Saturday, April 16, 2016

Elaine's box of chocolates

"Elaine’s box of chocolates"
Sun.Star Davao, April 16, 2016

Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get”, uttered Forrest Gump in the award-winning movie with the same title.

Indeed, life is full of surprises, with its highs and lows; as well as unexpected twists and turns.

For Elaine Lim, her world changed dramatically at age 19. With only a semester short of graduating from her AB Communication Arts course at Ateneo de Davao University, she suddenly felt a slight pain in her left knee. Results from her X-ray and MRI tests showed tumor on her left distal temur.

“Everything went by so quickly after that day. Next thing I knew, I was flying to Manila to get further tests and treatment. From the airport, we went straight to the hospital where my doctor recommended biopsy (which further confirmed osteosarcoma, a cancerous tumor in a bone) and chemotherapy. For one year, I went through seven cycles of chemotherapy and several operations. Life, as I knew it, turned a full 360 degrees. All the truth I knew became no more. The only constant thing in my life that time was change”, recalls Elaine.


Thankfully, in 2001, she was declared to be in remission by her doctors. She excitedly went back to Davao with a goal in mind and that is, to finish her studies. In 2003, the relentless Elaine finally got her much-coveted bachelor’s degree.

“My first work experience was with ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation in Manila as a concept developer. Our group was designated to come up with ideas for new and existing TV shows on Channel 2. Eventually, I became a writer and segment producer of a show that involved women empowerment, a TV show idea which I strongly believed in”, describes Elaine.

“I also worked as a writer/segment producer for “Wazzup Wazzup”, a comedic-news program on Channel 23, which featured Toni Gonzaga, Vhong Navarro and Archie Alemania. I was likewise involved with “Breakfast at Studio 23”, a morning news show with Atom Araullo, Patty Laurel and JC Cuadrado as hosts”, she continues.

Dream job

In 2007, Elaine fulfilled her goal of working in a magazine. She transferred to Summit Media Publishing and was assigned at the then recently launched “Yummy” magazine.

“I have always loved writing and working for a magazine was my number 1 dream job. My editor then gladly took a chance on a newbie like me, with no prior magazine experience and hired me as an Editorial Assistant”, Elaine divulges.

Eventually, she was promoted to Assistant Style Editor and then to Associate Style Editor. Aside from handling several sections in the magazine and writing, she was largely involved with prop and food styling for the magazine.

“For an avid foodie like me, working for “Yummy” was truly a dream come true! “Yummy” shoots were always fun and what I loved most from working there was it always involved food—lots of them! And, we always got first dibs on the latest food trends and products”, laughs Elaine.

“Yummy also opened doors for me as a contributing stylist for other magazines like “Candy”, “Total Girl”, “Town and Country”, “Good Housekeeping”, “Martha Stewart Weddings”, “Disney Princess”, and “K-Zone”. I also became a stylist for restaurant menus and ad campaigns. In addition, my work helped me tap my creativity and talent in styling”, she narrates.

International foodie

Another delightful opportunity awaited Elaine in 2011. Upon getting an email for an invitation for a job interview for a publishing company in Singapore, she booked her flight, flew solo out of the country for the very first time, and landed the job she was called in for – as a writer for Food and Travel Magazine and BBC Good Food Magazine (Asian Edition).

“My tasks involved writing articles, food and prop styling, working closely with chefs and contributors, testing recipes, and my most favorite part: checking out the food scene and discovering new food finds in Singapore!”, smiles Elaine.

A few months after, her then boyfriend followed and moved to Singapore as well. In November 2012, Elaine got married to John Wilgeor Balaba, a former colleague in ABS-CBN.

However, while working in Singapore for several months, Elaine received a call from her father asking her to help him start a cacao business using machines he fabricated.

“Of course, I hesitated at first. I wasn’t ready or willing to give up my work and the life that I was just starting to build in Singapore then. But when I went to Davao for a short vacation for a family reunion in 2012 and saw the whole process of chocolate-making, I was impressed. Talking with my former colleagues in “Yummy” magazine further convinced me that starting this business was the way to go. Afterwards, I took a short chocolate-making course in Sydney, Australia to learn more and enhance my knowledge about chocolates”, shares Elaine.

Cacao de Davao

In April 2013, the father-daughter team launched Cacao de Davao, a company committed to producing chocolate products using premium cacao beans that are harvested and sundried in Davao, a source of the world’s best chocolate.

“In Cacao de Davao, we have single-origin 100% cocoa products like Unsweetened Cocoa Powder, Roasted Cacao Nibs, Pure Cocoa Butter and Unsweetened 100% Chocolate Callets (Premium Tablea), which we are very proud of. We made sure no preservatives or fillers are added in the products—just pure and 100%. We also buy our beans from local farmers to promote sustainability. We also have ready-to-eat 70% Dark Chocolates with organic coconut sugar (plain, mint, calamansi and chili variants) which is a natural sweetener safe for diabetics and those watching their sugar intake; Durian-Filled Dark Chocolate; and 50% Cacao – Milk Chocolate with Cacao Nib Brittle. Our newest one, to date, is the Dried Mango Strips covered in Dark Chocolate”, explains the 36-year old Elaine.

As a bone cancer survivor, a part of Elaine’s advocacy is to help other patients by visiting them and sharing her story. Now, with Cacao de Davao, she is also trying to commit to donating a portion of its sales to UP-PGH’s Department of Orthopedics Tumor Unit with the help of her doctor, Dr. Edward Wang of Manila Doctor’s Hospital.

“Cancer left me with these valuable lessons in life: know that everything can change in a flick of a finger so cherish each moment, appreciate what you have and what your body can do. Take care of your health. Savor family time. Nourish friendships. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to ask for help when you can’t do things on your own, it doesn’t make you lesser of a person”, reflects Elaine.

“Travel. See more of the world. Do the things that move you. Open your heart to new people and experiences. And, with fervent prayer and unwavering faith, nothing is impossible with the Lord. Trust God’s plans for you”, she adds.

Just like the dark chocolates that she is passionate about, Elaine’s journey in life may have been bittersweet, but this brilliant writer/segment producer/food stylist/chocolatier/entrepreneur is definitely made of the finest ingredients full of positivity, energy, and purpose!

Cacao de Davao products can be purchased at Cacao de Davao, San Pedro Ext., Davao City. For inquiries/orders, contact (mobile) 09172502226; (Facebook); (Instagram) cacaodedavao; and (e-mail)

Special thanks to Marisol Lagrama and Erika Soriano-Mata for Elaine’s Bayong de Humabi photos as well as Nikki Gotianse-Tan and Mima Tan for the Cacao de Davao photos.

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