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B BRIEFING


years since 2am:dessertbar was launched


8 I


t is 8pm on a Sunday night. I drink a cup of strong black coffee to wake me up after an afternoon of talks and a cocktail reception before heading to 2am:dessertbar, at the heart of Holland Village, favourite neighbourhood of expats in Singapore. At the last table I find Janice Wong talking to another journalist. She’s running a bit behind, so her staff offer me the Chocolate H2O, 2am’s signature dish of chocolate mousse cake, salted caramel truffle and yuzu sorbet.


Control freak Wong, a petite Singaporean pastry chef, stands tall in the culinary world. She was awarded the accolade of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2013 and 2014. As well as being the chef-owner of 2am:dessertbar and 2am:lab, she creates edible art installations: imagine a room with nori marshmallow ceiling, lychee-infused gummy walls, bread chandelier and paintings using blackcurrant and mango purée. Wong, a Cordon Bleu graduate, has learned from greats such as Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Oriol Balaguer and Pierre Hermé. Apologising profusely for running late, 31-year-


old Wong joins me at the chocolate-coloured table with a bowl of salad greens that she digs into as we talk. She arrived back from the Melbourne Food and Wine show earlier in the day. Shortly after touching down, she went straight to the kitchen to work with her chefs on creating three chocolate balloons for the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015 food summit where she was a speaker, and then headed back to her restaurant to be interviewed. Her schedule in Melbourne was non-stop with video shoots, four-course dinners and a two-week residency in a hotel creating a special high tea. And prior to that, she was in India for a food event. “My biggest challenge is dating,” Wong tells me


candidly. “It’s tough squeezing in the time. I’m as normal as everybody else, it’s just the time factor.” Time is scarce but it’s worth it for Wong. “I am a bit of control freak, but it makes me what I am. As much as I hate that phrase, I think if you’re not it’s difficult to produce your best work. “A ‘normal person’ takes about 100 days off in


Some of the 38


different colours of chocolate paint


78


a year, at least two days off a week. For me, it’s only been 25 days off in a year. It was more in 2007 when I opened 2am:dessertbar, but it has become less and less. How does a person maintain


Wong presented at in 2014


exhibitions 28


days holiday Wong takes in a year


25


this pace constantly and do it with so much energy? The answer is you love what you do.” So, what exactly is it that Wong does? In


essence, she has perfected playing with pastry. “I have sought perfection my entire career. Where I had to cut cubes of 1x1x1cm I would do it three times. It drove me nuts, but it is the perfection that brings out the best in us.” Eight years ago, she opened 2am. “2am is not just a dessert bar – we’re constantly evolving. We’re doing savoury sweets. All these ideas come from creativity, going back to the kitchen and saying, ‘I have to do something different today’.”


She is also behind 2am:lab, where culinary experts from all over the world come to give workshops. Challenging her team to unleash fresh and innovative ideas, Wong has creative days once a month. “We allow our chefs a budget of $50 per person to spend on whatever produce they want to order, make a dish and present it to everybody.” Wong says this monthly exercise is not cheap, but it is important. “People experiment. I draw ideas from them. They draw ideas from me.” Wong plays with flavour, texture, concept and


appearance. “We often take colour for granted,” she says. Unafraid to leave her comfort zone, Wong decided to shut off her sense of sight for over 100 hours. “When I opened my eyes after being in complete darkness for almost five days, there was an explosion of colour,” she says. “Colours are so important in our lives and in our food, and they define what you put into a plate.”


Creativity and joy


When she launched her book Perfection in Imperfection in 2011, Wong had to find a way to feed 400 people at the launch party. “Everyone needed to have the same experience. I couldn’t be passing spoons to everybody,” she recalls. To give her guests a taste of the pages of book, she created her marshmallow ceilings and gummy panels. Her food installations were such a hit, she did eight more in 2012 and another eight in 2013. “Last year, we did 28 exhibitions worldwide. It’s become a business.” Her innovation, creativity and joy from playing were infectious. A chef from Mexico and another from South Africa who witnessed her food


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