Superwoman of desserts
It's a sweet life, but a tough one, for Janice Wong, Singapore F&B's multi-achiever
At 32 years of age, this Singaporean woman has a thriving dessert business, a farm to call her own, is a published author and receives invitations to give talks all over the world.
Oh, and she's won industry accolades along the way too.
Such is the sweet life of Janice Wong, the owner and creator of the eight-year-old 2am:dessertbar at Holland Village.
Her reputation for pretty, avant garde, fine dining desserts has travelled beyond our shores, thanks to her dedication towards wanting to push herself to think out of the box and to strive to change people's perceptions of pastry and food art.
The petite pastry chef was one of the speakers at the annual The Culinary Institute of America's Worlds of Flavor International Conference & Festival in Napa Valley in April.
She was also invited to be a guest chef two months ago for the latest season of popular reality TV cooking competition series MasterChef Australia, where contestants had to re-create her signature dessert, the Cassis Plum.
Wong is also part of Singapore Tourism Board's Singapore: Inside Out (SG:IO) touring exhibition that celebrates our local creative community. Her contribution to SG:IO includes an interactive food art installation that has chocolate lollipops and gumdrop walls.
SG:IO started in Beijing in April, moved to London last month, will go to New York in September and have a homecoming in November.
Wong is quick to downplay her achievements. For now, she just wants to get through the next few months.
ASIA'S BEST PASTRY CHEF
"I don't think I can breathe this month and the next," the two-time Asia's Best Pastry Chef (2013 & 2014) title-holder told M last week.
Apart from catering for several corporate events, she is also busy with Sweet Tunnel, a 10m-long edible art installation set in a luminous garden of sweet treats. It will be housed in Orchard Central from this weekend until National Day.
In between the month-long installation, which she said is her "most ambitious and biggest", she was also hired by the High Commissioners in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai to do food art for them as part of their National Day celebrations.
Then there is a project for Minister S Iswaranfor his West Coast GRC.
She said: "Mr Iswaran was in London for SG:IO and was impressed by the chocolates. I was very touched and encouraged by his response."
She puts her accomplishments down to sheer hard work, passion and her "super-woman complex".
"Maybe I think I'm a super-woman," said Wong, who is single. She added, laughing, that she has "no social life".
"I have no sleep, no life... going at this pace is not easy," she admitted.
Wong takes a hands-on approach to her business, which she described as "very organic".
She has no marketing or public relations teams and she handles all her clients, which includes Members of Parliament, on her own.
"It's important to have that personal contact. Yes, it's a lot of effort, but you need the consistency. It's a sacrifice you have to make."
Wong, the only person in her family of four to be in the F&B business, has come a long way since she graduated from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Paris with a pastry diploma in 2006. She also has a degree in economics from the National University of Singapore.
"I was 24 when I started 2am and have been working non-stop six days a week since then," said Wong.
She also jumped at any chance to give talks overseas to share her culinary philosophy.
"One of my first overseas projects was in Melbourne, where I spent 10 days at Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School giving workshops on chocolates and desserts," she said.
"When you are given an opportunity to be featured in Dubai or Hong Kong, you would generally take these projects up to continue to spread your name and your work."
Another reason Wong takes them up is that she is "proud to represent Singapore".
"We're all ambassadors of Singapore. You speak of your own country wherever you go."
Apart from fashioning edible art installations, an idea that was spawned in 2011 with the launch of her dessert cookbook Perfection In Imperfection, Wong is preparing to expand her sweets empire to Japan.
She will open 2am:dessertbar in Shinjuku, Tokyo next April.
It will have a different menu, she said, to cater to the Japanese palate.
"Here, the desserts are heavier and sweeter. Over there, they have to be light and clean."
Japan, said Wong, offers plenty of inspiration and it is also a place where she can "de-stress". It has also been very supportive of her business.
The Japanese government recently presented her with a 186 sq m plot of land in Setouchi, a city in Okayama Prefecture, to farm her own produce.
"I didn't want it initially as it takes a lot of effort to maintain a farm," said Wong, adding that she was "very touched". She is using the farm to cultivate a crossbreed of yuzu and kinkan (Japanese kumquat).
"The local Japanese are looking after the farm. (I) manage the quality and use the fruits at my (Tokyo) shop and in Singapore."
Her plate is overflowing, but Wong, who also has a pop-up shop at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands selling her eponymous brand of chocolates, bonbons, tea and coffee, has no plans to take a step back.
"Ice cream is next!" she said, laughing.
21 steps to Cassis Plum recipe
SWEET SOMETHING: Wong, with her signature dessert, which the contestants had to create as part of the Pressure Test. PHOTO: : LIFETIME ASIA
Janice Wong is the first Singapore guest chef to appear on MasterChef Australia.
Now in its seventh season, the hit series sees Australian home cooks vying for the title of being the best amateur chef in the country. International celebrity chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver and Curtis Stone make regular appearances.
In the episode featuring Wong, three contestants had to recreate her Cassis Plum - a technically challenging dessert comprising a cassis bombe, elderflower yogurt foam, plum liqueur and bamboo shoots - in order to avoid elimination.
The episode will premiere on July 28 at 8pm on Lifetime (StarHub TV Ch 514).
How she got the MasterChef Australia gig: "The producers e-mailed. I was very surprised to receive the invitation."
WORKING ON THE EPISODE
"It's extremely tiring because it was so time-consuming. It was a full two-day shoot, from 7am to 7pm. I had no time to do other work.
But it was really worth it as you get to share your philosophy in that short span of time.
It was also my good fortune that (one of the three regular judges) George (Calombaris) was sick that day, so I had more air time."
WHY SHE CHOSE THE CASSIS PLUM
"I initially gave them a simpler dessert, but they said it had to be challenging for the contestants. So I gave them the Cassis Plum, which is one of the most challenging desserts in my menu. There are about 21 steps to the recipe.
"I had to add more elements to the recipe as the show's culinary test team recreated it under two hours. They wanted something that will take up to two hours to make."
RETURNING AS GUEST CHEF
"I'd like to be invited back again as it was a great avenue to promote Singapore.
"I've received so many comments (from Australians) about wanting to come to Singapore to taste our desserts."
Here are other local chefs who are satisfying our sugar cravings
Pang Kok Keong
The Fabulous Baker Boy
Delphine Liau and Kenneth Seah Kki
Eunice Yeo, Phoebe Teo and Sim Li-Shenn
Carpenter And Cook