My friends (Lolit Solis foremost among them) and I feel honored that every time top restaurateur Happy Ongpauco-Tiu comes up with something new, which is all the time, she lets us sample whatever new she has to offer.
Welcome to Tsokolateria, Happy’s newest concept (more about it in a while).
“Tsokolateria is all about promoting the different kinds of cacao from the different regions of the Philippines,” explained Happy who comes from a family of restaurateurs that pioneered the lutong-bahay style of cuisine (Barrio Fiesta, etc.) and who inherited the good looks of her mom, retired actress Liberty Ilagan. “Just like wine, cacao flavor differs from each other depending on what province they are from.”
As is her wont, as a good-luck gesture for a new venture, Happy prepared a sumptuous lunch of strictly Tsokolateria goodies at the house of philanthropist Pinky Tobiano in an exclusive Quezon City subdivision. It was also Happy and Pinky’s treat for Lolit and another friend who were celebrating their birthdays.
Before we (also including this columnist, Jojo Gabinete, Bambbi Fuentes, Gorgy Rula, Salve Asis and Pinky’s daughter Pianne Nicollete) gobbled up the feast, Funfare sat down with Happy for a chocolatey talk:
Please describe your new venture further.
“Tsokolateria is an Artisanal Café that is famous for everything cacao and promotes all local ingredients. We specialize in sweet and savory dishes that are infused with tableas and cocoa from the different provinces of the Philippines.”
Where is the main outlet and where are the branches?
“The main branch is in Upper Session Road Baguio City (Tel. No.  442-6049) and our second branch just opened last year in Aguinaldo Hi-Way Tagaytay City (Tel.  413-2461).”
Have you always been a chocolate lover?
“I loved chocolates since I was a kid.”
How long did you conceptualize the Tsokolateria items?
“It took me around six months to conceptualize the menu. Developing the sweet drinks and desserts made of our local cacao varieties was easy. The challenging aspect was infusing the different flavors of tableas/cacaos in my savory and main dishes without that hint of bitterness or sweetness in the food. Amazingly, the outcome flavors of each dish turned out great!”
Did you incorporate into them things you learned from your travels?
“I incorporated more knowledge from my travels in the different provinces in the Philippines, researching on the kinds of cacao trees we grow. It is amazing how cacao harvested from different provinces have its own unique flavor and texture, too.
“As I said, just like with wine, the flavors depend on the kind of soil the cacao is planted in. I also learned unique ways of making garlic cacao, roasted nibs, cacao pepper and smoked ground cacao wherein these techniques are used in cooking my savory and main dishes giving each a unique taste.”
So far, how many restaurants have you put up?
“So far, I have 14 restaurants — Pamana (Tagaytay; Baguio; Mother Ignacia St. in Quezon City; Makati; and Boracay)…Hawaiian BBQ (Boracay, Tagaytay, Quezon City and Baguio)…Tsokolateria (Tagaytay and Baguio)…I love Backyard BBQ (DMall in Boracay)…Bento Box (Leviste St. in Makati City)…and World Topps (re-opening in Makati end of the year).
“I also run Private Dining by Happy Concept Group that specializes in Bespoke Catering with Private Chefs/Butlers and The Boutique Bed and Breakfast, a seven-bedroom Boutique Hotel in Tagaytay. (For more info, log onto www.happyconceptgroup.com.).”
Any plans to put up more restaurants, and what kind if ever?
“I plan to expand Tsokolateria after I give birth to my fourth son. I am also currently constructing a Private Dining Room for my Bespoke Catering where we can host small groups for special occasions.
“Moreover, I will be launching ‘Mom Made’ where we will manufacture ready-to-cook frozen dishes that are free of preservatives, especially made for busy moms like me who always look for healthy, yummy yet easy-to-cook dishes for our children.
“I am very excited for my upcoming projects and I am very grateful to my loyal employees who support my endeavors and work as hard as I do just to achieve my goals.”