He holds a double degree in Physics and Computer Science. Impressive, right? But that’s not just it.
He is also the man responsible for making Malaysian single-origin artisan chocolate a reality through his venture that is Chocolate Concierge!
How did someone from such a background wind up in the world of making tasty treats, you ask?
Well, during the initial stage, it was the curiousity on what truly Malaysian chocolate would taste like that fueled his drive. He also wanted to challenge himself to make chocolate from scratch.
The philosophy he holds onto -- which is 'Don’t hesitate to plant, but think twice before you chop' -- may have also contributed to his boldness in stepping into this uncharted territory.
According to Ning, Malaysia is blessed with growing conditions that are perfect for cacao.
“We also house one of the largest germplasm of cacao, which means we have living specimens of more than 2,600 varietals with different genetics and characteristics,” he enlightened.
“We also have the right people to advance, with the technical know-how and passion”.
However, it is the lack of market awareness of our very own single origin chocolate that puts us behind industry players like Europe, Japan, and Taiwan.
And that, according to Ning, is Chocolate Concierge’s mission to tackle this issue. Ning is confident that Malaysian cacao has what it takes to be on the map.
Chocolate Concierge offers “chocolate that is grown and made locally in small batches by people who want to do good”.
Their chocolaty craft ranges from bon-bons to brittles, bars, and more. There is no denying the creativity and artistry that goes into their creations. Onde-onde, cendol, and durian are several local flavours that have inspired some of Chocolate Concierge’s signature creations.
Their farm is located in Raub, Pahang. In a simple explanation, Ning mentioned that Chocolate Concierge’s approach to their fine productions involves the fermenting, drying, roasting and stone grinding of cacao into chocolates by the craftsmen and craftswomen.
Their CSR program includes an impactful working relationship with the Semai people for the cacao that is named after the tribe.
“We are a social enterprise, working with 150 Orang Asli families as our partner growers, supplementing whatever we grow at our own farm. In addition to that, we are reforesting a portion of our plot with trees to increase ecological diversity,” he said.
We stan a socially responsible company! Besides Semai, Hulu Gali, Batang Kali, and Temuan are a few other local cacao origins on the list too.
When asked what exactly his duties are, Ning answered: “Primarily to cultivate plants and people”.
As for how his daily routine is like, Ning revealed: “There is not a day that is typical, but the time I spend tasting chocolates with people or planting trees the most pleasurable, while the most stimulating work is to understand genetics in trees and see how small changes in fermentation affects the final flavor of the chocolate”.
While the process of making chocolate may seem rather vague and complex to many, Ning assured us that even a simple and minimal process could result in spectacular chocolates if the beans are of such quality.
Overcoming the inferiority bias of Malaysians for local products is one of the challenges Ning faces in his pursuit to shine the spotlight on homegrown cacaos that are also processed domestically.
However, the chocolatier cited that “the sense of discovery, adventure and a touch of magic when I taste something unusual but delicious in a chocolate” are what keeps him going.
It has been a fruitful journey thus far!
Chefs, as well as food and beverage professionals, are among those who make up Chocolate Concierge’s clientele – a feat that Ning considers the best validation.
“We are working with notable individuals like Darren Teoh, Darren Chin, Chef Masashi, and a list that perhaps too long to state here which includes respectable baristas (who make hot chocolate out of our stuff) and coffee professionals.
“We have also recently set up the Malaysian Fine Cacao and Chocolate Alliance to advance the recognition for locally grown and produced cacao and chocolates, that’s a big win,” he added.
Ning firmly believes that there is no wrong way to enjoy chocolate.
“But it helps to have an environment that is relaxing and conducive to introspection,” he elaborated.
The chocolate connoisseur’s advice to those who would like to follow in his footsteps is to, “Taste, taste, taste!”
World Chocolate Day (which took place on Sunday, 7 July), in the words of the chocolate master, is “a time to celebrate the bonds formed by yeast and fermenting cacao, and indulge in the results!”
To all the chocoholics out there, this is his message to you: “You probably haven’t tasted a ‘locally grown’ chocolate. Check out our counter at Bangsar Shopping Centre to start.”
Kredit Gambar: Ong Ning-Geng / Rojak Daily
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