Garahe Produce: Chili-Chocolate Creations Handcrafted Within a Tiny Garage

January 21, 2017

Perhaps the last area of the house one would expect to find kitchen experiments and a garden would be the garage. Yet this unlikely setting is precisely where Bea Belen built her chili-chocolate business, and is from where the brand gets its name. The sole owner of Garahe Produce, Bea took the empty carport of her home and transformed it into her own one-woman product development facility, where she creates chili-chocolate barks, “bombs”, and other chili-infused snacks.

“I’ve always loved chocolate and chili,” shares Belen. “I was already into bitter cacao [from the time] I was 4 or 5 years old!” She thanks her half-Bicolano heritage for her penchant for her two key ingredients. Her dad, a true-blue Bicol native, would cook a lot of the spicy dishes the region is known for. Other Bicolano relatives would send them packages of tablea that they’d make themselves from a cacao tree in their backyard. As a teenager, she would experiment with these ingredients, using tablea with hot sauce to make a ganache of sorts. These experiments formed the basis for Garahe Produce.

The barks are the main feature of Garahe Produce. Coming in four varieties (Sea Salt, Macadamia x Cranberries, Superfood, and Superfood x Stevia), they all use a labuyo and habañero-infused chocolate base studded with different nuts and dried fruit. Of the four varieties she offers, the superfood bark—a happy mishmash of chia seeds, quinoa, almonds, cranberries, and goji berries—are a standout. “I run triathlons, and I wanted something [like a] ‘power bar’ that I could eat for long runs,” she shares.

Meanwhile, the Whiskey Yellow Habañero Bombs live up to its “bomb” name. Filled with whiskey-habañero ganache, each piece start out vivid and fruity before erupting with the habañero pepper’s heat. “It’s a favorite of mine,” says Bea. “I really love whiskey.” The idea popped up when she came across a recipe calling for a Jack Daniels-Sriracha meat marinade that uses cacao nibs in the rub.

In coming up with these combinations, she admits she draws from her own experiences. But with this comes something bigger: a commitment to sourcing things locally. This includes cacao liquor from Davao, labuyo from fellow chilihead Chili Asylum, and habañeros from a partner farmer in Bukidnon. She met most of these partner farmers and friends through Chilliheads Philippines [sic], an online community of Filipinos passionate about all things pepper.

She understands the importance of local sourcing on a very personal level. Bea not only hails from a family of farmers herself, but is also passionate about urban farming: she plants herbs, microgreens (which she sells via her other venture, HAHAhalaman), and chilies, among other produce.

Sili and cacao are two high-value crops that the Philippines can actually take advantage of since we can grow them in the Philippines,” she explains. “Sayang kasi ‘yung opportunity and the potential of the farmers.”

“Right now we source [chili] from Taiwan and China, but we can actually export [our own],” she shares. Bea is especially vocal about the uniquely Filipino labuyo for its distinct flavor and aroma. “I think it’s [also] high time for the country to discover our local cacao and find ways how to enjoy them,” she adds. “Because local cacao, siyempre the high grade ones, are really good.”

“Eventually, I’m thinking of coming up with a line of single origin, bean-to-bar [chocolate],” she quips. “As much as I want to do [that], I can’t pa because I lack tools. [They’re] so expensive!” But it’s something she has planned for the future. “As a chocolate maker, it [would be] nice then to do it from scratch. Like, every step of the way [you can] do by hand.”

Garahe Produce is still a work in progress at this point, but one worth watching. Its creative combinations are a welcome addition to the city’s purveyor scene. And with Belen’s locavore advocacy, she is very well doing its part in leading the country toward the right direction. “The goal is to highlight cacao and chili, and the creativity of Filipinos with ingredients available to us.”

Garahe Produce

Chili-spiked chocolaty creations using locally-sourced ingredients.

Spend: 180-330 PHP for a 200-gram pack of barks; 170 PHP for a pack of 6 bombs
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Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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