Chef Janice Wong turns WA’s art gallery into a chocolate wonderland

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You dream of chocolate flowing abundantly and gently along a fountain, of a living coral reef of colors, conjured from isomalt sugar and thousands of delicate handmade flowers, each good enough to eat.

When you wake up, you work, then you work harder and you make your dreams come true.

Janice Wong is a Singaporean chef and artist whose love of food and creative vision have propelled her to the forefront of the edible art industry. It must be the best job in the world. “Yes, yes,” she said. “I have been very blessed.”

Her chocolate candies, macaroons and intricate desserts launched her career, but it’s in her edible installations that Wong stretches her imagination. She’s filled rooms with marshmallows that can be plucked from the ceiling and dressed the walls with lychee gummies.

It’s a career that has taken her across the world and this week she will touch down in Perth from London to delight guests at the Art Gallery of WA Foundation gala on Saturday.

The gala is a major fundraising event to help support and promote women in the arts and Wong is a perfect fit. “It’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait,” says Colin Walker, art gallery director.

The gallery began working with Wong about six months ago and helped shape the design of his immersive installation, which will have a distinctly WA feel.

As we speak, she is busy working on a deal with department store Selfridges and enjoying the warm weather in England.

She doesn’t reveal all of her Perth secrets, but says gala guests will enter through a tunnel adorned with homemade treats. “There will be edible artwork in the tunnel,” she says. “Our chocolate candies, macaroons, some puffs too.”

While some of Wong’s installations are designed to last up to three months, that won’t be the case in Perth, but they will be open to the public on Sunday. “Australians are very civilized,” says Wong. “They will take pictures; eat off the walls.

Wong has previously visited WA when she appeared on the Margaret River Gourmet Escape in 2016. She has also spent time in the Eastern States, including an appearance on MasterChef Australia in 2015, when contestants were given two hours and 15 minutes to make its devilishly delicate blackcurrant. plum dessert.

The blackcurrant plum invites cooks to evoke yuzu and yuzu ruby ​​caviar, plum liqueur jelly, raspberry “crispy”, blackcurrant pastilles and yogurt mousse. It’s almost too magical to eat.

“I loved doing MasterChef and would do it again in a heartbeat,” she says. “I was supposed to do the birthday one in 2020 but COVID happened.”

Wong grew up in a family steeped in the financial world and was an economics student at the National University of Singapore when she decided to pursue her passion for food.

“I wanted to find a goal. I didn’t want to work in a bank and deal with screens and all that. I really want to give back to society in any way I can – be it inspiration or many great memories.

” Life is like that. You want to give back and inspire and then you feel inspired and it’s really a lasting passion, which for me is very important, to make it last 30 or 40 years.

After graduating in 2006, Wong enrolled at the famed culinary school Le Cordon Bleu Paris, where she studied to become a pastry chef. She then worked as an intern at the famous French restaurant Les Amis in Singapore, then under the direction of Will Goldfarb at Room 4 Dessert in New York.

She opened her first business, 2am:dessertbar, in Singapore’s Holland Village in 2007 and the Janice Wong Singapore brand was established in 2014 to market a range of confectionery products.

His international empire now spans restaurants, dessert bars, retail businesses and his edible art installations, created for public and private events, including for brands such as Bally, Prada, Ferrari, Hermes and L’Occitane.

“It was an opportunity as an artist to redefine things,” she says. “We started in 2011 and we were one of the first to change the landscape of how sweet buffets would be, or even canapes, and we continue to do so.”

Wong created his magical underwater maze in 2011, and it was recreated in 2016 as part of the Singapore Art Museum’s Imaginarium exhibition. The corals, which filled the gallery and clung to its walls, were made from 1100 kg of isomalt sugar and 200 kg of chocolate.

“I’m a diver,” Wong said. “I want my work to become a talking piece, to show what is happening in the world. This part is very important to me.

A hanging, vertical light garden was exhibited at MGM Macau in 2018. Inspired by flora and fauna, it featured 20,000 flowers made from 300 kg of sugarpaste, hand-painted with edible phosphorescent paint.

Its 7m-tall chocolate fountain, with its streams of dark, milk and white chocolate, also opened in Macau in 2018 but had to be closed after the outbreak of COVID-19.

Wong says the inspiration for her work comes from cultural exchange. “I’m very lucky to have met people from all walks of life,” she says. “I eat and hear different food stories whether I live in another country or at someone’s house. Different textures, different smells.

“As an artist, I have an open mind and I embrace all these cultural exchanges. Food is my medium.

While gala guests will be dazzled by Wong’s boldness, it’s also a night of serious intent. Walker has been driven to expand the gallery’s reach, ambition and creative partnerships since becoming its director in 2020.

Money raised from the evening will be used to launch the Sheila Invitational, a triennial exhibition in partnership with the AGWA and the Sheila Foundation due to launch in 2024 that seeks to put women into the Australian art narrative.

The foundation, established in 2019, was inspired by Lady Sheila Cruthers, whose historic collection of Australian women’s art is held by the University of Western Australia.

“Many more women than men are graduating as artists, but that’s not reflected in art collections,” Walker says. “A broader depiction on the walls is one thing, but a deep dive into art history is another.

“We also want to look at the context and the lived experiences – good and bad – the glass ceiling, the opportunities.”

It is hoped that the Invitational will focus on at least six Australian women artists, selected by a national jury, and offer a retrospective of their work.

Walker is also keen to continue the gallery’s collaboration with Wong, particularly in his design boutique.

“She makes these fantastic edible chocolate crayons,” he says. “You can pick them up, play with them, take them home and eat them. It’s a very important part of the experience at the gallery.

Don’t expect Wong to eat too much. “I don’t really eat dessert anymore,” she says. “In my 20s and early 30s it was tiramisu. As you get older your habits change and I tend to eat dark chocolate now.

The 2022 AGWA Foundation Gala takes place this Saturday, August 27. Tickets are $850, which includes a $500 tax-deductible donation to the AGWA to help support women in the arts.

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