Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration of a casual speed date. This week, we speak to Valerie Chiu of Cocoparadise.
What’s a collective dream that everyone wishes for? Yes, okay, world peace and no to climate change — but what’s the one thing we always joke about amongst friends? Let’s be honest: To be able to eat lots of delicious food without gaining weight.
Meet Valerie Chiu of Cocoparadise
“Growing up, I used to be unaware of what I was feeding my body, but it all came back to haunt me after a health check-up in my second year at university. The doctors told me I was way overweight and had a very fatty liver. That’s when I realized I had to change my life,” she says.
And change she did. Over the last few years, Chiu has been working hard building up Cocoparadise; from recipe development in her apartment’s kitchen to hiring a full-blown team in an industrial space in Tsuen Wan.
“The core of my ingredients — and my entire branding — is built around coconuts in homage to my Thai-Chinese background, which I wanted to honour. As I’m also lactose intolerant, it was a great superfood for me to incorporate.”
You might recognize her bright, rainbow-coloured canisters all around town, and the mmms of shoppers as they have tasters of various guilt-free, non-processed coco-bites or even Cocoparadise’s vegan ice creams. Yeah, you read that right: Vegan ice creams.
“I’ve come to believe that living a healthy lifestyle is about balance. It’s not about restriction, strict diets, or over-training. Life is about finding the things that make you feel good and happy.”
Check out Cocoparadise’s new pop-up
This time, Chiu is back again with a pop-up space in Gateway Arcade, Tsim Sha Tsui, until the end of January. There, you’ll be able to pick up festive gift sets, seasonal specials and exclusive ice cream flavours that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. Bonus: Maybe you’ll also see Chiu working a shift there — be sure to say hi and offer a smile, that woman is a ball of sunshine changing the world one snack at a time.
Kiosk 7, 2/F, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui
Read more about her story here.
Name: Valerie Chiu
Neighbourhood: Tsuen Wan
Occupation: Founder of Cocoparadise
1. What is your life motto?
Embrace every challenge and experience, both good and bad with an open heart. Remember that with every loss, failure and challenge you come across, strength forms.
2. Who is your role model?
3. Your go-to coffee order?
Cappuccino extra hot – with coconut, oat or almond milk!
4. What was your first job?
I was a waitress for a few weeks at an Italian restaurant in London. It was seriously not easy at all. Hours were long and working the floor and cleaning was so tiring. It gave me a whole new level of appreciation for people within the service industry.
5. What is your drink of choice?
Fresh coconut water — freshly cracked opened and enjoyed straight out of the shell.
6. When was the last time you drove a car?
Today! I actually love driving, plus it’s very helpful as I live a little further from the city centre.
7. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
My family and my dogs.
8. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I am confused myself; I seem to be both. When you have a start-up, it gets a little hard to switch off.
9. Which phone app do you think more people should know about?
None! More of us should be spending time being present with your friends and family, being more active, going out to explore and enjoy the outdoors and nature.
10. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I have to say Cocoparadise. Hahah. Satisfying, yet still good for my body in the long run.
11. What is your biggest regret in life?
Life is short, you never really know when is the last time you will speak to someone you love. I wish I had said and expressed how much I loved to someone important to me more often.
12. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
If they cheat, or have cheated. Also, if they are impolite. If they are nice to you but not polite to others such as waiter or serving staff, it’s a sign they don’t truly appreciate and value people. Kindness can go a long way. If they don’t show common decency to all types of people this is definitely a deal breaker.
13. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
I’ve never been to Hawaii; I’d love to go! It sounds like a place that has my kind of vibe.
14. What’s your favourite tradition?
Family Christmas ski trips. This includes some of my uncles, aunts, cousins and also some of my best friends who ended up becoming part of our “family” as well. A lot of good laughs, drinks and food… plus sore butts and bruises but the most amazing memories.
15. What is your greatest fear?
Disappointing or hurting my family and the people I love.
16. Start your life again at age 15 with all the knowledge you have now, or fast forward 10 years?
Definitely start my life again at age 15 with all the knowledge I have.
17. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
One of them is definitely coming home late after a long day of work and enjoying a large bowl of cereal or granola for dinner.
18. What’s the best or worst career advice you’ve ever received?
Best advice – Embrace every failure, learn and grow from it.
19. What energises you about your work?
So. Many. Things. Knowing that my work can have a good influence on people and their well-being, for one! Seeing people enjoy or know of my work… it still blows my mind how far we’ve come. I look back and I am so grateful I didn’t quit after all the challenges and the lows I’ve been through. Also, knowing how lucky I am to have stumbled across a small but amazing team of passionate people that believes in the vision, and have my back: Team work makes the dream work.
20. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
When I flew back to Bangkok to surprise my mother for her birthday a few years ago. The look on her face, then right after came her tight hug and continuous “Oh my gosh…Valerie…. Ooh my gosh!” I would do anything to relive that moment.
21. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Somewhere by the ocean, for sure. I would say I would be comfortable to move back to Thailand, somewhere like Phuket, Koh Samui or Pattaya.
22. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
23. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
One of them is definitely biking around my neighbourhood during the afternoon in Bangkok and getting lucky enough to catch the ice cream man or Roti cart (this Thai egg banana pancake snack). Also, the coconut ice cream in Thailand is bomb.
24. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
I got beaten up by a group of strangers when I was in my first year of university. They would have been so worried I didn’t have the heart to tell them. It taught me to also appreciate how safe Hong Kong was.
25. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
Cooking is quite therapeutic for me. I’m not a great cook but I love to experiment and play around with simple ingredients, which is how I was able to stumble across creating the recipes for Cocoparadise. But when I’m not cooking and doing R&D for work, I do tend to enjoy cooking for the family — they love my miso cod!
26. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
My mother. I can’t pick just one lesson as she taught me so much. She made me a fighter. She made me stronger, kinder and showed me to not lose faith when things get hard, and to live more in the present. She reminds me to count all the beautiful blessings we have around us, and that as long as your truthful, as long as you stick to your values, as long as you’ve tried your very best. It will be good enough. I thank her for teaching me to become a better person every single day, and for opening my eyes to appreciate everything around me so much more.
27. What was the best gift you ever received?
Kindness from a stranger.
Cocoparadise, Kiosk 7, 2/F, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui