Glimpse into the delicious world of pastry chef and creator of edible art, Janice Wong of Singapore’s famed sweet shop, 2am: dessertbar.
Published in S/ magazine, Fall 2016. Read the original story here.
Scrolling down Singaporean pastry chef Janice Wong’s Instagram feed will likely provoke a unique reaction: the sight of her edible works of art will leave you conflicted about whether you want to eat her mouth-watering desserts, or mount them in a glass display case in an art museum. Wong’s love affair with food happened somewhat by accident: While studying economics in Australia, she visited a host of farms and took a liking to the wealth of fresh ingredients she stumbled upon. Then she headed to Paris’ prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, where she developed her delicate culinary touch. Since opening her popular Singapore-based 2am:dessertbar in 2007, Wong has been named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef twice, and has expanded her culinary empire to include a dessert bar-meets-restaurant in Hong Kong called Cobo House and the Janice Wong Dessert Bar in Tokyo. This summer, she added a brand-new restaurant, Janice Wong Singapore at the National Museum of Singapore, which serves savoury cuisine as well as her trademark sweets. Here, Wong gives us a rundown of a regular day in her artistically fulfilling—and chocolate-filled—life as a pastry chef and edible art visionary.
7:30 A.M. Wong wakes up in her central Singapore abode (when she is not jet-setting between Japan and Hong Kong) and dons her work uniform of black pants—usually from Hong Kong-based designer Initial or Spanish brand Massimo Dutti—and a black chef jacket. “I go for comfort.”
8:00-9:00 A.M. “OnceI arrive at work I greet my team and have my coffee before I start anything.” She drinks her piccolo latte with two shots of espresso and indulges in a breakfast of cereal, fruits, and milk. After clearing her emails, she meets with her admin team and head chef to discuss ongoing projects and engagements—between running the Janice Wong restaurants, curating edible art exhibitions around the world, and authoring cookbooks, there’s always lots to plan.
10:00 A.M. Client meetings are hosted in the sweets factory, and many drop in daily to see the edible art and production process unfold up close. “Our office is an open space, with one communal table and everyone works together…. All my restaurants and workplaces are designed to be open to encourage communication and creativity.” Wong’s clientele ranges from both locals who have watched her brand grow, to internationals hailing from destinations such as London and Australia. Her team makes sure to cater to clients’ specific needs, creating hand-painted chocolates and other confections in the colour palette of their choice. When creating edible art, Wong and her team aim to introduce a unique colour palette to each pastry collection in the same way that a fashion designer would. “I want you to collect our pastries every single season,” she says. “Like when you go into a fashion store, it’s never the same thing.” Today? Bright colours are very popular, and you’ll find plenty of “tutti-frutti” colours like orange and yellow.
11:00 A.M. Wong works on tastings with her kitchen team—where, to the envy of all, she usually gets to taste five to ten delicious pieces of chocolate per day. Sometimes, of course, a nibble isn’t enough: “If it’s very delicious,” she says, “I’ll eat the whole thing.”
1:00 P.M. Discussions with the creative team continue, as most projects require a wide range of creative output and design. Each new edible art piece or exhibition requires an online and visual proposal, and a tasting to ensure that it’s unique and well-balanced in flavour. “I never like to repeat.”
2:00 P.M. The team cooks a different meal every day for lunch, which they gather at a communal table to enjoy— recently, a triple grilled cheese vegetable panini was a “simple and delicious” lunchtime treat.
3:00 P.M. More tastings are conducted in the kitchen with Wong’s team of chefs for new menus or catering specific events. Wong also documents her work for her website and social media. “I take all my own photos and videos,” says Wong. An active social media user, Wong’s Instagram account and website are kept up-to-date with her latest creations and concepts. “It’s helpful because we are very organic with our creativity and move quite fast with an idea, so it’s nice to capture it on the spot.”
7:30 P.M. Wong finishes up at work and heads out for a quick dinner. At home, “I like to make salads as well as simple pastas.” When dining out, Wong frequents Singapore-based joints Candlenut, Artichoke, Violet Oon, and Pietrasanta. Afterwards, she continues to plug away at any outstanding work until the sun goes down.
12:00 A.M. After unwinding over an episode of Netflix’ Chef ’s Table or sipping a whiskey soda on her balcony, Wong heads to bed for a good night’s rest before it all starts again the next day.