STIMY Ep 50: Ning-Geng Ong, Founder of Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao

Ep 50.2: Ning-Geng Ong (Founder, Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao)

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Welcome to Episode 50.2!

Our guest for STIMY Episode 50 Part 2 is Ning-Geng Ong.

Ning-Geng Ong is a farmer, chocolate marker, flavour fanatic and founder of Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao, where he makes incredible single-origin Malaysian chocolate. 

In this STIMY episode, Ning shares his journey from majoring in physics and computer science, to founding a business in chocolate making. Everything from working with the indigenous community (including stories involving tigers, a durian thief and a murder!) and how he creates unique flavoured chocolates like assam laksa and nasi kerabu.

This is Part 2 of Episode 50. To listen to Part 1, CLICK HERE.

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    Various stages of chocolate making

    Ning dives deep into the various stages of making chocolate.

    • 2:48: How the signature flavours of chocolate are brought out
    • 4:34: What Ning means by saying he is “fiercely unbending”
    • 12:10: Why Ning runs fermentation anywhere between 6 to 71 days!
    • 18:23: The sheltered, sun-drying process
    Just accept it for how different it is. And don't be too quick to be the judge, because that's what I see a lot of Malaysians do. They're too quick to be the judge.
    STIMY Ep 50: Ning-Geng Ong, Founder of Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao
    Ning-Geng Ong
    Chocolate Maker & Founder

    Signature Flavours of Chocolate Concierge’s Products

    Ning shares he comes up with the uniquely local flavours he sells through Chocolate Concierge, why having a tasting panel is so important and that one chocolate bar he produced that he will NOT be selling to anyone!!

    • 21:54: Creating some of Chocolate Concierge’s signature flavours, including Assam laksa and nasi kerabu bon bon
    STIMY Ep 50: Ning-Geng Ong, Founder of Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao

    Moving Forward

    Wrapping things up, Ning shares why COVID-19 came at a good time for him and advice for those seeking to be chocolate makers/chocolatiers just like him.

    • 34:10: Impact of the global pandemic
    • 37:24: Advice for those seeking to be chocolate makers too

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:

    • Azran Osman-Rani: CEO of Naluri Hidup (formerly CEO of AirAsia X & iFlix)
    • Guy Kawasaki: Chief Evangelist of Canva & Apple
    • Oz Pearlman: Mentalist & Magician, Runner-up in Season 10 of America’s Got Talent & multiple ultra marathon champion

    If you enjoyed this episode with Ning-Geng Ong you can: 

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    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

    STIMY Ep 50: Ning-Geng Ong, Founder of Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao

    STIMY Ep 50.2: Ning-Geng Ong (Founder, Chocolate Concierge & Culture Cacao) - Part 2

    Ning-Geng Ong: The keyword here is artisan. Artisan being a person and such a person is involved in all ways of his or her sensory faculties.

    In our training of our roasting of our winnowing of the beans of salting, we emphasize that you are not a machine.

    We don't want a machine performing your job. You're here because you're a complex being with many senses and be able to make positions for the best outcome of this batch of chocolate. So if you hear something that's unusual, smell something tastes see something or touch something that's unusual.

    So a decision has to be made to preserve something that's unusual or to avoid any pitfalls. And this is what separates an artisanal product. Someone is constantly monitoring. Someone is making a human decision at every turn of the process at every step of the way. This doesn't mean that it's not scalable.

    Ling Yah: Hey, everyone. Welcome to episode 50 Part 2 of the so this is my podcast.

    I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Ning-Geng Ong. If you haven't yet listened to part one, I would recommend scrolling back and giving a listen first.

    But to recap, Ning is a farmer, chocolate maker, flavor fanatic and founder of chocolate concierge and culture Cacao. Where he makes incredible single origin Malaysian chocolate.

    In the past episode, we talked about how he first went from coding to making chocolate and his experiences living with indigenous communities that involved, well, tigers and a murder.

    In this Part 2 of Ning's episode, we get a little bit more technical.

    Talking about fermenting cocoa beans for 71 days.

    And how one batch of chocolate he made. Isn't something he can sell. How he creates signature chocolate flavors like, assam laksa and nasi kerabu, his advice for aspiring chocolate makers and yes, you can do it too. And finally, what flavors he would recommend first time buyers or anyone really to purchase from Chocolate Concierge.

    So are you ready for part two of Ning's story?

    Let's go.

    This is something that I found very interesting. That fermentation is such a critical part in allowing the signature flavors of the chocolate to come out.

    And it sounds very much like fermenting beer or wine, where the cocoa beans take on the regional terroir. So I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how the environment influences the flavors that you got from the cocoa beans,

    Ning-Geng Ong: let's start with the environment then. The different factors that contribute to the flavor of chocolate and chocolate is very complex in the sense that not one single compound is identifiable for chocolate.

    Meaning if you think about the fruits that we consume, for example, lemon or orange, there are number of syntactic flavorings because it's narrowed down to a handful, if not one or two compounds, then that can then be synthesized, which will then give the connotation of what you would associate with a strawberry or an orange or a lemon.

    But when it comes to chocolate, there isn't a handful, but a larger selection of compounds.

    And so therefore you'd be challenged to find a synthetic chocolate flavor that doesn't contain Coco. When you're looking for an artificial or sympathic flavoring or chocolate.

    Having said that, we start with genetic and then we look at all the external factors, including soil climate. Farm management, water management, fertilisation programs.

    Once the pods are harvested, we look at post harvesting process. The drying process does have a significant impact on flavor as well.

    Fermentation and drying and to an extent, the storage of the beans, once it's dried, we call that post-harvesting. Once all of this is done, we have a cocoa bean that is then transport it to a chocolate makers facility. And from there we have the salting roasting, winnowing, yada yada grinding, refining, temporary molding, and the rest to get as close to about chocolate.

    Ling Yah: So I've heard you say before that you are fiercely unblending. So I wonder what you mean by that and how you came to that.

    Ning-Geng Ong: The starting point of why I'm making the chocolate in the first place is because I want to pay something that is as close as I can get to the growing conditions that is expressive of the terroir.

    And another way of saying that is I want more terroir transparency in the chocolate that I make. This means that when I'm fermenting and drying, I'm only doing so on one day's worth of harvest from one single region. And if the same origin has another harvest, the next day, it's treated as a separate lot.

    So first for me, it has to be single origin, not just a country, but not just a state, but the single growing region. Oftentimes that's either a cooperative of small growers or a single estate. And then always, it's also one day's worth of harvest. these are the beans that I ferment.

    Because if today the pots are harvested and have stopped it, let's say today's Thursday. started to ferment the Thursday's harvested bean s. And by Friday would affect experienced 24 hours implementation. And on Friday, if I go out to the farm and I harvest another batch of beans, now that batch of beans should really be fermented on its own because if I mixed.

    The Friday's tomorrow's harvest with the ones that started today, then you're not optimizing for it. The four days that we'll have is that on Thursday would have been either all the fermented leaving the Friday one under fermented, or if you're trying to please both days of harvest.

    So if you're going for the Thursdays, which was maybe the majority and then the Fridays one would be under fermented and therefore that's not a result that is worth while, just because we want to maybe save some time or not starting out a batch because we have less beans whatsoever.

    That's why I'm fiercely unblending in that way. I'm not looking for an average, I'm looking for practice that would highlight the fullest of the expression of one single harvest and of one single origin. And so this poses a different challenge because when I'm supplying these chocolates to chocolate lovers or baristas, or, chefs, sometimes they will say, Hey, I know there is a difference in this batch compared to the last.

    Can you be more consistent?

    So I preempted by telling my client before I provide them that I'm starting from a point where I'm not going to try to be consistent. I'm consistent in a sense with the quality, with the grind size, with the roasting, the physical properties, the flow rate the block size and so on.

    That's consistent, but I'm not going to strive to be consistent across flavor profile because this is what differentiates between an artisanal seasonal maker compared to a commercial maker. Commercial makers is very consistent. And one way to do so is by blending across habits.

    Lets say this year, I have two harvests and last year I have two habits.

    When I make chocolate, I will not exhaust one seasons with of beans. I'll take 25% from this harvest. I'll take 25% from the last one. Now take 25% from last year's second harvest and uptake 25% from to help us. And by doing this very simply, I can create consistency by blending across tablets, you would eliminate anything that is unusual about any single habilis.

    for example, when I receive a bag of beads and when we are roasting it, sometimes there was one that was just startling. Everyone just.asked hey, is someone peeling bananas? Is someone making banana cake or there's someone making banana ice cream in the kitchen, where we look around and you can't find any bananas.

    The bananas aroma was coming from a batch of beans and was so distinct.

    It's like a day. And the first intention as an artist, no makeup for us would be okay. Let's try to preserve this in the bar of the chocolate that we eventually make. This is something that is amazing. Something that is worth celebrating. We want to preserve it.

    Had we been interested about consistency, the first thought would be, how would we suppressed it and how do we get rid of this so that it's not going to stick out like a sore thumb compared to our previous batches.

    So beans, because this would be a surprising turn off of flavor profile that is unexpected and therefore is undesirable for the sake of consistency. And that's what sets what I believe to be what I want to do as an artisan maker, compared to some of the other makers who prioritize, who place consistency as higher in their list of priorities.

    Ling Yah: So it sounds like you can scale what you are doing because it's very artisanal now. It's very distinct, according to what you're doing. So is it fair to say that you are unlikely to ever change our stance? You want to stay true to your vision rather than trying to see, how can I make this a far larger operation than it currently is.

    Ning-Geng Ong: The keyword here is artisan. Artisan being a person and such a person is involved in all ways of his or her sensory faculties.

    In our training of our roasting of our winnowing of the beans of salting, we emphasize that you are not a machine.

    We don't want a machine performing your job. You're here because you're a complex being with many senses and be able to make positions for the best outcome of this batch of chocolate. So if you hear something that's unusual, smell something tastes see something or touch something that's unusual.

    So a decision has to be made to preserve something that's unusual or to avoid any pitfalls. And this is what separates an artisanal product. Someone is constantly monitoring. Someone is making a human decision at every turn of the process at every step of the way. This doesn't mean that it's not scalable.

    If I have a larger plot of land, if I'm dealing with 10 times the number of beans versus now, which is maybe close to a ton a month, can I still be artisanal? The answer is yes. The roaster might be bigger, but I can choose to have a roaster who's a master at what he does. And have that person be empowered to make decisions related to flavor development and roasting and so on. So it's a choice.

    I don't think being artisanal is contradicting the desire to scale.

    I think for business like chocolate making, it has to scale because that's when There are more interesting and exciting when a throughput is more, more people get to enjoy it.

    The social impact is greater. The environmental impact is great. it's not a desire of mine to keep the business operating at a debt at the volume we are today. That's also the reason why we moved facility last year in September. And at the time we were projecting, we needed three times more capacity and then MCO, depending on that happen.

    So we didn't use that the excess capacity that we moved into in this new facility, but it's then now hopefully we'll, use more of that capacity as we move along, but it has been an improvement since last year until this year.

    Ling Yah: One of the things I noticed about the fermentation process that you're involved is that you also really play around with the time from the standard six days, all the way up to, I believe 71 days.

    I just wonder, you know, what kind of impact those number of days add to just the flavor? And you've said before that, even 71 days, you thought you could go beyond that. In which case, how far can you go? Cause the longer that you ferment, it increase the chance of it being exposed to something that you don't want, to contaminate whatever it is that you're fermenting.

    Ning-Geng Ong: The risks got definitely higher when fomentation durations are pushed for a longer, because there are more things that can go wrong with it.

    But that doesn't mean shorter is less risky as well. Sometimes bad fermentations can happen within a day or two and create orders or flavors that are just so off putting and therefore a lot of Malaysians who are familiar or has a memory of being close to a cocoa fomentation facility or drying.

    And these are Malaysians and, the first reaction is, Ooh, it stinks. that's what they remember.

    However, that's because the fermentations are often not controlled. my journey when I first started fermenting, the first time when I was camping out of the farm and just over looking the whole fermentation process.

    And then at the end, bagging the beans into my car because I didn't want the beans to be subjected to rain. So the beans were in the passenger cabin and for the whole drive for two hours, I was inhaling these beans.

    And because the fermentation, when I first started, wasn't the best, I vividly recall having to wind down the window because it was so strong smelling, it was sour and it smell very strong and not in a way that it's pleasant, very musky, like a sourdough that has been forgotten in a closet and found again in a week, you know, that kind of really funky aroma.

    And then eventually we discovered that by changing the parameters of fermentation and changing the vessel by changing the material that the cocoa beans are in touch with to Oak. And just by tweaking these little things now, the cocoa beans I kid you not, smell like honey?

    My last farmhand, it was like any yard is like, what was it me Boss, bau ini macam madu.

    I said, yeah, that's right. It smells really good. It smells like maple syrup. Like honey and supplementation smells like beer brewing or, good sourdough, like a bakery. the difference is day or night so much. So then when I made these changes, when I was transporting the beans, I would wind up the window and I would be happy driving over the hour and a half, two hours inhaling this aroma.

    The process of fermentation is when I started.

    this is something that is center to how I operate. I'm. Trying to find my own answers and challenged a norm, or understand why convention is what it is or why it's prescribed the way it has been. For example, the idea of why should cocoa be fermented between five to six days or four to six days, Why not less and why not more? I wasn't satisfied just to read about the reasons I wanted to experience it for myself through trial and narrow.

    You don't have to tell me the whole ferment. You could always taste beans on the first day, second day, third day, fourth, fifth, and then realize what the evolution of flavor is like from day to day and deciding when that fomentation needs to be terminated.

    But on the other hand, I wanted to know how long can I push it and in order to do so, I wanted to explore other ways of ferments, not the typical cocoa fermentation, which starts with yeast fermentation, which is an aerobic changing the sugars and carbohydrates that are found in the pulp of the cocoa, the sugary stuff into alcohol and other metabolic lights moving past.

    That would be the mesothermic phase where the bacteria lacto acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria, a B, and the lab predominantly then converting the alcohol and some of them that have lights from the yeast fermentation into other components that give rise to enzymes. Encroaching into the interior of the beam, through the membrane and these enzymes are then responsible for breaking down the long chain carbohydrates within the bean and the long chain protein groups of enzymes that are then doing this are the Protase for example.

    And this is where it's good to understand that the cocoa fruit produce this bean not so that humans can have chocolate, the beans are produced so that the tree can, propagate itself. the seed of the cocoa, what we call the bean is really a seed. It's technically a store of energy and it has to be undesirable so that animals don't buy into it and don't end up consuming it.

    And if they do, it's not going to give them much benefit. So this bean is so densely packed with energy that it's not often accessible to our digestive process and this enzyme. And therefore because it's not assessable, it's not desirable the raw bean in terms of flavor. Cause our body is signaling to us.

    Don't bother with it. I'm not going to make this pleasant to you because it's in a form where it's not going to be assessable to your body if you consumed it. And at the same time, this bitterness and astringency signals to your brain, you shouldn't consume it. And it's also a way for the tree to protect its bean so that the civet cats, the rats, the fruit bats, the birds are not consuming the beans.

    so they will be discarding it or passing it to their digestive tracks. But because the enzyme now has enriched through the membrane and are acting upon these long chain heart to break up compounds and, chopping them up into smaller pieces. Now it's interesting because now the body can access it as a source of nutrition.

    It's no longer just soluble fibers. It's in a form where the body can understand, can utilize. And that's where the flavors are created. The precocious of flavors of chocolate. I first found or I developed during the implementation phase.

    Ling Yah: Another process that you've mentioned earlier was drying process. You use the sheltered, sun drying process, which is very different from commercially, which is just using machines.

    So how did you come to that decision that you wanted to use this method? And why is it so important?

    Ning-Geng Ong: Practical and logical step for us.

    I think we were one of the first ones in Malaysia to have done so as well because I want to eat my own beans. When I observe how beans are usually dry at floor level, a lot of times with chickens, cats, dogs, all over it, and just being stored outdoors at night, just doesn't give me the confidence to want to consume more of that stuff.

    So when I thought about, okay, what would make me confident to consume the beans that I produce first? And also to be considerate of the ergonomics of the workers when we are sorting beans.

    And if it's at ground level, it's very difficult, you know. We're not observing it. a lot of times there is no selection process at that height, we're just raking and whatnot. But if it's at table level or counter level, then it's closer to us. It's easier for us to work with a straight back without bending over.

    And it's just a better experience overall.

    I wanted to do it in a greenhouse so that if it rained, if there were bird droppings, it's not going to affect the hygiene of the bees, because a lot of times I'm consuming these beans raw. I'm doing this without having a. Que process or I'm not, pasteurizing the beans before I'm consuming it for the sake of understanding the, flavors of the beans before the roasting process takes place. I'm oftentimes found just peeling beans and just consuming it and looking for a different beans and trying to taste different sides.

    Beans are different looking beans. Just understand how it would take it to the next step. So for me to do that in a safe way, meant that it has to be as clean as possible. initially I was considering, should I do that on, a material that I want it to be sustainable?

    In the sense that, I didn't want to change it all the time. Plastic out of the question, because it would deteriorate and eventually would maybe break off and be found in the beans. So plastic out of the question.

    Metal was out of the question because it would further oxidize the beans while, it's not fully dried.

    So the first day, second day, third day of the, beans drawing. If it was in contact with metal, the beans would put the oxidized. Would turn black, even. So metal is out of the question. \ So I looked at other material and I, found one that ticked all the check marks of being sustainable, natural, affordable.

    And we decided on bamboo surface, because bamboo was found in abundance around the farm because the farm is surrounded three sides by a river. there were clumps and clumps of bamboo that are growing naturally along the banks of the river. And to utilize a material that takes no carbon at all to transport to the farm because it's right there, it's two minutes walk away towards the river to collect them then to trim it, to saw it and to flatten the bamboo so that it can be used as a table was the most old tech, but one that we had to rediscover even if pieces of the bamboo for whatever reason end up in the bags of the beads, you would still be winnowed out. It's not a danger to the health. it's a natural material when we finished so the bamboo needs set surface needs to be changed.

    About every year and a half to two years, if it's frequently used. what we do is we would just that, that pump hole. So we would burn it. So it's not a problem at all.

    Ling Yah: And one thing I also noticed is that you experiment when you're making the chocolate stuff with a lot of local flavors like assam laksa or sour fish noodle soup, I believe your 2019 laksa bon bon was highly sought after chocolate.

    So how do you even come up with these experiments and figure out how to experiment with it? I mean, with the laksa particular flavor, you had 10 different ingredients in it.

    Ning-Geng Ong: That's right. We- it was a lot of ingredients, actually more than 10, but from the vegetable base all the vegetable bays and fruit base, like pineapple, chilli, mint, galangal yeah, ginger torch all of that forms our impression of what assam laksa is.

    And it's really mind-boggling because we've only experienced this combination of herbs, spices, and fruit in a savory dish. And when all of this comes together without the salt for a Malaysian who is familiar with assam laksa, it is just like a mind twist because your mind is telling you this is a savory.

    Combination, but it's not savory. It's sweet.

    Therefore itself, it's quite a journey. And that's what put us, I think, on the mat that creation of bonbon and discovered by the Michelin guy and we're credited for that creation. But my favorite now for local creation is the Nazi kerabu chocolate.

    This was done just prior to this Raya. And you said fish sauce earlier. Actually we are operating a vegetarian kitchen, so there is no fish. We don't even use gelatin in our creation, we do use some eggs and dairy. So it's vegetarian, not a hundred percent vegan, although we have more and more vegan selection and the caribou one has a vegetarian voodoo sauce that is made from fermented soy.

    And miso for me, it's a flavor bomb, but it was just so fun to create because that meant that the team and I, we were hopping from one kerabu stall offering to the next and trying to find out what made a good nasi kerabu. And so we entirely enjoyed the research process the R and D that led to the creation of the Karamu bond bond.

    that was really fun.

    Ling Yah: I wonder if you could give us a little bit more detail of the entire process of creating say the nasi kerabu flavor. So you have that research peer, obviously you need to know what an actual nasi kerabu tastes like that's good. But how do you take that and then input it into the chocolate itself?

    How long is that process? How do you play around with it?

    Ning-Geng Ong: If we're lucky, it takes shorter. Sometimes we think where the flavors, how it will, be combined. And when we execute it, maybe it hits the mark or maybe it doesn't.

    Before we embark on such a testing, sometimes it's very hard to tell how many iterations we would need to go through before we have something that we're happy with. And sometimes you nail it on the first try. Like I wanted to do a, rock melon bonbon. I wrote the recipe. And on the first try nailed it. And sometimes everyone's like, wow, this and that Lynn bonbon is like such a burst of fresh melon and is like, wow.

    Okay, fantastic. But that's the exception, not the norm. I think about not just the flavor in, the combination of the pairing, but also the weight of each of the components, the textual weight has something to do with the fat content of each component. the viscosity or the fluidity of each of the component and visually what we want to see when we have that chance.

    You know, a lot of people, they just pop the whole chocolate into the mouth. They don't even take a bite and take a look. But on the rare occasion, if someone does that with the kerabu, they will find a blue layer, which is actually colored naturally with bunga telang. So the bunga telang actually does nothing in terms of flavor.

    It's there just because in case someone bites in, they will go into it, they will find blue. That is consistent with what we do associate with the nasi kerabu.

    And then they would find a kerisik and they will find a layer of the pulu sauce, which is dark brown. So a lot of times, a lot of thought has been poured into it.

    And all of this has to happen in the format of a 10 gram bite-size gem.

    And sometimes the team just hate it because they're like. you're doing like 20 steps and someone just pops it without much thought. And then their comment is I don't like nasi kerabu is too weird, you know.

    But I know why I'm doing it. So it's important to understand that a lot of times you're creating these recipes that really are it's so complicated, but at the end, it's not everyone's cup of tea. So you have to be your own judge. Don't let anyone tell you what you should be aiming for.

    For me,

    if, 10 customers tell me this nasty crap who sucks, but I think, oh man, this is the bomb. I'm still going to feature it, but I'm not so dumb. I'll still give these Chocolate lovers what they like. The classic there's, I'll never removed the classic range, which is to me, very boring. The Hazel, not new chocolate, it's like the tried and tested.

    And then the salted caramel combination, which is so done, like 2015, but people are like, Ooh, this is a great combination. Salted caramel with sea salt. Ooh, this is, so innovative beyond, but it works. and this is what's fun about a tasting.

    And the next phase of what we want to do is to provide a tasting experience that is tailored.

    Therefore, I'm not going to give the same menu. I'm not going to walk myself into a wall. And therefore, when I'm providing chocolates with my collaborators researchers in the Coco pod, I take note off each individual's preference.

    To certain individual, I will provide for tasting a dark bar, 70% and above, but to other individuals, although they are in the cocoa industry, I would provide a milk chocolate bar is still a single origin in the sense of the cocoa, the cocoa house from Lansing origin, but then I'll make it to a sweeter form, but also include the dairy components so that it's going to take off some of the stringency, The fruity acidity that associated with cocoa or find cocoa and give a experience that is closer to what they expect or what they would think of when they think of a, chocolate confection. Be consistent with that for them.

    ] sometimes for me sitting down and doing a tasting and there are certain feedbacks that not favorable to what you're doing because some of this comes to preference and in the tasting, we, as much as we can design it in such a way where preference always comes at the end, we don't start with preference.

    when we're evaluating cocoa, what are the physical, the objective truths about the tasting. And for cocoa, we look at the cocoa intensity. We look at the acidity. We look at the stringency bitterness. We look at the complexity and then we look at the finish, which is how long it lingers on the pallet.

    And these objective truths is the panel comes together and does a benchmark, meaning we all agree on this chocolate as being rated this way, then the rest of the samples will be rated in relation to the benchmark. And so there will be some objectivity when a panel comes together and provides an input of the different samples.

    And then the very end, we always leave this to the very end, which is what do you prefer, which was the best sample. we are oftentimes doing all these tasting double blinded, meaning the. coordinator who's presenting the samples, don't even know what they are presenting. They don't even know the origin or the recipe or the percentage.

    All they know is 3 randomized numbers associated with sample. And this is important because we are hyper suggestible. If, let's say the coordinator who serving the sample has a slight micro expression, which is a smirk or a frown, the panelists may not even be consciously aware that have seen it, but subconsciously that's going to affect the Objectivity and every little bit counts. The new music that's playing, so we don't play any music, the palette cleanser. So we try to be consistent with that, you know, either salted crackers or warm water and whatnot.

    It's not ideal in a sense that a lot of the panels, we're not doing it at a staggered time because a lot of times in such an event, we schedule a start and end time that everyone is together, but we try to make it so that they're not influencing each other too much in a sense that the results are only discussed after everyone has a chance to taste.

    Ling Yah: And speaking of tasting, I believe Darren Teoh of Dewakan tasted this chocolate you made with nips that was aging hummus and buried under the cocoa tree. And after that, he said, I want to buy everything.

    Ning-Geng Ong: That's right. you just say hummus and it's oftentimes what people think it was aged in, but in fact, it was aged in humus. Yeah, humans being the decomposing organic matter. That is basically compost. What we've done with that was I wanted to make a batch of chocolate that had a connection to the composting, deteriorating rotting nature of what's under the growth of the cocoa close to the earth as possible.

    And even below the earth. And I had this crazy idea that more than just ferment, what if I allow some of these cocoa nibs to be compost in a way that is right under the same very trees that they will have a stick from originally. So if I buried these cocoa nibs in a way that I could still en sure there are food safety when I do excavate it, what kind of chocolate would I make?

    It's a bittersweet story because the first experiment, it was just fantastic. I mean, not had a chocolate that was so earthy. But because of the earliest success in Darren having tasted that, so he's really locked onto that. It's focused on that, but it wasn't something that I could reproduce even after attempt after attempt.

    So the second try, the whole batch of nibs had growth on it. That was orange colored, like, warning orange, you know. Like driving by the road and you see these cones that tell you don't go there. That color fungus was growing on the nips. But that didn't, put me off.

    So when I was faced with the nibs that had all these orange colored cauliflower that have sprung up from it, my initial thought wasn't, Ooh, let's throw this out. My initial thought was, oh, what kind of chocolate would that make? so I made a chocolate out of that and I still have a block of it, which I should chip away at once in a while, but I can't in good conscience sell because I know that when fungus is orange colored, it's often associated with a bat mold.

    And there is very dangerous effect, toxin that can accumulate in the central nervous system. And this is how people get into trouble health wise. And you don't know this in the short term, but if you can see this in the long-term, this is how it's going to show up in your health. So I can't sell it.

    So it's there and I'm eating it and no, no, no.

    I think I, I think I'm nuttier by the day because of this. If I die an early death please have the post-mortem people do a check on aflatoxin is probably going to be the death of me. But because it's so unique as a taste that I can't think of using it because yeah, can't do it.

    I'm probably going to end up eating my whole supply.

    Ling Yah: What is the taste then? You said he was very unique.

    Ning-Geng Ong: Oh, okay. Now with that question, you know what's going to happen. I'm going to go downstairs, eat another chunk of it. It's been a while. Since my last nibble, but it has not one where you would traditionally think of as mushroomy because mushroom is an earthy taste. So it has that deep wooden, earthiness.

    But on top of that, there is this cheesiness as well. Not too far off from a cheddar. So if you can imagine, wood, cheddar and then add to that a little bit of a funk. That's how that chocolate is. I'm just going to have it again.

    You're not having any of it, unless you swear that you'll spit it up. So that block, it's labeled mico. As in like my con like yeah, it's micochondrian. Anyway, it says, do not eat unless it has your name on the label do not consume as your name. Yeah, it's still there.

    Ling Yah: Did you ever doubt yourself when COVID hit?

    Ning-Geng Ong: You know, right before COVID hit, I was at the brink of burnout, I was frantically hiring. I needed to replace myself in, more capacities than one.

    I think I secretly wished for the world to stop. And then I got my wish. So MCO version one was in effect a holiday. I was like, fantastic. My. To do list is getting shorter by the day. I'm getting to sleep more. I'm getting to be physically active healthier, have some semblance of a work life balance, but then at the same time, the business wasn't doing so great, the demands totally fell off.

    And that couldn't come at a better timing for me because I was just going to ramp up in terms of my hiring. So I froze all of that hiring process. So. I didn't take on more financial responsibility that I couldn't handle during that time. And, in hindsight, that was a blessing. Had I been faster, more efficient in the hiring, I would have been in trouble.

    So all you procrastinators out there, it's not all bad news.

    Then as it dragged on and this closing of the economy and opening and closing and opening and cinemas just not able to come back and the tourism just dead in the water right now for a year and a half. Hasn't been the most helpful, but we're looking to pivot. So technology is one that I will be looking to in the short term to medium term.

    Having said this, I don't have a digital presence.

    I don't have an online cart. It's a big problem for me, which I want to address.

    Ling Yah: I noticed. Like anyone who wants to buy has your personal number.

    Ning-Geng Ong: That's right. that's not healthy. That's something I need to get out of. But the issue with that was because having come from a application development.

    Background. I know what it takes to do it. And my current website was done within a day. I woke up a day. I said, okay, chocolate concept. And it's a website in the morning registered for the domain and then started coding. No content management system, hot coding, collected all the photos. I needed format the sent.

    I mean, they didn't the right resolution. And then by midday, got my domain, put it in pessimists have uploaded by about midnight at this time, several cups of coffee and several bars of chocolate in it was done. So I know what it takes. And this is my downfall because I'm looking at all these quotation for a functional web store.

    And I'm thinking, gosh, it will take me three days to do. And if that bill was saved 30,000 ringgit, my question to myself was can I pay myself a thousand when you get to do nothing else, but this, and I'm starting to realize that the willingness to, embark and to do something and the ability to clear once palette in order to do so are two separate things.

    So I just need three consecutive undisrupted days to do that, which for now a year in, I have not encountered, I can't give myself three days of, without interruption. So it's something that I have to come to terms with that.

    Ling Yah: And for those who want to become chocolate makers like you, what's your advice.

    Ning-Geng Ong: Just do it, just do it. start somewhere. You know asked the question. What makes you roll out a bit? What gets you excited? What flavors are you looking to tingle your senses and roll with it? One thing about chocolate is that it shouldn't be, or at least I don't take it too seriously. It can be taken very seriously, but at the same time, give that to a two year old.

    and they are automatically experts about what chocolate they love at every stage of someone's culinary or gourmet journey. You know, each have their preferences going forward, so just do it and but know that a business is more than just making chocolate. If you want to run the business, it's this side of things.

    It's the accounts that finance do you enjoy doing that? If not, how are you going to outsource it? Who are you going to outsource it to HR, hiring, firing training, sales, logistics, storage, and then certification, chocolate making as a business.

    it's not too different than any other business. It has the same components. You need to hire managers, middle managers, you need to hire cooks chefs. you need to have a facility which meant you need to be scouting for the best rent you can get. There's. Utilities and all these things that an entrepreneur or a startup has to deal with.

    it's not too unique in, that sense, but if I have to say anything it's rewarding. If you love chocolate, and I eat chocolate every day but moderation, moderation no more than two bars, no more than 10 Bon bonds. Yeah.

    And it can be very rewarding. But watch out for the pitfalls at the same time. Don't get burned out.

    Ling Yah: For someone who wants to try Chocolate concierge chocolate for the first time, what kind of flavors would you recommend?

    Ning-Geng Ong: Ooh. So this comes to the part where I answered earlier. There are different chocolates for different people.

    I asked a 20 questions for chocolate, you know, are you explorative in terms of the food that you enjoy, do you find yourself tending to stick to the familiar or are you-

    Ling Yah: Let's try someone who's explorative who wants to push the boundaries.

    Ning-Geng Ong: Then you should just say, surprise me and give me a wild card.

    Just give me a wild card and ask for the latest experiments. Whatever the latest experiment is usually seasonal. So if we get a batch of cinnamon bark that's fresh from the tree. We'll use that. We will make a cinnamon chocolate. If we get bananas. Red bananas. Different varietals of bananas or melon, or if we get a batch of coffee beans, and we're pulling espresso shots, we'll make that into a chocolate.

    So whatever is the latest and greatest, as they say, that's the one you should be asking for, because we're always pushing you out of work. And that's where the excitement is. And you may like it. You may not like it. And I probably am an exception when it comes to what I want to consume in a sense that I see myself as curious.

    So when something doesn't agree with me in terms of taste and it's something that maybe I paid a lot of money to taste in a, maybe a fine dining setting my feedback or my opinion on that experience is not one that I will say, Hey, you know that I regretted that food is not delicious and therefore I won't recommend it.

    I come from a kind of a weird perspective, which is if I pay a lot of money to have a tasting, I expect my appellate to be challenged. I want the chef to take me to the brink of my comfort zone. And sometimes do cross that line into two areas when I'm un comfortable. And that's what I want to achieve when I'm invested in the tasting, because in Malaysia, we are really spoiled of choices.

    For less than 20 ringette, you could have a really compelling plate of chicken rice, or char kway teow or bak kut teh and things that are so cozy and familiar and pleasing.

    So what's the incentive if you want to just enjoy something that's in front of you and just have the most lip-smacking experience. You don't have to reach deeper into your pocket for that, you know? so what's the incentive to go beyond, for me, it's comes from also a recognition that my personal preference journey has changed.

    I used to hate beer. I didn't like any alcohol. I didn't understand red wines. I preferred whites. I preferred sweet to wines. I don't understand why people love whiskey. I didn't understand why people drank coffee in the morning, but all of these have, turned 180 degrees.

    Love red wines now. Whiskey bring it on. Bourbon. Sake. Gin. But I recognize that my, preference changed from time to time and I would be conceited to think that whatever I prefer now would be what I prefer going into the future. And what's going to allow me to develop or come to my own conclusion with that is when my palate is challenged.

    I want the chef to challenge me and give me a combination that I haven't experienced before. Something that's going to surprise me. not necessarily wild, but just, surprise me something. I've not, not decided before. That's what I'm looking for, because maybe the chef from his perspective, he may be at a place where this is familiar or pleasant, and using him as a reflection will allow me to get to a new place with regard to my own sensory journey. And that's how I look at.

    Well, thank you so much for your really insightful time with me.

    Ling Yah: Do you feel that you have found your, why?

    Ning-Geng Ong: I continue to find my why. I don't think it's one single train stop. It's a series of continuously finding the purpose and to answer your previous question, I don't think I, even approached it. If someone is looking to try the chocolate, there's no other way, but to drop me a WhatsApp personally, that's how, that's the only way do that currently. That may change what we before the end of the year, but that's how it is right now.

    Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

    Ning-Geng Ong: That's not one that I normally honestly think about. First thing that comes to mind is for all the reforesting and the planting of endangered and threatened species on the plot that I'm operating. I think that would be the first name comes to mind when I think about legacy, because the life of these trees will extend beyond my lifetime and maybe the next few generations I'm interested to set up a way for.

    This piece of land to be held in perpetuity with the understanding that the trees will not be cut down and you will not be developed. That's the first thing that come to mind that comes to mind.

    The social impact and the environmental impact is what really is important to leave behind.

    The chocolate business.

    The sales of the chocolate is just a means towards that end. It's fun. It's what sustains the whole project financially. And on a more personal level it's a piece of chocolate that is going to be magic to whoever consumes it. If it's a two year old or a retiring grandma or colleague, whoever who encounters our creations, if we could just give them that little bit of the magic that we experienced here in the kitchen, that's the impact that I want to have with regard to the chocolate.

    Ling Yah: And what'd you think of the most important qualities of a successful person?

    Ning-Geng Ong: Not be a hypocrite? The ones that I'm tuned into are probably the ones that I'm the weakest in. Therefore ones that I'm paying attention to because I want to hold myself accountable. For example environment is important. That means I'm going to try to get the kitchen too be as far as we can towards the zero waste right now.

    It's not, but it's something we aspire to be sustainable in terms of our usage of energy to take care of the ecology in terms of how we're managing our farm and also to have a community impact to treat the people in our team, the stakeholders, the growers in a way that is just and fair and kind.

    As the business faces challenges, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of why we're doing what we do. And hopefully as I'm reminding myself that the listeners to your podcast can find some bits that are useful to them.

    Ling Yah: Where can people go to find out more about what you're doing and buy some chocolate?

    Ning-Geng Ong: Oh, okay. Well, drop me a lot on WhatsApp. I'm also on Instagram. Chuck concierge, C H O C concierge, C O N E R G. We have a Facebook page, which I sometimes post about what we do at our farm level. And when MTO is over, we'll be posting a call for volunteers to come in be connected with nature, tasted chocolate and come and find some trees and, see what kind of cleanup projects we can do along the rivers and so forth.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of part two of episode 50. The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/50-2.

    Alongside a link to subscribe to this podcast, weekly newsletter.

    And stay tuned for next Sunday, because we will be meeting the senior vice president of Viacom, CBS who was involved in the conceptualizing and running off popular US late night shows like the tonight show with Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon. And right now, the late late show with James Corden.

    He says so much about what life is like behind the scenes, including what it was like to get the go ahead for some of James' crazy episodes like skydiving with Tom Cruise, booking Prince Harry and One Direction on the show, what it's like being on the show himself and so much more.

    It was a tremendously fun interview to do. And you might recognize one of the people we discuss.

    Want to hear more?

    See you next Sunday.

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