There are no rules, declares pastry whiz Janice Wong

Jane Willson
29 January, 2015

Singapore-based pastry chef Janice Wong sums up her approach with the name of her cookbook, Perfection in Imperfection.

Janice Wong was a student of economics before deciding that she’d rather make dessert.

Now one of Asia’s most acclaimed pastry chefs (after a detour via Le Cordon Bleu Paris and stages with the likes of Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and Pierre Herme), Janice is visiting Australia as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. She spoke to Cooked ahead of her visit.

Janice Wong  

Q. You studied economics and finance in Melbourne. What prompted the switch to a career in pastry?

Like most children, I loved my desserts growing up. As a student, I lived independently and spent more time cooking for myself. From there, I discovered an interest in pastry, and started experimenting in the kitchen. It amazed me, the boundless possibilities by simply marrying flavours and textures, and that was what prompted me to pursue a career in pastry making.

"It amazed me, the boundless possibilities by simply marrying flavours and textures"

Q. You're known for your embrace of unexpected combinations (hello chocolate and caviar). What do you think this stems from?

The title of my new cookbook, Perfection in Imperfection sums it up. As a chef, I am constantly looking for the most "imperfect (unconventional) way to perfect a recipe" and that very often leads me to develop the most unconventional combinations.

Q. You were named Asia's Best Pastry Chef in the S.Pellegrino awards in 2012 and 2013. How do you see that recognition influencing your career?

Winning Asia's Best Pastry Chef two years in a row is affirmation for the work of myself and my team, and pushes me to continue to pursue my beliefs as a pastry chef.

Q. What does a typical day involve for you?

Since I launched my new sweets brand Janice Wong [in December], most of my time is spent at the sweets factory, and at the shop at ION Orchard [designed to resemble an ice-cream cart] talking to customers.

Everyday, we feature new flavours of eclairs and other sweets in the shop, and no single item there is the same since everything is handcrafted [her team of eight paint every chocolate bonbon and marshmallow so no two are ever the same]. I end my day looking through recipes, and wake in the morning to hit the kitchen for more experimentation. The adrenaline of the team is amazing, and the passion in the kitchen is what drives me through every day.

2am:dessert bar

2am: dessertbar

Q. Tell us about 2am: dessertbar?

2am: dessertbar [in Singapore’s Holland Village] recently turned seven. The menu continues to showcase innovative and progressive dessert creations. We have also recently introduced dinner items, and most of the dishes are inspired by my favourite foods growing up.

Cassis plum, yoghurt, bamboo shoot

Cassis plum, yoghurt, bamboo shoot

Shades of green pandan

Shades of green pandan

Q. And your path to now – stints at the likes of Alinea and WD-50 and Per Se. What did you take away from those experiences?

They instilled in me an instinct to go against the norm, and constantly push to innovate.

Q. What was dinner last night?

Curry Chicken Noodles from my favourite stall, Heng Kee Curry Chicken Noodle, at Hong Lim Food Centre.

Q. Favourite ingredient?

Chocolate, especially dark.

Q. Five essential tools for the pastry chef?

Digital weighing scale, spatula, electric mixer, oven, baking tray.

Q. Favourite dessert (to eat) right now?

My current favourite dessert would have to be eclairs. I like their timeless, classic appeal and there are just so many fun flavours that can be done. In fact, I am retailing several exciting éclair flavours, including Black Gold Truffle Chocolate, Pandan Kaya and Tiramisu at my travelling sweets boutique, Janice Wong.

Q. What have you got planned for your MFWF audience? And where will you be dining?

I will be showcasing the inspiration behind my emotive and sensory desserts.

There is so much I want to eat in Melbourne if I can find time. It's been a while since I have been back, so it will be nice to return to old school haunts for simple indulgences [Quizzed further on this, Janice can't name her favourites – but she's confident she'll find them].

Q. What advice do you have for home cooks who want to think outside the square with desserts?

I would ask them to put aside their cookbooks and try creating without boundaries (or instructions!). Allow "accidents" to happen, and sometimes they may just become your proudest creation!

Janice Wong’s High Tea menu will be served as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival at the Langham Hotel in March, and she is participating in MasterClasses on March 7-8. Buy tickets here.


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