The Aura of Auro
One of my best food discoveries of 2017 has to be Auro Chocolate. Launched in the middle of the year, Auro is the brainchild of two young food entrepreneurs, Kelly Go and Mark M. Ocampo. The back story is how Kelly's mother visited a high-end specialty Chocolate retailer in Chicago years ago, and was surprised to discover one bar proudly labeled as using the rare Criollo Porcelana, a heirloom Cacao variety that's grown in the Davao area.
Fast forward to this year, and Auro Chocolate is a reality - the pipe dream of Kelly and Mark to create a Filipino brand of Chocolate that utilizes the local Criollo beans, and is processed, packaged and marketed right here in the Philippines. To achieve this, they travelled to Davao, sought out the Cacao farmers and encouraged them to form cooperatives so that significant harvests could be realized. A plant in Laguna was set up and naturally, that kind of investment requires particular scales of economy. With packaging designed by Mark, inspired by native Mindanao designs, I have to say that the chocolate bars are both nutty and smooth, and can compete with any global brand for taste, consistency, and look!
Earlier this December, Kelly invited me to a special one night Chocolate-infused dinner at the Old Manila. 'Recruiting' Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask, Josh Boutwood of The Test Kitchen, Old Manila's Allan Briones and Peninsula's Executive Pastry Chef Xavier Castello, the night was entitled Beyond Bean to Bar. A three course dinner with each dish incorporating the Auro Chocolate products, it was capped by a trio of desserts. And if I have to single out one of the dishes, my nod would go to Allan's Cinnamon Chocolate Duck Breast - the manner in which the Chocolate blended with the Duck was truly sublime, and I loved how the charred Pineapple served as the 'bed' the Duck rested on.
Allan's Cinnamon Chocolate Duck Breast
For Creativity & Presentation, the 'Coconut' creation of Xavier was too original for words. Like a miniature Coconut with husk and all, one would slice into the Chocolate shell, to find smooth coconut cream and pineapple compote within. While visually, the 'Flower' was ready to challenge, I must admit I am not a big fan of White Chocolate, so 'Coconut' gets my vote.
Xavier’s Coconut Chocolate Streusel
Kelly & Mark's special guests for the night were Rolando 'Sarge' Bueno and his wife Evelyn. Head of a cooperative of Cacao growers in one Davao barangay, the dinner that night was also a way of calling attention to the plight of these farmers and how work is needed to preserve the Criollo Porcelana and expand the number of farmers cultivating this heirloom variety. To promote the farmer, Auro is proposing an Adopt-A-Tree scheme; where for roughly P5,000 a year, you adopt a tree and get 2 kilos of Chocolate products as 'payback'. You help the Cacao growers, have a tree with a sign that bears your name, and have 2 kilos to munch on as well!
Chele's Mahi & Mole
The night was a big success - the likes of Tessa Prieto-Valdes, Paloma Zobel, Issa Litton, Anton Barretto, and Tessa Alindogan - all gushing about the dishes and the Chocolate giveaways. The new Auro Chocolate product I especially loved was the 42% Milk Chocolate with Banana Chips.
Me, I'm just happy that a local brand is out to show that a premium quality, homegrown Chocolate can make it's mark and compete with the best in the world. When we label Chocolates as Swiss and Belgian; and ascribe to them some aura as being the best, we're actually referring to the processing and marketing as neither country grows its own Cacao - so here's a shout out to Auro that's trying to make the concept of From Bean to Bar mean something for these growers from Davao.