A chocolate-inspired eight hands dinner in Old Manila pays homage to the rarest of Philippine cacao varieties.
With Michelin training and shared culinary star power to back them up, and chocolate stouts and fine wines to match, the eight hands Auro Chocolate-inspired benefit dinner by The Peninsula Manila Old Manila Chef de Cuisine Allan Briones, Chef Josh Boutwood of The Test Kitchen, Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask and The Peninsula Manila Executive Pastry Chef Xavier Castello paid homage to the rare Theobroma cacao Criollo and Filipino cacao farmers in Davao.
They say two hands are better than one. If this is true, then eight of the best hands in the culinary business collaborating together while using chocolate as a key ingredient to produce an exclusive six-course menu for a fundraiser benefiting cacao farmers in the southern Philippines had all the makings of an unforgettable evening.
Celebrating the versatility of premium Davao Auro Chocolate, brainchild of young entrepreneurs Kelly Go and Mark Ocampo, the Beyond Bean-to-Bar: Chocolate-Inspired Dinner gave guests the opportunity to adopt organically-grown Theobroma cacao Criollo variety trees in Davao and help a small community of retired marines, who had traded in their arms to farm cacao trees.
A great many people do not know that the Philippines is one of the first countries in Asia to grow the Theobroma cacao plant, whose seed pods are used to make cocoa mass, cocoa powder, confectionary, ganache, and that wonder of wonders—chocolate! Out of the three main cacao varieties, it is the Criollo that is the most prized, rarest, and most expensive in the world. It first came to our shores through the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade in the 1600s. Since then, the cacao fruit has become a part of our culinary tradition, with the tablea (or drinking chocolate) a tradition unique to Filipinos among Asians. However, with the introduction of newer varieties, the cultivation of the Criollo has lessened, and until recently, had been on the verge of extinction. Auro Chocolate was born out of the passion to save the heirloom Criollo variety, while creating a truly fine and world-class Filipino chocolate made with sustainably-sourced cocoa beans from Davao farmers.
The chocolate-inspired benefit dinner was an unprecedented eight hands collaborative effort that showcased the many nuances of chocolate—its sweet and savory sides, offering a richness, profundity and complexity that made it an ideal dinner companion.
The bold structure of the Chocolate Stout from Pedro Brewcrafters and wines from Philippine Wine Merchants were also a natural pairing to the dishes served by the four chefs.
The six-course sweet and savory chocolate degustation was an avenue to launch Auro Chocolate’s participation in “Crowdfarming,” a unique platform in Europe that promotes food sustainability by directly connecting consumers with the origin of their food and its producers. People from over 32 countries, including the Philippines, can adopt an organically-grown Criollo cacao tree in Davao and help a small community of retired marines. The platform, with Auro Chocolate as the only non-EU producer, allows people to watch their tree grow in a virtual farm, visit the tree and meet the farmers. In exchange, they will receive two kilos of Auro fine Filipino chocolate every year.
Auro partnered with Rolando Bueno or “Serge,” a retired marine from Calinan District, Davao, who served in the Philippine Marines for 21 years until he retired and started to dedicate himself to cultivating cacao in 1999. Serge has witnessed the cacao industry grow over the years.
During the short speech he gave during the dinner, he recounted the unfair prices cacao beans used to fetch in the market in the past, but since partnering with Auro Chocolate, he said he now has an incentive to grow fine quality beans and now has access to organic farming and fundamental business management training.