This is where I live my dream.
This is where I find meaning.”
-Raquel Choa, The Chocolate Queen
CHILDHOOD : A TEST OF FAITH AND COURAGE
Raquel Choa’s humble beginnings and her journey towards the discovery of her passion for chocolates started when her grandparents took her and her other siblings to a secluded mountain after their parents separated and left them.
She was only seven years old when she first experienced a rather different kind of life in the mountains. For the first few days were a huge struggle for her and her siblings when they had to adjust to the changes as they go through their daily grind doing menial chores – washing the clothes in the river, collecting banana leaves and coconut shells, making charcoal out of trees then observing religiously the “orasyon” (a six o’clock evening whispered prayer which is essential to rural life).
Chocolate Painting by Raquel's son, Anthony
Her childhood memory was filled with a lot of hardships that she recalled how early they would wake up and prepare for their food and things to sell to their teachers from school supplies to rice for lunch just so they can buy kerosene since there was no electricity in the mountains. Then she and her siblings would cross seven rivers just to go to school. They did the same tedious routine for years.
Raquel also couldn’t forget how they would wake up late at night by the sound of gun shots of the waging wars between the rebels and the government troops. They always end up frightened by the noise. To muffle the harrowing noise of gun shots, her grandmother, a great storyteller, would entertain her and her siblings of bedtime stories.
MARIA CACAO : THE MUSE
One of her favorite stories is The Legend of Maria Cacao,
“the legendary forest queen who harvests the cacao and cruises along the seven rivers to the open seas using her ship that turns to gold each time she docks. Maria Cacao travels the world and sells cacao beans.”
The story of Maria Cacao had planted in her heart just like how her grandmother taught them on how to prepare and savor the chocolate drink made from tablea or pure cacao tablets. The cacao remained in her even after her parents got back together and took them out to the mountain and brought them back to the city which she later experienced the worst.
Back in the city, she cleaned houses, washed clothes, sold candles and flowers in churches, sold meat in the markets and picked up garbage. In wisdom and good faith, she reasoned herself that God allowed it to happen to her for a reason and for a purpose – to be the Chocolate Queen and to be the Ambassador of Cacao in the Philippines.
At sixteen, she got married and started a family. Since then she devoted her time to her husband and to her eight children but her grandmother’s teachings and stories never left her. The memories still kept and ingrained in her mind and heart wherever she went.
TURNING POINT : THE BIRTH OF THE CHOCOLATE QUEEN
One day, her friend, Norma from Argentina asked her what product from Cebu she can bring to her home after asking her to be her business partner. After giving much thought, she recalled her grandmother’s tablea – she learned that chocolate is made from cacao beans then she discovered more creative ways to make them most out of it. Little did she know that her first encounter with the cacao at ten years old would later on make her dreams come true.
The passion and curiosity over chocolate give birth to what we have now, The Chocolate Chamber, together with Ralfe Gourmet that produces artisan chocolate which Raquel supplies to hotels. Cebu City Marriott Hotel is one of the first hotels that served their chocolates to their guests.
Then the Casa de Cacao was established with its main goal to hold chocolate appreciation tour to chocolate aficionados. This month of May, they’ll be launching their first chocolate tour of Cebu which is innovative and sets them apart in the market. In over a short span of time Raquel’s The Chocolate Chamber Boutique Chocolate Retail Store had picked up and gained a huge following not only locally but in different parts of the world.
Her passion for chocolate had instilled her children’s minds as well. Her brood has different roles in their business in the field of arts, culinary and even on the business side. Raquel never thought that her business would expand from a cacao nib to a chocolate-rich eating lifestyle.
Her only goal in life is to share the joy she has found in chocolate making. And even up to now, she engages herself to a never-ending process of more discoveries about chocolate by learning new techniques.
A CHOCOLATE QUEEN’S DREAM, ADVOCACY AND BEADS OF GRATITUDE
With the help of Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Raquel had learned a lot in transforming beans – from harvesting, to fermenting, to drying then roasting to shelling, grinding, molding and bending with other ingredients – she realized that she can fulfill a bigger purpose – to elevate the Philippine chocolate and to put our country and Cebu in the world map of chocolate making and her dream for Cebu to be the Island of Chocolate (Cacao).
Raquel’s advocacy was realized in the recent APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit when Cebuanos were able to share its own creation with the world leaders who were in town for the economic forum. This became with the helpful efforts of the Department Foreign Affairs (DFA) who contacted her for her services and products.
She’s thankful to be able to share her blessings with other farmers to the mountain including the rebel returnees whom she used to be scared from. Now she’s giving jobs to these former rebels and to those who haven’t finished in college. Just like her, she wasn’t able to graduate because she married young, so providing them jobs is like letting her live her dream and strengthening her advocacy to empower women.
She’s grateful for the media and the bloggers who take pictures of her food which she didn’t understand at first. Her initial reaction was, “Why are they taking pictures of my food? I want them to eat!” Then her children explained to her that it is the trend at this day and age to take pictures and share to others of their gastronomic experience via the social media. To her, the media and the bloggers are “the connectors of her dream.”
The Chocolate Queen is also thankful for Cebu City Marriott Hotel whom she called, “the gate of her dreams” which shared her vision in telling the whole world that we, Filipinos know how to make chocolates. She also appreciated the support given to her by the other hotels: Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa Cebu and Marco Polo Plaza Cebu.
Despite the newfound knowledge, Raquel still considers herself as an old soul. She still prefers to do things the old way. She may have introduced to us new ways of appreciating chocolate but up to this day, she still preserves the tradition of drinking chocolate just like what her grandmother had taught her when she was seven years old.
This is Raquel Choa’s “affair with the chocolate -- where she lives her dream and where she finds meaning.”
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