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

Author Profile

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:

Batanes Beyond Postcard-Perfect Sceneries

Batanes Beyond Postcard-Perfect Sceneries

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Business Mirror | August 20, 2017

Rediscover Batanes Caravan

Seasoned travelers have compared the topography of Batanes to that of New Zealand and Scotland. The northernmost group of islands in the Philippines remains a top-of-mind destination of avid Filipino travelers.

For this reason, the Rediscover Batanes Caravan by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) was a rousing success. Consumers, tour operators and Philtoa officers all took time off from their busy schedules to explore and imbibe the beauty of Batanes; whether it will be for the first time or the nth time. The four day-and-three-night itinerary consisted of a North Batan Island Tour, Sabtang “Island Discovery” and a Batan South Tour.

The marriage of breathtaking landscapes and seascapes remains to be the main reason to visit Batanes. Indeed, time stops when you explore its grandeur. Your inner voice seems to speak louder as nature drowns down the noise of negativity. Just try standing atop Vayang Rolling Hills or Marlboro Hills (a view that seems to be lifted from the pages of National Geographic) and be mesmerized by nature.

Basco Light House on Naidi Hills

Diversity of flora and fauna

One need not be a photographer nor a researcher to appreciate the charms of Batanes—wanting to be as close to nature as possible is good enough reason.

“You have varieties [of flora and fauna]endemic to the place and also a lot of migratory fauna coming into the island of Batanes. Even, for example, the common tree you see in the lowland area—what you see here is actually the dwarfed version of these trees. You don’t really see them growing that high because of the weather condition. In Batanes the wind and the adversity of some weather conditions make the fauna interesting and quite unique,” Philtoa President Cesar Cruz beams with pride.

Getting into the action, our group embarked on an hour-long nature trail walk toward and from the Nakayama burial grounds, a site of archaeological significance. The location is marked by stones forming the shape of a boat with the tip pointing toward the sea.

Cultural immersion

To know a place is to interact (and live) with its people. Caravan participants got a chance to experience living like native inhabitants of Sabtang island when we had a homestay accommodation. This writer, along with several of his group mates, got to stay overnight at the limestone house of Nanay Masing. She is a kind, old lady who will not trade living in her stone house with living abroad. As with this writer’s interaction with other locals, he noticed a healthy sense of Ivatan pride in them, at the same time maintaining a down-to-earth and well-mannered demeanor.

We also witnessed how a bandillo, or “town crier”, spreads the news of an upcoming brownout among the town people. A woman in her 30s would pedal her trusty old bicycle- making frequent stops to read the news out loud on a portable PA system wherever people are gathered.

The practice of pagmamano is alive and well in Batanes. We were told by our tour guide not to be surprised if kids would approach us, ask for our hand and bring it to their forehead while bowing toward us.

Ivatan Cuisine

Eating good food is one of life’s great pleasures. Pension Ivatan, a hotel and restaurant, became one of our food stops to recharge our batteries from the flurry of island activities we have. We ordered the Ivatan Platter, which is a medley of viands consisting of grilled Dibang (flying fish), grilled tuna, Luñis (Ivatan pork adobo), Uved (banana pith with mixed ground meat), Steamed Tatus (coconut crab), crispy beef ribs, vunes (taro stalks), fern salad and turmeric rice. The feast of flavors was served on kabaya (breadfruit leaves).

For desserts, we had kamote flan and kamote roll—both of which we can’t stop eating and thought of ways we could make these desserts back home.

For refreshments, bottomless pours of lemongrass juice cooled us off from the heat.

Rediscovering Batanes

“All these things you have seen before is always being enhanced still by nature. It caters to low-impact tourism. Everything is still intact, the way you have seen it five, 10, or 15 years ago. There are some developments happening—there is now a 24-hour electrical service in most parts of the island. There is now the communication system, but still, you have to thank the people of Batanes in putting some hold in rapid development, in terms of infrastructure, in any tourism destination,” Philtoa Cruz concluded.

Rediscover Batanes was one of the seven caravans that have been presented at the annual Philippine Travel Mart on September 1 to 3 at the SMX Convention Center under the theme “50 Shades of Fun at Visit Asean @ 50”. Philtoa co-presented the 28th Philippine Travel with the Tourism Promotions Board.

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.

Nuts About “Buko”

Nuts About “Buko”

Gabrielle R. Borromeo

Published in Daily Tribune |November 26, 2018

A Miracle Drink

FRESH buko juice is now one phone call away with Coco Delivery.

Perhaps the fountain that supposedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks or bathes in its waters is not a fountain at all, but a tree — the coconut tree.

The coconut’s water, locally known as buko juice, is a miracle drink that contains antioxidants that help bring back that youthful glow, plus it also has numerous health benefits.

We believe everyone deserves to have access to this healthy and refreshing drink anywhere, especially in the country’s capital

Coconut water is extremely good for the health since it is a good source of fiber, vitamin C and minerals that most people don’t get enough of. It is also proven to keep the body hydrated to prevent common health problems like urinary tract infections and low blood pressure.

Since coconut water forms naturally in the fruit and contains 94 percent water and very little fat, it also helps in weight loss.

There are many benefits to drinking coconut water. One, coconut water is packed with electrolytes that makes it better and comparable to sports drinks since it restores hydration, replenishes electrolytes lost during exercise and maintains proper fluid balance. Second, it is rich in potassium, shown to lower blood pressure in people with high or normal blood pressure and may potentially decrease the risk of blood clots forming in the arteries. Third, it is rich in magnesium, which may increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.


Coco Delivery makes it incredibly convenient to quench one’s thirst, the healthy way.

Of course, even if coconut water is healthy, anything that is too much can cause overdose, bloating and stomach upset. It is all about discipline and balance.

Fortunately for Metro Manila residents, fresh buko juice is now just a phone call away with Coco Delivery. It offers fresh coconut water with no delivery charge and no minimum order required. They deliver anywhere within Metro Manila, even right at one’s doorstep.

Convenience in the Concrete Jungle

At the launch of Coco Delivery at its headquarters on E. Rodriguez, Quezon City, a consumer admitted to testing the new venture’s promise of delivering even just a single bottle to one’s doorstep. Coco Delivery came through.

For fresh buko juice lovers, Coco Delivery is a godsend, making it incredibly convenient to quench one’s thirst, the healthy way. With no added sugar, sweeteners or even flavoring agents compared to other brands, Coco Delivery offers only the purest coconut water in a bottle, making it a hassle-free experience.

At the launch, Coco Delivery’s business unit head Dexter Tan said, “The Philippines is known to be very abundant and rich in producing the freshest coconut water. With this, we believe everyone deserves to have access to this healthy and refreshing drink anywhere, especially in the country’s capital. Coco Delivery addresses the gap between consumers and access to fresh coconut water, which is usually only available in restaurants, malls, or from buko sidewalk vendors and buko cart peddlers in the morning.”

Not only has this company worked its way to serving convenience, it has also made healthier living possible.

Gabrielle Borromeo

Author Profile

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:

Seda Misto Buffet at BGC

Seda Misto Buffet at BGC

Cesar Cruz Jr.

Business Mirror | July 25, 2019

Getting the Right Mix for Buffet Success

Discerning palates will be thrilled with the extensive lineup of authentic international and local dishes set in a spacious and elegant dining establishment in the midst of bustling BGC.

The restaurant, Misto, which means “mixed“ in Italian, had made a name for itself with its tasty offering at reasonable prices since 2012. Its lunch buffet had quite a following with the corporate crowd. Fast forward seven years later, it can now accommodate 220 guests or over six times more than its original capacity.

Misto is part of Seda BGC’s newly built second tower that is set to cater to the demand of more guest rooms and function venues, as well. The buffet offers amazing value at an introductory of only P888 net, seven days a week. The buffet station comprises of premium meat cuts and grilled on the spot seafood for the show kitchen, a carving station, tempura station, a noodle bar, salad greens and fruits on ice and a mouthwatering collection of desserts.

The classic offering of Misto BGC, which never fails to win the hearts of buffet goers are the following: prime beef cuts, seafood grilled to perfection, Napoletana pizza made from Caputo flour, heartwarming soups and Indian dishes piping hot from the tandoori oven. These culinary delights are made fresh in its kitchen theater and various food stations in a new location at the hotel’s expansion tower.

“Just like Seda BGC, this Misto outlet was designed to meet the surging demand for premier facilities in this rapidly growing business district,” Seda senior group General Manager Andrea Mastellone voiced. The Italian hotelier assures the authenticity of the Misto Pizza Neopolitana and other pizza varieties, which with are all made from scratch from start to finish.

Also, a big factor that contributes to the appeal of this buffet is the keen understanding of local cuisine by its chef. In charge of churning out Filipino dishes is Seda’s corporate Executive Chef Romualdo “Pepe” Castillo whose three decades worth of experience is very much attuned to the taste buds of its diner.

Pepe stands behind the well-loved dishes, such as Osso Buco Lamb Shanks, Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon, Lasagna, Crispy Tadyang and Bagnet—all of which will remain part of the Seda Menu and buffet cycle. He also assures that its popular breakfast buffet, which is also offered at P888 net, will retain its fresh selections.

Adding to the luxurious vibe of the place is the stylish and modern interiors marked with a splash of vivid colors and greenery. The prime focus of Misto is its show kitchen, a private dining room for 10 and a semi-private area for large groups of up to 30 persons.

Aside from Misto, there are other facilities worth checking out. The Straight Up roof-deck bar, Club Lounge, gym and pool are all getting an upgrade in the new tower. In the works and soon to be available in the next few months are new room categories, like the Executive Suite and the top-of-the-line Seda Suite, as well as studios and one-bedroom serviced residences.

“BGC’s first premier hotel has truly evolved in keeping with the robust growth of the dynamic business and leisure communities it serves,” Mastellone said with pride.

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.