Pastry Artist Janice Wong Proves That Dessert Belongs in Museums
The Singapore chef shows her whimsical edible sculptures in exhibits around the world.
Janice Wong is accostomed to installing her sugar structures in art museums, but there was something about painting jelly on a table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that struck her as surreal. The Singapore-based pastry artist, who runs 2am:dessert bar and eponymous boutiques around the world, had just finished a two-month edible art exhibit in Nagasaki, Japan, and now she found herself in a new and unusual time zone, placing pastries and chocolates on swooping, celestial platters made of ganache at an event celebrating the desserts of Versailles.
"I'm known for art that I do and that I never do it again," Wong said with a smile. Indeed, her work would be picked apart and eaten that night, and after, Wong would head to Macau to construct a glow-in-the-dark installation that is 100% edible.
When Wong interned in New York—at WD~50, Per Se, Aquavit—she'd visit the Met during her breaks. Years later at the "Feast of Versailles," hosted by Yotam Ottolenghi in June, people visisted her. Wong showcased her art in one of the world's most storied institutions, drawing inspiration from the garden and palace she wandered when she was a student at Le Cordon Bleu.
"My philosophy is art over art over art over art," she said. "I painted a table in gummy and laid it out with sugar and chocolates shaped like a garden, and the colors were green and pink and gold. It's got a bit of the whimsy, but it's very oppoulent, as well."
Wong teases the ephemeral nature of dessert, which we normally eat soon after we see, accepting that it will vanish at the whim of our pleasure. Her desserts vanish, too; they are always meant to be eaten, no matter how painstakingly intricate. Yet Wong's creations linger long after we bite off a piece of sugar origami, folded like sound waves. They are unforgettable, and unmistakably art.
Even in her retail product, Wong channels artistic energy, this May launching a box of fragrant chocolate crayons, handmade in Singapore, that actually work on paper and canvas. They taste great, too, and come in the flavors of their colors: dulce de leche, passionfruit, orange, strawberry, green mango, peppermint, grape, and smoked, presented in a box with edible rice paper. (But don't eat the box; we asked.)
"Edible art, for me, is five senses," Wong said. "The art at the Met you see, and maybe you can touch, but you can’t really smell and taste. Edible art is cool because you get to do all of that—you get to interact with the art piece."
At the center of her table sat rounds of chestnut almond sage rosemary cake, quince lemon curd and hazelnut mousse topped with chocolate Versailles medallion. When the event began, a crowd hovered around Wong's display, in silent anticipation. A woman leaned in to grab a piece. And then, frenzy.