LIKE many others in the food and hospitality industry, Filipino American Daniel Joseph Corpuz lost his job as the global pandemic began to wreak havoc last year.
“Inisip ko kung ano ang puwede kong gawin, I can’t do nothing here at home,” the chocolatier and pastry chef told the Asian Journal.
Corpuz played a lot with chocolate to further hone and practice his knowledge and he posted his stuff on social media. Because of his business and chocolate background, he toyed with the idea of selling his chocolate creations, and thus began his chocolate brand.
He did a couple of pop-ups in the city, including one at Kabisera, a Filipino-owned cafe on the Lower East Side.
Then Netflix found him. They liked his story and they decided to have him on the show called ‘School of Chocolate’. Corpuz described this experience as amazing, one that truly made him realize what he wanted to do in life.
“We made a thousand and one things I would have never thought we would make. From our feet tall sculptures, sculpting things, and just meeting chef Amaury,” he shared. “He’s such an icon in pastry that when we finally met him, I was so excited. And it’s definitely opened a thousand doors for me after the show.”
He is referring to the French pastry chef Amaury Guichon, a renowned chocolatier who is their instructor on the show. Corpuz was one of eight pastry and chocolate professionals competing for the grand prize of $100,000 and a chance to teach at Guichon’s pastry academy in Las Vegas.
The series premiered on Netflix last Nov. 26.
Young and Eager
Now 23 years old, Corpuz was the youngest student on the show. Born and raised in New York, he turned 22 as they filmed the series in Los Angeles late last year.
“Clearly, everyone who was there, they were seasoned vets. And there was definitely this part of me that was like, ‘Oh man, will I be able to compete? Will I be able to deliver the same product?’” he said.
As doubt got in his head, he had to dig deep for inspiration and find the reason why he was there in the first place.
“I think after the first episode, that’s when I was like, ‘I’m here for a reason.’ And clearly, I have proven to the Netflix people that I was not this random person who just makes stuff and seeing what I produced and seeing what everyone else produced, I was able to do it. Okay, I’m here, and I’m happy to be here,” he added.
When he saw the rest of the class, he also realized that he was the only Filipino and he thought it was a great opportunity to show them his heritage.
He wanted to represent in one way or another, flavor-wise or design-wise.
For their first challenge, the students were asked to make their own mold. It was something that Corpuz had done before so he thought he would go with a brown coffee bag because he is such a coffee fiend.
“I wanted the [Philippine] map to be a little more precise, but at some point, I was like, I have to let it be and clearly people understood what the map looked like,” he said laughing.
He is thankful that the producers took a chance on him. Getting chef Amaury as a mentor and learning life lessons from him was something he is grateful for.
Aside from the cool tips and tricks he learned and added to his arsenal, Corpuz said that he took to heart what chef Amaury told him about being humble and how he should never stop learning.
“I know that I will never be the best of the best because there’s always something to add to what I do. Technically and clearly, the other chefs showed more pastry skills and so that’s something I was working on more of,” he said.
Nurturing His Love for Chocolate
Corpuz earned his Associate’s Degree in Baking and a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Business Administration in 2019 from the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, the training ground of many chefs who have made their names in the industry.
“It’s so unFilipino to not go to a traditional field. I feel so fortunate that my parents didn’t squash my dream. Sinuportahan nila talaga ako, whether it was washing dishes or cleaning up after my messes,” he said laughing.
CIA was his only choice of school. He knew that armed with a CIA degree, he could start dreaming about starting his own business.
At CIA, he learned the fundamentals and in the end, it was up to the students to choose what they’d like to do. And for him, it was chocolate.
“I love the taste of chocolate, love the smell of chocolate,” Corpuz said as he showed us cacao from Davao City. “Working with it is different, unlike cake decorating or sugar blowing.”
Corpuz’s chocolate business is Filipino- and Asian-inspired or influenced. He has the classic flavors as well but he also wants to highlight inspired flavors such as ube, pandan, and muscovado.
“Most people don’t know what Filipino desserts are, what Filipino sweet flavors are so to be able to have the platform now to share what we have to offer is super fun,” he shared.
The last time he was in the Philippines was back in 2009. He is looking forward to going back someday to meet his friends and the cacao farmers he partnered with in Davao.
The global reach of Netflix as a platform has led to Corpuz receiving messages every day from viewers from the Philippines and Filipinos from around the world.
“It has been such a whirlwind and I’m so thankful for the support,” he said.
His booth at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market has been busy with shoppers and onlookers chatting him up and getting their selfies as soon as they recognized who he was. On the day of our interview, we even met a few tourists from out of state who trekked to the market when they found out about the pop-up through Corpuz’s Instagram post.
As demand for his chocolates rises, Corpuz is looking at investing in more equipment and potentially hiring more people to help him make his delicate treats.
Starting the brand from a very small kitchen in their Staten Island apartment, Corpuz is setting his sights higher. He wants a Daniel Corpuz Chocolatier brick-and-mortar shop someday.
Armed with his tenacity and confidence, tempered with the right blend of humility and chutzpah, we’re hopeful that Daniel Corpuz will be opening the doors of his own chocolate shop sooner than he’d expect.