It’s no wonder chef Janice Wong, one of Singapore's most innovative dessert makers, has been named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef two years in a row. In addition to opening a dessert restaurant and self-titled sweets concept, Wong recently created an exclusive installation for the launch of “From Singapore With Love”, a festival celebrating local food and culture. Featuring distinctive Singaporean flavors like an edible wall of “potong” chocolate and a bed of durian in a pop-art influenced display, the installation delighted over 200 guests. Below, explore Wong’s guide to all things tasty.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a pastry chef? I was studying in Melbourne for six months for the student exchange program in university. On my off days, I would head out to the farms and vineyards in search of fresh produce. It struck me one day that I would love to open a concept in Singapore delivering unique sweet experiences to customers. I ate a fresh strawberry, and that made me realize that what we get here in Singapore is very clean—which means everything is washed and you get a one-dimensional flavour. But what you get off the farm is a sort of earthiness, layers of different flavours, sometimes even smokiness. This is something that we don’t get if we don’t go to the farm to smell the produce and the surroundings.
What does travel mean to you? How does it influence your work? Travel to me is exploring and learning about a new culture, and opening my mind to a world of endless possibilities. It allows me to engage with new friends and cultural exchanges—experiencing different tastes, smells and colors, which influence my cooking and my art. It plays a big role as, without these exchanges, I wouldn't have gained inspirations and experiences in my craft. For instance, being in New York and Barcelona when I was younger allowed me to appreciate the architecture of the cities, which are both so different. I am a fan of architecture and design. The exposure to different disciplines allows me to push my imagination further.
What is your favorite thing about Singaporean cuisine? I love the variety of flavors in our cuisine. In one sitting, we can enjoy small plates of different dishes that are all so unique and delicious. Sweet, salty, spicy, sour. A must-try Singaporean dish would be the Laksa. It is a well balanced aromatic curry broth with laksa leaf, lemongrass and prawns.
Where is the last place you went for a vacation? What did you love about this destination? Jerusalem, Israel. I loved the unique cultural practices, especially in a country so rich in history. We trailed the places where Jesus walked, and it was an amazing feeling knowing people continued sharing the stories of the events that happened over 2000 years ago. The spices, herbs, nuts, oils are also of high quality.
Are there any local snacks you’ve discovered while traveling that have remained a favorite? I am always a fan of Japanese snacks. I spend quite a substantial amount of time in Japan every year and love their puffed rice mochi snacks.
What gifts do you like to bring home for friends and family from a trip? I always like to bring something that's not available in their own country. For instance, Durian chips in Singapore is very unique as a gift to someone in Spain.
What cuisines do you want to explore next? I would like to explore Brazil and Peru. They have been on my list of places to go to for a while now and I would like to experience it soon! They are so rich in heritage, and the ingredients are one of a kind.
What do you like to buy at Duty Free and why? The Singapore food confectionery selection. It has a wide variety of our local products such as cookies, chips, tea and chocolate.