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Janice Wong, two-time winner of the Asia’s Best Pastry Chef awards (in 2013 and in 2014) is both an artist and an entrepreneur. You can find her delicious works at her Singapore restaurant 2am:dessertbar, outlets around Asia and when she travels to set up installations at galleries around the world. One of her delicious works has been included in the S.Pellegrino Food Meets Future event today in Singapore ahead of World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards.
Fine Dining Lovers caught up with her recently and had the chance to speak with her about the present and the future of Asian pastry.
What drew you to the world of confectionery and pastry?
I’ve always loved chocolate and dreamed of opening my own confectionery line. There wasn’t a single definitive moment that inspired my interest in confectionery and pastry, however studying in Paris and working in Spain for a while afterwards all contributed to my passion for it. I hope one day to be able to create confectionery for the masses.
Tell us about some of the ingredients that have inspired your work.
One of my most current ingredient-led dessert inspirations would be the ‘5 Tastes Chocolate’. It features unique savoury and sour elements such as miso, sake, salt, and a type of sour and bitter citrus called naoshichi, in different types of chocolates. The ingredients that inspire me the most are fresh farm ingredients such as cheese, wine, fruits and vegetables. I have the privilege of making at least six farm trips a year to Japan and the rest of the world – this inspires me.
How would you define what you do?
I am a pâtissier and an artist, but overall I would see myself more as an innovator, because I’m always trying to test and push the boundaries of sweets and art.
What have been the challenges you've faced?
The main challenge would be that every market has different trends, expectations, demands and culture. This makes it challenging as a global brand to move with each market. It’s intentional that each market should carry different offerings tailored to the tastes of the consumers. So analysing each market’s trends and being relevant is the challenging part. But the highlight of this process is that I get to learn about a lot of different cultures.
Tell us about some of the Asian pastry traditions.
Some of the most “Asian” pastry traditions are kuehs [bite-sized confections usually made from rice or glutinous rice] and mooncakes. In fact, mooncakes are extremely “Asian” - you really wouldn’t find them anywhere else other than in the East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures (except Japan). Chinese New Year confectionaries are also key Asian pastries - you can’t find pineapple tarts anywhere else other than in Asian cultures that celebrate Chinese New Year.
What are the main differences between Asian and Western pastry?
Western pastries are a broad category that spans from America to Europe. It refers to cakes, chocolates, confectionery, and a lot of candy. But in Asia it’s slightly different; I find that Asian pastry embodies very diversified techniques. For example, we have fried pastries in India where people eat fried dough with sugar syrup, or fried fritters and fried puff balls in China. Japan and China also use a lot of steaming techniques in their pastries. The techniques involved in a single pastry dessert could be varied as well – I’ve seen fried and dried flowers being used to make mochi mixture for example, and that results in a lot of different textures. In Asia, even spicy sweets and confectionery are well accepted.
What do you know now that you perhaps wish you knew a little earlier on in your career?
I would tell myself to be a little more prudent with global expansions. In 2016 we opened three new restaurants, which included outlets in Macau and Japan, and I knew it would be a challenging year. Looking back, it’s about sustainable growth as much as it is about rapid growth.
What advice do you have for young chefs?
Never stop learning. I’m still learning every day.
Which Asian pastry chef is doing great things right now?
Asako Iwayanagi [Japan] - her pastry shops are always full! I’ve tried her desserts and the flavours are perfectly balanced. She has a diversified range of confectioneries, pastries and desserts.
Tell us about some of your current work.
We have officially launched our longest-spanning exhibition to date at WONDERBOX, S. Korea, and this will be a permanent work for the next three years, featuring edible works such as the Lollipop Ceiling and a four-metre-tall Chocolate Drip Paint. We also launched a Janice Wong WONDERBOX retail store in May 2019, which focuses on an experience-driven approach by offering an immersive environment for our customers.