Friday, February 1, 2013

Sensational Sweet Delights

Every Friday, a column in NST RED will feature an article written by me. It's all about the unique spaces which I have come across that provide interesting or unusual experiences. Yes, the stories I write for NST RED can be about anything as long as it is related to spaces/places. After all, the RED in NST RED stands for Real Estate & Decor.

So, this Friday 1st February 2013 - I have written an article about the sensational sweet edible architectures of Chef Janice Wong.

As there are always "constraints" in the newspapers' publication, this is the full version with extra pictures and information. 

God gave the angel a pair of beautiful wings, but HE gave us, humans, luscious chocolate that melts with every sensuous bite. There lies the divine creation of humanity. By now, you may already know that I am a full-blooded bona fide lover of all things sweet. In other words, I am a “dessertarian”.

Architectural Edibles of Chef Janice Wong

When dining out, I always make it a point to start with desserts first because life is too short to leave the best for last. No matter which restaurant I’d go, it’s their dessert menu that seals my dining pleasure. So, imagine my utter and complete joy when I stumbled upon a place where they specialize in nothing but desserts.

2am: dessertbar in Singapore
Many moons ago, I came to know about “2am: dessertbar” in Holland Village, Singapore quite by chance. Chef and owner, Janice Wong, had only opened her place not too long ago when I first met her. When I laid my eyes on her dessert menu, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was desserts galore crafted in innovative and ever-surprising ways. After tasting some of the desserts from her menu, I found them to be similar to the desserts created by an internationally acclaimed pastry chef and also a friend of mine, William Goldfarb. Will Goldfarb was nominated by the James Beard Foundation to be the Best Pastry Chef in America. He specialises in molecular desserts. As it turned out, Janice was an apprentice of Will’s in his New York dessert tapas place called, “Room4dessert”. That’s how my friendship with Janice was forged back in 2007.

Since day one, I was always impressed with Janice’s courage to strike out on her own at a very tender age of 24 in bringing “2am: dessertbar” to life in Singapore. Her place only opens after 9pm and would close at 2am. In 2007, it was considered sheer madness to just open a dining venue in serving purely desserts for 5 hours each night. However, after staying true to her craft and dreams, Janice has finally made a name for herself in Asia’s culinary scene. Janice was also selected as the sole Asian representative in competing against seven other pastry chefs from around the world at the 2010 Madrid Fusion’s “C3 Competition”. This prestigious event was judged by renowned Master Chefs such as Frédéric Bau and Ferran Adrià. Today, Janice’s name is synonymous with “dessert extraordinaire”.

Chef Janice Wong
Janice’s refined and ever-evolving dessert creations began at “Le Cordon Bleu” in Paris. As she was always eager to perfect her art, she apprenticed in some of the world’s most cutting edge restaurants such as Melbourne’s “Fenix”, “The Botanical” and Singapore’s “Les Amis”, followed by famed New York and Chicago institutions such as “WD-50”, “L20”, “Per Se”, Alinea and of course, “Room4dessert”. She also under-studied some of Europe’s top patissiers such as “Pierre Herme”. It was Janice’s dissatisfaction with how desserts were never given the “centerstage” in every meal that motivated Janice open “2am:dessertbar”. Plus the fact that she is mostly a night owl, and it was near impossible to find a proper Hot Chocolate served in a decent place at the wee hours of the day.

Upon entering “2am: dessertbar” in Holland Village, one may mistake it to be a sushi bar. There is a “U” shaped-like counter top that runs throughout the room. Most of the seats are bar stools, with the exception of the lounge cushion seating situated at the windows’ edge. The décor is stemmed in clean lines and holds a minimalistic theme. The colours are muted, as if they are meant to fade into the background. I dare say that the over-all ambience is plain and almost austere. This is a deliberate stroke of design on Janice’s part. One must never forget that the main “stars” of this unique dining venue are the desserts. Thus, all else are orchestrated to blend into obscurity while each sweet creation steals the whole show. Believe me when I say that every dessert is as visually stunning as its taste. Thus, what will certainly take your breath away and leave an impressionable mark from your visit to “2am: dessertbar” will always be their desserts.

2am: dessertbar 

Janice’s never-ending passion for culinary artistic excellence has propelled her forward in testing the limits of dessert making. This includes the constant blurring of the boundaries between sweet and savoury. Despite the continuous evolution of Janice’s edible “artworks”, she maintains a distinctly Oriental identity through the incorporation of exquisite Asian ingredients. Some of my favourites at “2am: dessertbar” also happen to be Janice’s personal faves as well. They are as follows:-

Shades of Purple”: This was created from an inspiration of Janice’s first painting. (Yes, she paints too.) It is an innovative concoction of purple fruits, and purple potato accompanied by lavender marshmallows that yearns to be savoured. 

Shades of Purple

“Kayambe H20”: This was designed especially for women in mind. It’s 50% chocolate, 50% water to achieve a mousse like texture and a no-guilt factor when devouring.

Chocolate Kayambe H20

“Cheese Avalanche”: This was chiefly inspired by Janice’s childhood snack of “Kraft” cheese with biscuits. She wanted to create a cheesecake of various textures with a 14-nut-and-fruit-biscotti. The result is a delicious enjoyment to the very last bite!

Cheese Avalanche

Recently, a new menu was launched at “2am: dessertbar”. Each dessert is given an option to be paired with a recommended wine or champagne. In addition, Janice has incorporated some savoury snacks into this new menu. There’s a new item called, “Popcorn” which is both salty and sweet but glazed with yuzu.

However, the dessert bar is not Janice’s only venture. There are 3 parts to her entire business enterprise. They are “2am: dessertbar”, “2am: lab” and “2am: experience”.

2am: lab

“2am: lab” is a 2000 square feet space attributed to creativity, research and special collaborative endeavors of various chefs. It is also a place for experiments and on-going research in the culinary fields. Therefore, you will find temperature climate controls, special cooking equipments and even a “flavour wall” installed in this highly equipped lab. Although it is not open to the public, every 2 months “2am: lab” would host special dinners from several guest chefs from across the globe to collaborate with their own team of chefs to fabricate an exclusive degustation menu for selected invited guests. Each guest chef’s collaboration would focus on different themes, thereby creating a new and unusual sensual dining experience. I have had the priviledge of attending one of these exceptional dinners when William Goldfarb himself was a guest chef in collaboration with “2am: lab”. The experience was definitely a seduction of all my senses, to say the least. Thus, I firmly believe that each dining experience can only be elevated when the owner or chef is someone who never stops learning and experimenting. 
Janice shares, “I have always been passionate about what I do, and this most definitely have evolved with time. When I cook, my philosophy would be to balance each dish with flavor, texture and temperature. Flavor being first as it is what your memory remembers most when you experience something delicious.” 

The third aspect of Janice’s business is her “2am: experience”. Here, Janice and her team provide full catering services from buffets to canapes for all types of events. With “2am: experience”, we can all order a distinctive dining experience to be catered to our whims and fancies by the talented Janice.

In September 2011 Janice launched her first book, she made history by creating a one of a kind event. Instead of a holding a cooking demo with a long speech at her book launch, she decided to create seven edible art pieces. Some were hung on the walls, others from the ceiling with the remaining few installed at the ground level. Each edible artwork drew inspiration from a chosen page of her book, “Perfection in Imperfection/Imperfection in Perfection”. As her book was inspired also by her personal experiment of 72 hours of sightlessness, she built an 8m long dark tunnel at the entrance so that her guests would experience 10 seconds of blindness before they entered into the main showcase area. The edible art pieces include a 2.4m x 1.2m marshmallow ceiling and gummy panels. Indeed, it was nothing short of an edible architecture. This might well be the very first time architectural designs and feats tasted so yummy.

With the increasing concern in health, Janice has also started to use considerably less sugar in her desserts. She has begun to substitute it with other ingredients that are naturally sweet, such as stevia herb. While it is never a bad thing to eat desserts in the late hours of the day, Janice cautioned everyone to consume in moderation. She advised, Everything in moderation will not harm your body.” I am inclined to agree. After all, I only live to eat desserts and I definitely would like to live as long as possible in order to taste the marvels of desserts’ evolution.

I asked Janice what she has planned to unveil to the world in 2013, she shared that a new sweet delightful project is in the making and its name is “JW Sweets”. It would be a global movement where she retails artisanal "talk-worthy" edible architecture in units.  I can only anticipate with bated breath! Especially, the incredible edible architecture pieces.

We are very fortunate that modern technology and culinary talents have progressed to a stage whereby food and space can converge to provide an astounding experience for all of us to relish. Even desserts have taken a new meaning in today’s exciting gastronomic world. As they say, life is uncertain so it’s best that we always eat dessert first. Now that you know my philosophy, let us go make some sweet music with chocolate. And you’d know the strength of your will power when you have a box of exquisite Pierre Herme chocs sitting on your table, but you would only take one piece to savour.

Until next time, have a splendid candied weekend.

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