Everything you need to Know about Daniel Corpuz's Filipino-inspired Chocolates
The chocolatier and pastry chef on the art of the bonbon, pushing the flavor envelope, and his go-to spot for dessert. Plus: A choc chip cookie recipe perfect for the holiday season.
A short walk from the Soho Grand, Chinatown’s Canal Street Market features a gift-seeker’s trove of curated retail offerings and, to the rear of its food section, what could be NYC’s next confectionery breakout: Daniel Corpuz, Chocolatier.
A familiar face to fans of Netflix’s 2021 School of Chocolate reality competition, the Filipino-American Staten Island native produces gorgeous chocolate bonbons infused with Filipino flavors and ingredients including calamansi, ube, Philippine coffee, roasted corn, and pandan, plus addictively toothsome 1-inch-thick disc shaped cookies (“chawcolate chip” and Ube) and seasonal specialties. Having earned his stripes as pastry chef for MoMA’s The Modern, Danny Meyer’s 60th-floor FiDi venue Manhatta, and Tribeca’s One White Street, he pivoted to chocolate during COVID, producing stunning showpieces and, at first via pop-ups, his signature bonbons which continue to expand in range of flavors—and inspiration from other Asian countries and regions—including holiday-centric offerings.
Splitting his time between Canal Street and a Union Square Holiday Market stall (the latter through December 24th), Corpuz—who is currently casing out neighborhoods for a dedicated storefront and production floor—spoke with Grandlife about his bonbons, pushing the flavor envelope, if he ever had The Bear moments at Michelin star restaurants, and even shared a cookie recipe.
You earned a baking and pastry degree at the Culinary Institute of America. Why did you pivot to chocolates instead of stay the pastry course?
Daniel Corpuz: It happened to be the thing that wasn’t saturated yet. Even before working in restaurants I used to do wedding cakes and I realized the cake industry is so oversaturated that practically everybody does it to varying degrees. Chocolate is such a technical science, and the fact I can produce high-quality artisan bonbons and confections, not everyone can, which is great.
Was the stress of running service in restaurants also a factor? Was it like The Bear for you and did you ever lose your shit?
DC: I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched The Bear because I have co-workers who told me it’s quite traumatizing. You’re pushed emotionally, physically, mentally. But I don’t think I ever had [a lose my shit moment] because fortunately the chefs I worked under had a very rigorous kind of structure and everything was detailed and everyone knew what was going on. I have colleagues from the generation before me who tell me they had pots and pans thrown at them. That was a thing! I didn’t experience that, but I did have immense pressure and you cannot screw up. With my last job before COVID, we would do 300-400 desserts a night at Manhatta. Thinking back, I don’t know how I did it, but I still see elements of that experience in what I do today. And ultimately I hope people who do watch The Bear and say, ‘that’s so stressful,’ don’t then go into a restaurant and forget that’s how it is for the staff.
What was the first bonbon you had that changed your life, and do any of your creations pay tribute to it in some way?
DC: I ate at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in California, and they had the chest of bonbons just like their NYC sister restaurant Per Se. I remember a mango passion fruit caramel bonbon. You could feel the depth of flavor, and my calamansi bonbon is a similar concept—it’s truly calamansi and gives that same depth. Some ask, isn’t calamansi like a more intense lime, but not really. Like yuzu is distinctive, so is calamansi. It is what it is. And I temp down the sourness by making a caramel and fusing it with a ganache, so you get that calamansi and white chocolate sweetness.
Of your curated bonbon boxes, the “Fil-Am” spotlights those with Filipino-inspired flavors. But your line also includes matcha, oolong tea, yuzu, and Saigon cinnamon, so are you leaning into a wider Asian influence these days?
DC: I’m starting to expand into more Southeast and East Asian flavors. I see people overall becoming more amenable and open to trying other flavors [from across Asia]. For example, I have two to release later this month. Hojicha tea, which is ultra-toasted green tea, apparently it’s the new matcha in Japan, and toasted brown rice, which is more of a South Korean profile. One customer came in, and I wrote down what she said of my chocolates: “It’s a taste of home in a Western form.”
View this post on Instagram
Do you have an idol or role model as far as your chocolates and cross-cultural approach?
DC: I always say I want to become Susanna Yoon and Stick with Me Sweets. She used to work at Per Se and wanted to learn to make good bonbons, and once she mastered it she left and opened up her shop not that far from here in Nolita on Mott Street. She’s at the forefront of perfection bonbons and her niche is Korean American, and recently she opened a factory and floor somewhere in Brooklyn and also a location in South Korea. That’s someone I look up to. I haven’t met Chef Yoon yet but her head chocolatier, Martha Milla, visited my Canal Street Market shop the first weekend and I freaked out because I was like, ‘Wow, I’m grateful you came in to try my chocolates!’ So I’m waiting for the right moment for [mutual supplier] Valrhona to make the introduction between us.
Tell me about a flavor gone wrong. Flavor fails!
DC: Soy Sauce Caramel, which is no longer on my menu. It was a very pretty bonbon and the same recipe as my Sea Salt Caramel, which is one of our best sellers, but instead of salt it’s soy sauce. People still ask if I carry it, but I never will because it didn’t move. It had this umami, mushroom-y feel like soy sauce should, but I learned that was too outside the box. It was an eye-opening moment. I can push the Asian flavors but it still has to sell! In the back of my mind, I want to try Banana Ketchup one day. You could play with the sweet and sour of that, and it might be just weird enough to interest people but not throw them off.
What flavors do you recommend for the winter holidays?
DC: Going back to the idea that it has to be approachable and not too weird, two flavors that have always been consistent for my holiday boxes are Mint Snowman—as in fresh mint, not peppermint—and gingerbread. This year I’m introducing what I call Cinnamon Roll because it tastes like a Cinnabon, however, the cinnamon I use is Vietnamese, and Chestnut Praline Latte, using fresh chestnuts and Filipine coffee ganache so you still get that dynamic of traditional Western and Asian.
Where do you like to go for dessert when you’re chocolate-d out?
DC: The first thing that comes to mind is tiramisu, and I go all the way to Omonia Cafe in Astoria, Queens. They’re well known because they made the wedding cake in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My aunt lived for 40 years in Astoria and bought me that cake slice one day and it had like rum or alcohol, and as a child I was like, this is good!
And where do you go for inspiration?
DC: When it comes to design it’s everywhere. My Black Sesame bonbon is inspired by when I was in China, in my hotel in Beijing. They had a huge mural in the dining area which was comprised of individual nails placed at different depths, so when you step back you see this huge landscape painting, but I was fixated on a small painting to the left of it, which was a koi fish thing and became my inspiration for that bonbon. For flavors, the Philippines Trade Commission wants to introduce Pili nuts, which are really fatty, almost like pine nuts, and that’s something I’ll R&D soon. And I had a hojicha latte in Beacon, New York, and was like, wow this is really good so how can I infuse this into what I do?
Since Beacon is such a great day trip destination and easily accessible by train, can you share any recommendations?
DC: Yes. It’s very cool to be up there, practically everything is on Main Street. There’s a chocolate shop, Hakan. Its owner, Håkan Mårtensson, was the head chocolatier at the Scandinavian coffee shop chain FIKA, which all closed, unfortunately. And art museum DIA Beacon is definitely worth it.
By the way, how was the experience of School of Chocolate, and what’s a secret you can divulge about reality TV?
DC: There’s actually one episode missing, and it’s the one in which I won best in class. Throughout my struggles on the show I finally won, but they took that episode out. They definitely want to tell a story, and at the end of the day, I feel you didn’t need to see me win a day. You’re quite invested in my work enough throughout the season that it didn’t necessarily add to the storyline the producers were sharing. It was still real. They wanted a true story arc, drama, and a compelling narrative for the viewer, but the big difference between that and, say, Chopped or Top Chef is people get eliminated on those shows, but in School everyone stayed until the end and it was a much more nurturing aura. You’re more invested in us as people but also the idea of learning, as were we.
What else can you say you are up to for the rest of 2023 and 2024?
DC: I’m going to reintroduce the Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day flavors for those holidays. Hopefully a larger space and bigger team. I think of Lysee, from Chef Eunji Lee, the former pastry chef at Jungsik, and she’s created this gallery-like space in Flatiron for her French-Korean creations. I took a class with her recently and the reason they chose the name is it references the French word for museum, musee. So we could potentially add pastries like that but with a more Filipino influence. I spent a lot of money on my four-year CIA degree, so I’d really like to use it however possible!
View this post on Instagram
Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 20 Cookies at 100 g each
600 g 55% Dark Chocolate
85 g Butter
6 ea Eggs
453 g Sugar
10 g Vanilla Extract
70 g All Purpose Flour
3 g Salt
6 g Baking Powder
500 g Chocolate Chips
Melt the 55% Dark Chocolate and Butter in a bowl in the microwave at 30-second intervals.
Combine the Eggs, Sugar, and Vanilla in a separate bowl and whisk together until the eggs are broken up and the sugar has mostly dissolved.
While the melted chocolate-butter mixture is still warm (about 100o F) pour half of it into the egg-sugar bowl. Using a whisk, whisk the chocolate into the eggs until it is fully incorporated (the batter should begin to thicken).
Add the rest of the chocolate and mix until it is smooth.
Transfer the egg mixture into a stand mixer.
Add all the dry ingredients all at once. Mix until combined.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Scoop to desired size.
Bake at 350o F.
WORDS Lawrence Ferber
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Daniel Corpuz