Chef Daniel Corpuz on coming back to the Philippines and using local chocolates

The New York-based culinary master invites everyone to discover the art of chocolate sculpting

When chefs and foodies go on an adventure, they usually keep their eyes peeled for unusual restaurants highlighting endemic ingredients in their food. But for New York-based Filipino pastry chef and chocolatier Daniel Corpuz, the right way to start his “vacation” here in the Philippines is by having a taste of Jollibee food in its country of origin.

“I know it is very casual food but, I think, Jollibee is on the rise in the US. New York alone has like six or seven locations. When I was growing up there, there was no Jollibee,” Chef Daniel said. “I’m sure ’yung lasa ng (the taste of) Jollibee dito (here) will be totally different, and it is. It is still the classic fried chicken, pero mas malasa dito (but it is tastier here). I’m going to miss it when I leave.”

Chef Daniel Corpuz (Photo by Manila Bulletin)

Chef Daniel is in Manila this month for a series of master classes in partnership with local chocolate brand Auro Chocolate and esteemed culinary arts school Enderun Colleges. His mission is simple, to share his passion for turning chocolates into edible works of art.

Believe it or not, Chef Daniel’s love for cooking is not something that runs in his family. As someone who doesn’t eat a lot when he was young, sometimes just rice without any side dishes, he was also surprised that he ended up in the culinary world.

“Baking in school, that’s what introduced me to food,” he said. “That visceral experience of food for the first time allowed me to stay in this industry and continue to explore and eat everything and anything that I can as long as I don’t die.”

Since then, he has honed his skills by studying at the Culinary Institute of America, gaining an associate degree in Baking and Pastry and a bachelor’s degree in Food Business Administration. Chef Daniel went on to work in several fine dining restaurants in the Big Apple, which include The Modern at MOMA, Manhatta, and One White Street.

But it was during the pandemic that he focused on working with chocolate, making bonbons and sculptures out of the beloved ingredient. His works and master skills as a chocolatier were best shown in the Netflix show “School of Chocolate” with world-renowned pastry chef Amaury Guichon.

“It was the most stressful thing that I have done so far,” he mused. “It was an experience that catapulted this dream. It kind of fine-tuned it. I didn’t know what I would have become from the show.”

His time on the show led him to build his own brand, Daniel Corpuz Chocolatier. With it, the young chef was able to spotlight his Filipino-American upbringing, using Filipino and other Asian flavors in his chocolate creations. During his time here in the Philippines, he was also able to explore more of the Filipino taste by visiting cacao farms in Davao. For him, learning more about the local chocolate cultivation and the lives of Filipino farmers was an eye-opening experience.

“Coming here, meeting these farmers in Davao, kind of put things into perspective,” Chef Daniel said. “Like all the problems that I usually have are pretty small. The individuals here are happy with how life is, which is great. People are passionate about what they’re doing.”

Chef Daniel's Philippine Coffee Bag and his latest chocolate sculpture

One of the things students got to discover in his master class is the creation of his “Philippine Coffee Bag” chocolate showpiece. But prior to that, Chef Daniel also presented his latest creation made of local chocolate. The design features a granite block made of dark, milk, and white chocolate. Above it is a Philippine map with an eight-rayed golden sun sitting on top of a leaf.

As for using local chocolate, Chef Daniel wants to use “Terroir,” a term used in the wine industry where a crop or something is grown and its surrounding affects its flavors and complexity, among others. Each chocolate is different depending on the location it is grown, and, as a result, give different taste notes and experience for people to discover.

“I think we should also use that word in chocolate. The flavor of one chocolate will be different from another chocolate,” he explained. “Once you experience that the first way, you can never experience chocolate the same way because you will get different notes and flavors from one chocolate to another.”

Through his master class, Chef Daniel hoped to meet as many professionals, hobbyists, and students to share his experience and knowledge in terms of making chocolate showpieces. According to him, if more and more people are exposed to it and are familiar with how to do it, it can widen people’s appreciation for the craft and the local ingredients used to make it

“The more I get inspired, the more I want to inspire,” Chef Daniel said. “This is the beauty of chocolates, it is not always just the bar, it can also become a sculpture or structure, and not many people can think about it as such.”

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