Ning-Geng Ong didn’t envision himself to be a grower and chocolate maker… but his curiosity and sweet tooth eventually beckoned. So begins the conception of Chocolate Concierge, his artisanal single-origin chocolate operation.
Today, Ning strives to put Malaysian grown-and-made chocolate on the world map through unique, delicious creations of east and west flavours that still represent Malaysia.
Chocolate Concierge wouldn’t have happened if Ning didn’t take a trip home to Kuala Lumpur with his then-fiancée, (now wife) Melissa. The couple relocated from Chicago to Malaysia for a change of environment and to fulfil Ning’s desire of living closer to his grandmother.
For years, Ning was fascinated by the fermentation of cocoa and the potential of its beans. Malaysia is one of the world’s largest cocoa producers; but very few people know this, which he found bewildering. As top-quality harvests are usually exported to countries like Europe, it leaves little to wonder why few would associate Malaysia with premium chocolate.
He began helping out at his father’s F&B business, gaining experience with food technology and the fermentation process. Not long after, the idea of matchmaking unique, single-origin chocolates with local chocolate lovers sparked, and Chocolate Concierge was born.
“I want to make good chocolate and, at the same time, empower the growers and do that in a way that stays true to the Malaysian origin.”
Beyond Chocolate Concierge, Ning established Culture Cacao, a corporate social responsibility project, working hand-in-hand with the Orang Asli (indigenous people) in Pahang, buying wild cocoa pods from the farmers to help them sustain a better livelihood. As a tribute to and appreciation for these precious cultivators, Ning names his chocolate bars after the Orang Asli tribes.
Ning also co-owns a few cocoa farms to have better control of the fermentation process; a series of crucial steps that are incredibly long and tedious, and responsible for creating the aromas, bold flavours and colour of chocolate.
Making premium-quality artisanal chocolate begins with harvesting the cocoa at its perfect ripeness. The pulp is then removed from the beans, followed by naturally fermenting them in the least intrusive manner possible.
After fermentation, Ning sundries the beans in his sheltered greenhouse, where they are bagged and delivered to the chocolate-making facility for roasting and refining.
With his educational background in Physics and Computer Science, Ning transfers these skills and knowledge towards understanding the biological construction of cocoa as well as the chemical reaction and breakdown of close to two thousand compounds during fermentation – details that are essential to the creation of Chocolate Concierge’s creamy, artisanal chocolate.
“I want to stay true to the origin by making the chocolate in a certain style that would give whoever who has a bite of that chocolate a sense of how the cocoa is grown in this region.”
Despite the challenges and finesse required, Ning has elevated the craft of chocolate-making into a modern yet traditional art. He devotes his time to experiment and showcase iconic and familiar local flavours in chocolate, such as the Kuih Salat (steamed glutinous rice cake with pandan custard), Cempedak (Jackfruit), and Teh Tarik (Malaysian Ceylon milk tea).
His simple yet meticulous preparation and craft have already been recognised by gourmet establishments such as Dewakan Restaurant, the first and only Malaysian restaurant to make it on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Ning was specially invited to create bespoke pralines with customised flavour profiles for their menu. With this recognition, he has definitely succeeded in taking a step towards bringing Malaysia’s chocolate to the limelight.
Ning likens the concept of crafting bean-to-bar chocolate with specialty coffee beans, explaining that creating awareness starts with uniting and supporting a community of growers, chocolatiers and advocates.
For Ning, the road to change starts from the heart. Chocolate-making, to him, is a passion that never ends – intense, infinitely desirable, and boundless in its expression.