scouted for his culinary skills to help establish the La Regalade French Bistro in Makati in 2008, adjudged as one of Philippine Tatler’s best restaurants in that same year.

Thus, Cornelis actually wears two hats—or toques, at that—as he oversees the culinary ensemble of Vatel Restaurant Manila. The French-Mediterranean dining outlet can comfortably seat 72 while accommodating 40 alfresco guests at the deck overlooking the majestic Manila Bay.

Behind its commercial purpose, Vatel Restaurant Manila serves as a hatchery of the strengthened educational partnership of the college and Vatel International Business School, a leading European hospitality learning institution based in France. It trains students for middle- and higher-management positions in hospitality and tourism. DLS-CSBis one of its many partner-school around the world.

Speaking of his profession which has brought him to this corner of the world, Cornelis derives a great deal of fulfillment in being an expat.“The best thing about living here is that it gave me the opportunity to start an application restaurant, which I operate with students. I enjoy sharing my field of expertise with them.”

The Frenchman recognizes that running a successful restaurant requires an excellent team to uphold the integrity of recipes, procedures, standards and the application of expertise.

With regard to the specialties of Vatel Restaurant Manila, it follows the original way of the French to keep recipes authentic. Cornelis occasionally introduces new dishes in the menu, offering varieties and giving customers more reasons to enjoy French food.

The seasoned chef cites bistro cuisine, baguette aux echalotes (French bread with shallots) and cassoulet (meat and beans stew)as good introductions to French cuisine. His must-try signature dish is beef bourguignon (sauce with red wine, onions and seasoning).

Desserts are also something to look forward to. The Cerveza Negra ice cream, for one, will definitely not disappoint novice diners.

The French expatriate is all too eager to share his cooking philosophy which he has stood by from the time he was a newbie in the kitchen. “Choose the best produce; use the best technique. Expertly use seasoning and flavors to elevate taste. Always ensure quality and texture,” were his sagely pieces of advice.

The French advantage

WHEN it comes to his career, Cornelis was inspired by Chef Bernard Loiseau, who is regarded by peers as the most charismatic kitchen whiz of all time.

In recent years, however, the Vatel Restaurant Manila’s chief cook found encouragement in the achievements of Alain Ducasse, who happens to be the most celebrated of modern French chefs.

With regard to his inspiration in being a chef and making his mark in the culinary world, he had this to say: “I have always been interested in food and ingredients: meat, fruits and vegetables, which grew my fondness of visiting and enjoying the ambiance of the markets in Belgium and in the South of France. I look forward to their local and seasonal products.”

He shares his take on what makes French cuisine profoundly different from others. Owing to the geography of France and location, he is proud that his country has the advantage of having different climates. The neighboring areas, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, influence the varieties of cheese, wine, fish, meat, vegetables and fruits.

Cornelis continued: “The French have a selection of food varieties. We explore and enhance different flavors from our regions. Finally, we enjoy combining French techniques and cooking methods. I want people to understand that French cuisine is built from authentic, provincial rural recipes.”

The highly prolific chef started to build his portfolio from time he graduated from Ecole Hotelier et tourisme de Liege in Belgium, then harnessed his craft further in a “classic” restaurant after his studies. He further honed his culinary skills by gaining experience in cooking Mediterranean cuisine in various dining establishments in the south of France, in the environs adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea and Corsica.

Cornelis’s keen understanding of the demands of the kitchen has made him sought after not only in his native France, but overseas, as well. The chef has seen action in Montreal, Canada, where he worked with top hotels, such as the Westin Montreal and the Hilton.

During his six-year tenure as executive chef of Le Spa Eastman, where he specialized in healthy cuisine, he was able to parlay his culinary expertise into authoring a cookbook, Le Spa Eastman a votre table (Le Spa Eastman at your table).

The book, which features 100 nutritious recipes, won an award in 2006 as the Best Culinary Cookbook in French at the annual Cuisine Canada co-organized by the University of Guelph, in Ontario.

Speaking of nutrition, Cornelis admits that the creative process of turning a recipe into a gastronomic cuisine with the collaboration of a nutritionist could prove to be challenging. “It begins with meticulously choosing the ingredients. Then everything would follow.”

Recipes for Success

CORNELIS has served as competition judge and chef demonstrator at numerous staging of “Chefs on Parade” and culinary events of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines a few years back.

In March, he was among the 26 chefs in the Philippines who were selected to participate in the fifth edition of “Gout de France,” the largest annual dinner in the world that highlights French gastronomy.

Working about 10 hours daily, the head of Vatel Restaurant Manila makes sure to “cook up something interesting” on weekends—outside the kitchen, that is. His hobbies include swimming and scuba diving, as he is a certified dive master of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or Padi.

For his artistic endeavors, Cornelis finds time to feed his soul by playing the electric guitar and the acoustic six-string. He can also show some moves in the dance floor with the salsa.

The premier chef may be enjoying the view from the top, literally (find out why with a visit to Vatel Restaurant Manila), but he does not stop there.

“I would like DLS-CSB to open another branch of Vatel to reach more customers and students, so they may be able to enjoy and experience dining in a French restaurant serving authentic French cuisine,” he thus expressed his earnest hopes.

It is good to note that Cornelis finds working with Filipinos a breeze:“They are nice, friendly and easy to work with. They understand that preparing and cooking at the kitchen carries a big responsibility, which is to satisfy the cravings of the discerning customers.”

His constant advice to his learners in the kitchen: “I always remind them to be consistent with the recipe to maintain the original, authentic flavor.”

Among the countless cuisines and food preparations he has been exposed to from around the world, one Filipino dish though has won his French heart: “My favorite would have to be chicken tinola. I like the combination of ginger, papaya, malunggay [olifeira] and garlic.” To which, he exclaimed, “Sobrang masarap!”

To Chef Cornelis: It’s such a delight that you love a traditional dish prepared during Christmas in almost every Filipino home, monsieur!

(Vatel Restaurant Manila is at the roof deck of Hotel Benilde Maison De La Salle, Arellano Avenue corner Estrada Street, City of Manila.)

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Author Profile

Cesar studied communication arts at the University of Santo Tomas. He writes articles in the Lifestyle Section of Business Mirror as a lifestyle writer. He manages Pancit Malabon, his own restaurant at Banawe St.

Filipinos Spell the “Plus Factor” in Hotel and Hospitality

Filipinos Spell the “Plus Factor” in Hotel and Hospitality

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Business Mirror | December 12, 2019

Quezon City now has Park Inn by Radisson in North Edsa, as the international chain further solidifies its presence in a major market. The upper-midscale hotel is a testament to the global brand’s partnership with the SM Group, becoming the fourth in the Philippines after Park Inn in Davao, Clark and Iloilo. It is also the first in Metro Manila.

While the hotel has already been fully operational for some months already, General Manager (GM) Nils Rothbarth admits finding exhilaration and excitement in all the work that goes into opening a new one.

“It’s the make-or-break phase. Believe it or not: beyond all preparations that go into groundbreaking, it’s actually the securing of paperwork that’s the trickiest part,” Rothbarth intimated.

We wondered if it was just in the Philippine setting, or a normal occurrence in other countries. After all, the German hotelier has the distinction of bringing many hotels into existence, having spent a great deal of his career as a hotel “GM,” from the cities of Europe, to the capitals of a number of African countries and, now, in this side of Southeast Asia.

“Everywhere, it’s the same. When the paperwork is hurdled, then everything else follows.”

Take it from Rothbarth, who shared his being hands-on with his team members. Whenever possible, he personally interviews applicants. He could not emphasize enough the importance of having the right people to develop and empower.

“The selection process during recruitment stage is the most important one. Without the right people, which we consider as our most important asset, we won’t have a successful hotel. I probably interviewed each and every person employed here, in an effort to get to know the person and discover if we have a cultural fit,” Rothbarth explained.

“It is vital that a lot of things are not scripted, and that is the nice thing about the culture of Filipinos: Service comes naturally. You can feel their sincerity,” he added.

Having set foot in the Philippines only this January, the hotelier is already loving every minute of his stay. He may be new to the Philippines, but not to its nationals.

“From my time in the Middle East, I still remember my former colleagues—a lot of whom were Filipinos. I have always kept in touch with them over the years,” Park Inn by Radisson’s GM told this writer.

“So, when the opportunity to move to the Philippines came, there was not a second of doubt to say ‘Yes,’” the GM beamed with pride.

Filipinos, he said, have left quite an impression on him. In his own words, he finds them as “patient, friendly and sincere.”

The Radisson Advantage

Apart from manpower, the GM shared the elements that make Park Inn by Radisson stand out from the rest, starting with their company philosophy.

“I believe that what sets us apart is our people, together with our mantra which we call ‘EMMA,’ or ‘Every Moment Matters.’ Everyone has a lapel pin which says, ‘Yes, I can!” It is important for staff members on the floor to be able to make a decision for our guests and colleagues.”

That team members are able to call the shots when needed translates to a high level of enjoyment among guests during their stay which, in turn, gives the GM utmost satisfaction.

The GM also champions diversity, inclusion and women empowerment to enable more female team members to assume leadership roles. “My leaders here are all women, which is fantastic. Needless to say, they are so passionate with their work,” Rothbarth voiced out.

Being the people person that he is, the GM finds himself in the thick of things when it comes to the hotel’s operations. Quite expected that his genuine concern for his staff has allowed him to address rank-and-file employees by name.

From his manpower complement, Rothbarth also acknowledged other aspects of the success of Park Inn by Radisson. One is the partnership with the SM Group.

“Being associated with the SM brand is a definite plus for the hotel. For starters, our guests can avail of exciting rewards if they happen to be SM Advantage cardholders. They can enjoy discounts from hotel establishments, like dining in Casa, our all-day dining outlet. Or, they can opt to save points by enlisting in the Radisson Rewards Program.”

Taking a page from the late great mall magnate Henry Sy’s list of must-haves for a successful undertaking, Park Inn by Radisson, as well as its provincial counterparts, bank on their individual strategic locations to draw “staycationers” and leisure travelers.

Particularly for the neighboring locales of “QC,” this is a definite plus, as the hotel is in the nexus of the northern part of Edsa and the North Luzon Expressway via Mindanao Avenue.

“We, likewise, find ourselves serving a market that is in need of larger conference, function and events venue,” Rothbarth related. “The hotel happens to have one of the biggest ballrooms in its category, which is able to host 500 guests in one setting. Thus, we are able to cater to different branches of government, nongovernment agencies, medical associations and the like.”

Climbing the Leadership Ladder

Prior to assuming one of the highest leadership positions within his industry, the German GM shared his story of working his way up, starting from the most basic of roles.

“My first job was being a storekeeper. Basically, I ran all the inventory for the hotel. I was responsible in making sure all the goods that the hotel needs: from the most important, such as food and beverages [F&B], to the most trivial, like paper clips, are in stock and never run out,” Rothbarth recalled.

By being exposed to various hotel departments, he grew a liking for the F&B department. It taught him to be detail-oriented, especially during demanding events, such as wedding receptions, when everything is expected to be perfectly executed.

It comes as no surprise then that Rothbarth considers himself as a passionate “hobby cook.” Mussels, he said, are his go-to main ingredient for his signature dishes because of their amazing flavor, as well as versatility to allow for a host of cooking styles.

As a German who knows his kind of beer and enjoys it, Rothbarth delights in sampling domestic brews. As for local dishes, he has grown a craving for good ole sisig.

In order to stay on top of his game, the expat-hotelier keeps his mind sharp and his spirit inspired by picking up nuggets of wisdom from leisure reading. He is currently delving into Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, and a biography on Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg.

For leisure activities, Rothbarth heads out of town to Subic in Zambales, and the beach towns of Batangas. He is looking forward to visit more beautiful dive spots around the country.

To cap off our conversation, we asked the established hotelier for his advice to upstarts who want to establish themselves in the hospitality industry. His straightforward reply: “Get involved, and have fun.”

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Author Profile

Cesar studied communication arts at the University of Santo Tomas. He writes articles in the Lifestyle Section of Business Mirror as a lifestyle writer. He manages Pancit Malabon, his own restaurant at Banawe St.