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From Leyte to Calgary: A chocolate love story

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 04, 2022 5:00 am

I look excitedly and longingly at my sampler plate filled with impeccably presented, delicious-looking cakes as chef Ely Salar slowly, almost hesitantly, takes a seat across the table. He seems shy, like one of my cooks who have to present their new recipe to me, but make no mistake about it; his hands are sure, his mind aflame with knowledge. He is a man at the top of his game.

I pop his first two samples in rapid succession: Almond Praline and Chocolate Rocher, both absolutely divine, the sweetness and bitterness of chocolate woven so beautifully with almonds and hazelnuts, belying chef Ely’s deft touch with baking and, specifically, chocolate. 

Chef Ely at work, decorating cakes

His mastery of baking and chocolate always seemed to be in the cards. Growing up in Leyte, chef Ely recalls helping out with their mother’s bakery, a local one making pan de sal, pan de coco and the like. He then took his career in baking to North America, working his way from a service job into the pastry kitchens of some of Calgary’s top hotels. Years of hard work propelled him to pastry chef positions in places like the Pomeroy by Marriott. It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours for one to master their craft, and he has certainly logged those minutes.

As for his mastery as a chocolatier, that too, is in his blood. Asked what his favorite indulgence was, he quickly answers, “Just a simple chocolate cake.” He regards the one his cousin makes as his favorite, even though it’s something not even available commercially. He smiles, shakes his head and says, “I just love chocolate. I’m a chocolate lover.”

Chef Ely and wife Jiannina let their love of chocolate flow into their cakes.

I excitedly turn my attention to more of the samples on my plate, this time munching on Carrot Cream Cheese and Calamansi Bavarian — each one sweet in amazingly unique ways, through admirable technique. Chef Ely reveals he weaves some white chocolate into the cream cheese, providing an amazing mouth feel for the carrot cake, while the smooth and creamy Bavarian is uplifted with hints of citrus flavor from the calamansi he grows on his farm. They are the gifts that keep on giving, much like their creator.

As great chefs often do, chef Ely only wants to work with the best ingredients, and farming and supplying his own calamansi and chocolates was the best thing to do.

As great chefs often do, chef Ely only wants to work with the best ingredients, and farming and supplying his own calamansi and chocolates was the best thing to do. His farm, El Fortunella, is where he sustainably grows and sources a lot of his ingredients, engaging the help of the local farming communities there. As his farm continues to thrive and grow more and more ingredients, he expects to be able to create more. After all, that’s what happens when you give an artist more paint to work with.

The Coffee Creme Brulee Cake with White Chocolate Rose is stunning.

The Tablea Nut Brittle was next on my hit list, and I followed it up with a bite of their signature Chocolate Gateaux. I could wax about how delicious both were, but with these two, what truly astounds is the technique. The gateaux is finished with a mirror icing, blanketing a velvety chocolate mousse. It was so perfectly shiny I swear I could see my reflection on it.

Meanwhile, the Tablea Nut brittle conjures up a very savory taste, with salty and bitter flavors just barely peeking out from the lovely sweetness of the cake. Chef Ely excitedly shares that they hand-roast their chocolate seeds in small batches to attain that beautiful flavor.

Infusing these world-class techniques with local ingredients was always his mission when they opened Patisserie Le Choux-colat, providing artistic, stunning cakes without a bill that traumatizes your wallet.

Chocolate Barks are exclusive to the Patisserie Le Choux-colat store at The Podium.

Arriving back home in 2019, chef Ely and his wife Jiannina, decided to open an online shop first, providing their delectable creations by fielding orders from their IG account (@patisserielechouxcolat). Their continued success has allowed them to finally open their retail store at The Podium, where they also sell their Chocolate Barks by the gram.

Finally, I take bites out of the two more unassuming pieces on my plate, and my mind is totally blown. The Banana Chocolate is astoundingly moist and breathtakingly fragrant. Meanwhile, the Mango Magnifique is so pleasurable I almost slammed my fist on the table. The combination of the light cream and sweet mango brought back the feelings of wonder I had when I first tucked into a mango cream pie, but this time with so much more technique. Banana bread and mango cream cakes are things we see every day and everywhere, but somehow, chef Ely’s versions have the power to transport my mind to my childhood.

I jokingly express my annoyance at how good he is, and chef Ely chuckles but also explains that, as much technique as he infuses in each of his creations, his goal has always been to bring a sense of familiarity or nostalgia to each bite. This is why some of his Gateaux de Voyage or Travel Cakes are based on his and his wife’s favorites, like the Banana Chocolate or the Carrot Cream Cheese. In the end, all of his amazing techniques are just tools for him to draw out the love he puts into each of his creations.

Right before I started tasting the amazing sampler plate, I wondered how a talent of chef Ely’s caliber could look so shy, so boy-next-door, when his acquired skill and natural talent would dwarf some others. After hearing his story from listening to his words and tasting his cakes, I realized the whole look was so apt. Chef Ely is a simple and humble man who only wants to spread love and joy, cloaked in incredible knowledge and skill. His cakes? Exactly the same.