Kitchen Stories Life!

The story of a chocolate queen

Cacao de Bola

Cacao de Bola

IN CELEBRATION of Mother’s Day, Marriott Cebu City Hotel hosted the event “Live & Share,” an afternoon where Chocolate Queen Raquel Toquero Choa (she prefers to be called Tablea-Maker) shared her life, passion and advocacy.

I was totally captivated by the woman behind the successful and much talked about world-class tablea and her exquisite chocolate products at the Chocolate Chamber Boutique.

Her stark simplicity and tranquil bearing made quite an impression on all of us. Only 40 years old, she has achieved what many of us may take a lifetime. Her slim figure belies the fact that she has given birth to eight good-looking children who are starting to follow in the footsteps of their mother.

Racquel Toquero Choa’s life is what fairy tales are made of. She was only seven years old when her parents separated, after which she and her siblings were sent to live with their grandmother in the mountains of Balamban. That was in the 1980’s when rebels dominated the mountains.

Raquel preparing sikwate in tsokoletera with batirol, skillfully -pulling- the Sikwate, and pounding Cacao Beans in Lusong with Alho.

Raquel preparing sikwate in tsokoletera with batirol, skillfully -pulling- the Sikwate, and pounding Cacao Beans in Lusong with Alho.

Despite their extremely difficult life, her grandmother whom they fondly called Nanay Nila instilled in them the value of hard work. And she treasures the handed-down art of telling a story from a book by her grandmother over a cup of hot “sikwate”–a great comfort in their young lives at night, after a day’s journey of survival.

Raquel related how they would cross seven rivers just to reach school where they also sold whatever food they had prepared the night before to augment their needs. Her favorite tale was about the legend of Maria Cacao, believed to be the queen of the cacao forest. Their Nanay Nila also taught them how to plant cacao, harvest, ferment, sun-dry, roast the beans and make pure tablea, a task that she has mastered by heart, which eventually inspired her chocolate journey.

The “old soul” that she is, Raquel chooses to do her craft the old-fashioned, artisanal way, using her highly developed senses to achieve perfection. She does everything by hand. With ethnic grace and calculated movements, Raquel showed us how Tablea and Cacao de Bola were made.

Hand-rolled Tablea Truffles.

Hand-rolled Tablea Truffles.

Using a “lusong” or stone mortar and “alho” or wooden pestle, she pounded the roasted cacao beans or nibs into a cocoa mass of pure chocolate in rough form, creating rhythmic pounding sounds in the process. I volunteered to help her pound the beans.

Raquel’s art of preparing and enjoying a good cup of hot “sikwate” is truly fascinating. Each step is done with precision. The hot chocolate drink is poured into a clay pot and hand-beaten with a baterol to render a smooth texture, a technique she determines from the sound of the “sikwate” while being beaten by the baterol. And to further improve the viscosity, she hand-pulls the dark rich tablea drink, while we watched in awe.

This “tablea-maker” has been beating her “sikwate,” hand-rolling tablea truffles, creating exquisite tablea-inspired pastries and desserts, putting Cebu in the global map. The Philippine cacao, after all, has a distinct flavor that is unique to our country.

TAGS: Cebu, chocolate, chocolate maket, Raquel Toquero, tablea, The Chocolate Chamber
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