By SGN | 6 Feb 2023
Janice Wong has, once again, embarked on the unthinkable. She’s looking to create Singapore chocolate from locally grown cocoa, putting the famously land-scarce city on the world chocolate map.
“Producing Singapore’s first single-origin chocolate is quite a feat, since there isn’t much space to grow food. Still, we aim to plant 1000 trees in Singapore to harvest cocoa from,” she shares, explaining how she’s working with partners such as Gardens by the Bay, Edible Garden City, Spectra Secondary School and Methodist Girls’ School to achieve this.
While waiting for the trees in Singapore to mature, Janice’s team has mastered the entire process of chocolate production, from roasting and winnowing to ageing and tempering. The result is Pure Imagination, a range of small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate made with ethically sourced cocoa from Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Thailand and the Philippines.
This certainly isn’t the first time Janice has dreamt big. In fact, her whole journey as pastry chef and food artist has been one of dreaming and doing – envisioning the impossible, then erasing the line that separates imagination and reality.
No references, no boundaries
After learning from industry giants at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 2006 and working at top Spanish and American restaurants – including the first incarnation of Will Goldfarb’s Room4Dessert – Janice returned to Singapore brimming with ideas.
Aiming to produce what had never been done, seen or tasted before, she opened 2am:dessertbar, a 60-seater offering artistically composed plated desserts with wine pairings – a decidedly progressive concept in the dining scene then.
In her creative process, Janice believes in working without references. Instead, she studies and experiments with ingredients, feeling out the boundaries of possibility and pushing past them to tease out novel applications and original experiences.
“I draw a lot of inspiration for my work from travels, from cultures, from memories,” Janice says. “I also get inspired by the unique flavours, colours and textures of ingredients.”
One of her creations reminisces the strawberries dipped in condensed milk her mother served during her childhood years in Japan; another recalls the fragments of dead coral she encountered during walks in the hills of San Sebastián – the dish remains a signature at the restaurant to this day.
Dreaming up new experiences
Over the past decade, Janice’s passion for creating art through the medium of dessert has taken on new formats and larger canvases.
From presenting art on a plate, she has gone on to sculpt wearable chocolate for a fashion show and construct striking edible installations, where marshmallows hang like icicles from the ceiling or sugar formations evoke the life and colour of the undersea world.
Whichever the canvas, each of Janice’s works seeks to present a fresh and surprising experience, be it whimsical or nostalgic, delightful or thought-provoking. “We truly embrace food technology, experimenting with new techniques to push the limits of confectionery,” she says.
Through products such as chocolate crayon sets and pots of chocolate paint, Janice also hopes to encourage customers, young and old, to get creative. “They take consumers on an edible art adventure to inspire the artist within,” she explains. “I really believe that everyone’s world to play in is their imagination.”
The world is her canvas
From Moscow to Mumbai to Mexico City, Janice’s dessert dreamscapes have wowed audiences across the globe, and her works have been exhibited on international platforms such as Art Basel in Miami and Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki.
In 2018, she joined A-listers of the pastry world in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Feast of Versailles project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, putting together an elaborate table display that pays homage to the Gardens of Versailles. Last August, her works at the Art Gallery of Western Australia drew over 4,000 visitors, their largest public viewing to date.
Janice’s installation at the Art Gallery of Western Australia drew their largest visitorship for a public viewing.
One of Janice’s long-term goals has been to take her brand global. Having launched pop-ups and concepts in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Macau, she now hopes to share tales of Asian heritage and flavours such as laksa leaf and gula melaka with the rest of the world.
In October 2022, she drew one step closer to this dream, setting up shop in the flagship Selfridges department store on Oxford Street in London. “It has been a huge success so far,” Janice shares. “The move heralds a new chapter for the brand as we look towards further expansion into Europe.”
Sustainability, the next frontier
On the sustainability front, Janice is also pursuing a bold vision. “We are working towards having a net-zero carbon footprint and creating a truly sustainable supply chain for our brand,” she notes.
For large-scale works, the team has moved away from acrylic substrates, exploring greener materials such as repurposed wood and Re-board®. They are studying sustainable packaging options for their confectionery products as well.
Given that chocolate is difficult to transport, alternatives like paper pulp and brown paper have proven unsuitable, while biomaterials remain prohibitively expensive. However, the team is currently developing a packaging prototype derived from cocoa husks, such that the entire product – inside and out – is made from the cocoa plant.
Adopting sustainable materials while conveying the covetable luxury and colourful artistry of the Janice Wong brand is no piece of cake, but there’s little doubt that Janice will one day turn this dream – as with the many dreams that have come before – into reality.
Janice is a pastry chef and food artist who has thrice been named Pastry Chef of the Year at the World Gourmet Summit Awards and twice Asia’s Best Pastry Chef by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Her brands include Janice Wong Singapore, 2am:dessertbar, Pure Imagination, and Softhaus.