Pam Cinco calls herself the CEO of Risa Chocolates—the Chocolate Eating Officer (it even says so on her card!). Her business card and title perfectly sum up her approach to the chocolate business. Cinco wanted to highlight “first and foremost [wanted to put forward] the joy that chocolate brings to you,” and that pure joy that she associates with the rich, dark treat is what inspired the name “Risa.” From the Spanish phrase un sonrisa a de la corazon meaning a smile from the heart, “Risa” symbolizes the happy-effect that good chocolate has on the eater.
A veritable chocolate nerd, Cinco tells us about her arduous journey from the pre-Internet days of making long distance calls to ask resources about the chocolate processes they use, to standing outside the DOST building while several months pregnant and refusing to budge until they directed her to someone who could assist with obtaining the proper chocolate-making machinery (“hormones,” she explains her actions with a laugh; the act was effective because she received a grant from DOST for that machine), to making custom orders of chocolate using goat’s milk for chocolate lovers with sensitivities to cow’s milk.
Cinco’s passion for chocolate began in the kitchen, as she started out as a baker, “… and I realized everything I bake has chocolate in it.” She started working with chocolate as a chocolatier, making her own truffles but at the time was working with imported couvertures like Callebaut and Valrhona. When she realized that the Philippines had its own potential to create chocolate instead of importing thanks to our landscape that is ideal for growing cacao, she decided to dig further back and look for the local bean that could offer a rich, nuanced flavor that could take pride in being called Filipino.
As her passion for chocolate grew and she began creating her own bars, she met Jun Pantua, Jr. of Kablon Farms and they became friends, a key factor in the growth of both chocolate brands. Pantua, who was interested in using his cacao harvest for more than tablea, supplied Risa Chocolates with their South Cotobato beans, and Cinco showed Pantua how to temper chocolate for their own brand of Kablon chocolate bars. “But when you make your own chocolate, you fall in love with the process and you are led into something that [works] for you [with the] resources you have. So we have the same bean, but the chocolate is not the same,” Cinco clarifies.
Since founding Risa Chocolates in 2015, Cinco enjoys experimenting with different beans, combinations, types of dairy to innovate new chocolate products, but her latest innovation of chocolate-covered pili nuts (and our now-favorite in her line of products) was actually a happy accident. “First, I love pili. And I keep on experimenting on what to do with it. Nuts are very healthy, and pili is one of the healthiest nuts in terms of essential fat—the fat that is good for you.” Cinco first fell in love with pili nut when she was working for San Miguel Corporation and was assigned to Naga. “I grew to love the way people would eat pili. They would eat everything, even the peel…” she tells us. She also credits Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat for developing her love for the Filipino farmers when she invited Cinco to a trip to Bicol, “… and I was amazed at how pili was growing. Pili has so much potential.”
She wanted to create something that would bring attention to our local nut, which she wishes the country received recognition for. While creating the Pastillas de Pili product in their line of bars, she accidentally dropped a pili nut into melted chocolate, and ate it so it wouldn’t go to waste. Thus came the inspiration for the Pilitas. The dark chocolate covered treats come in two versions, the first covered in chocolate and sweetened with sugar to “bring out the creaminess” and the other covered in dark chocolate and sweetened with coco sugar to “bring out the nuttiness.”
Last October 2016, Risa Chocolate was invited and joined The Chocolate Show in London (organized by Salon du Chocolat), their first international show where they got to interact with and receive feedback directly from consumers. “We want to put the Philippines back on the chocolate map,” says Cinco, dreamy-eyed and full of hope. And with the unbridled determination and sincere passion bordering on obsession with chocolate, we sense that The Chocolate Show is only the beginning.
Risa Chocolates offers artisanal chocolate products including bars, barks, truffles, pralines, and now, pilitas.