A paintbrush and some chocolate

Nothing to beat chocolateJanice Wong finds chocolate a very versatile ingredientPhoto: Murali Kumar K.

Nothing to beat chocolateJanice Wong finds chocolate a very versatile ingredientPhoto: Murali Kumar K.  

Pastry Chef Janice Wong makes art that can be eaten, and is inspired by colour. Which is why India’s Holi festival has a special place in her heart

She gets to do what you tell your kids not to — play around with food. Janice Wong draws and paints with chocolate, puts marshmallows up on the ceiling. She’s on the forefront of a new form of food — edible art — or art you can eat, or food that looks so cool, you’re wondering if it’s even food.

There’s something about colour that seems to excite Singapore-based Chef Janice Wong. See pictures of her drool-inducing candy store in Singapore that features, among other things, chocolate paint, and you’ll know. Or a line-up of symmetrical, perfectly spherical cakes in green, red, pink, and blue set against a black platter. Or the floating yellow marshmallow art, lightly dusted with sugar.

“I want to come back to India next year for Holi. It’s one of the things on my ‘Things to do before I die’ list. I love colour. It’s fun. I want to immerse myself in other peoples’ culture and festivals are a great way to do that,” smiles the petite culinary stylist, artist, author, and photographer.

All of 31, Wong’s already been crowned Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2011 World Gourmet Summit for all her experiments with desserts. She’s participated in fashion shows and art exhibitions the world over, spearheading the edible art (and sometimes even edible fashion) movement in Asia. She’s worked with celebrated dessert chefs like Will Goldfarb, Oriol Balaguer, Grant Achatz, and Pierre Hermé.

“Edible art started off as a hobby. And then for the launch of my book Perfection in Imperfection I was wondering how I could get over 400 invitees to taste the same thing…” She ended up fashioning seven edible art installations — using only edibles as a medium — to paint, sculpt and draw.

It was an evening of marshmallow ceilings, sugar coral beds, and gumdrop-covered walls! Alost all her art installations draw inspiration from nature, and from her travels.

Wong was recently in India, on invitation of Magnum Ice Creams at the launch of a new flavour — Choco-Cappuccino. Along with World Barista Champion Fritz Storm, she conducted the “Magnum Masterclass 2.0” where she helped participants pair coffees and chocolates. She had just arrived in Bengaluru and couldn’t get over the fact that women in Chennai and Hyderabad were “head over heels in love with chocolate!”

Chocolate, she says is the most versatile of ingredients; coffee comes a close second. “Chocolate can pair with anything — salty or acidic tastes too. It’s an irreplaceable ingredient and definitely the sexiest ingredient,” she grins. The chocolate paint she stocks in her stores can be put in the microwave, and you can paint with it, and it sets in five minutes, she says. It can be painted on anything ranging from cookies to cakes, and when she caters to events, whether they be CEOs or kids, they all love it. “You can break it and eat it!” She says it doesn’t break her heart when people eat up her creations.

“Anything you create or do is meant to be pleasurable.” She likes to play with classic recipes.

Having studied at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, one of the world’s best culinary schools, Wong set up the boutique dessert bar in Singapore called the 2am: dessertbar, in keeping with the city’s nightlife and people’s penchant for dessert at 2 am! She now also runs a culinary research facility called 2am:lab, which invites chefs from around the world to experiment and create new flavours, textures and techniques to tackle people’s ever-challenging taste-buds.

This was Wong’s second trip to India. “India is the land of the unexpected. It’s very excitable. People continue to be hungry for knowledge and experiences. The range of colours, aromas, spices and herbs is amazing. I was in Goa the last time where I stayed in homes in the villages in Goa, sleeping and eating on the floor, so that I could get inspired, think different and challenge myself. Adaptation is the key word when it comes to my edible art.”

On her way out of India she was hoping to pick up some holy basil, poppy seeds and cinnamon.

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