Meet Pam Lim Cinco: Risa Chocolates’ CEO (Chocolate Eating Officer)
Risa Chocolates brings something special to our local food and beverage industry: 100% locally-made chocolate.
It was 9 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday morning when we walked into Pam Lim Cinco's quaint chocolate confectionery, Risa Chocolates, nestled in the middle of Las Piñas. Before we knew it, we were each munching on a salted chocolate chunk cookie. "Don't be shy!," she playfully teased. And then, we reached for seconds, then thirds, and fought over the last few pieces. This was how she fed our obsession with chocolates first thing in the morning.
"In my calling card, my title is 'Chocolate Eating Officer.' But I'm really just matakaw. Maybe I should change it to 'Chocolate Takaw Officer' instead," she candidly mused.
To the many bakers and restaurateurs that she supplies chocolate to, Pam embodies an ideal that is hard to find: the chocolatier who structures her products around the Philippine cacao industry, instead of harping on robotic high-production business operations. Pam's goal is not to make profit while compromising the quality of her chocolate. Her products and her ambition for her company are much more meaningful than that.
Involved in the whole process of production from bean to bar, Pam takes pride in supporting small-scale farmers and using well-loved Pinoy flavors and ingredients in her menu.
"We are a modern Filipino chocolate company. We price good-quality beans and make even better quality chocolate. It's really just all about making honest-to-goodness chocolate."
Pam's love for chocolate is rooted in her humble home-baker beginnings. She started baking in college, and loved throwing chocolate into her sweet creations. Soon enough, she began to wonder why the Philippines was very rich with great cacao beans, but no real Filipino chocolate brands existed. Pam hit the books and started learning everything she could about chocolate.
"I started to work with chocolate because the more I got to know about it, the more I saw myself in it. While you can be creative with it, there's also the science behind it."
Blessed with intuition when it comes to working with chocolate and all the complexities that come with it, Pam decided to share her gift with her friends and eventually, with the rest of Manila.
"Making it [chocolate] right gives me so much fulfilment. Especially when I give it to someone that I really love, and I see a giddy smile on that person's face. It just makes me so happy!"
Risa Chocolates has bars, pralines, and truffles that are flavored with unique ingredients like queso de bola, chicharon, pili nut, chili, and brown butter, among others. Pam sources her ingredients from local small-scale farmers, and enjoys doing mutually beneficial business with them. Her current single-origin cacao bean source from South Cotabato delivers beans that are already roasted to her specifications.
"When farmers ferment the beans, it's sold at a certain price," she explains. "Then when they roast it, which takes just another day and a little investment on their part, they can double or triple the selling price of their supply. So, it's nice how your farmers get that whole thing. And on my end, it's more convenient because we don't have to roast them anymore. I don't mind doing it, but if we can have a win-win situation with the farmers, that's already the best deal for me."
Running this kind of business may seem very glamorous (imagine all the chocolate you can eat!), but it can also be very overwhelming.
"Chocolate is so moody. One small change in the environment, equipment, or ingredient will yield completely different results, even if I am working with the same chocolate. Then there are the sleepless nights, the sometimes very difficult customers, and all the mistakes that you make."
Luckily for Pam, inspiration is something that she never runs short of. She never discounts the people that she has met along the way: chefs, customers, cacao farmers, and her small but feisty team at Risa Chocolates.
Her two employees, Joseph and Brenda, work tirelessly to make the best chocolate products possible.
"My only requirement [in hiring them] was a love for chocolate, a love for food, and the willingness to learn. I don't want to impose any work on them. I want them to also love what they are doing."
In between managing her business and creating fun chocolate flavors, Pam plays around with the savory notes of chocolate as well. Some of the dishes that she's created with chocolate are meat stews, vegetable stir-fries, and chicken tamales. Even traditional sweets have twists when Pam prepares them:
"If I were to spice up a regular batch of brownies, I would mix in some concentrated balsamic vinegar with a bit of heat, like some chili powder. I'd add a little bit of salt, and that's it! That would be delicious. I'm getting hungry. Can we eat na?"
With fresh ideas and sound business practices, Pam completely embodies and represents the Filipino heart in both being creative with food and in doing collaborative work. Her words of advice for young entrepreneurs?
"Be very brave and courageous about it. It's not easy being in business: you will really face a lot of hardships. Believe in yourself and believe in your vision. Also, you have to have that kind of faith where you know that things will work out but at the same time, you have to be practical and flexible. The most important thing is that you have to be nice to everyone, in any way, whether they are your suppliers or your employees."
Risa Chocolates is available at Risa Chocolate Kitchen, Somascan Building, CRM Avenue, BF Almanza, Las Pinas 1770, Philippines.