Janice Wong transforms 2am:dessertbar into a Parisian cafe every weekend this month, with the launch of her Baroque-inspired “Cakes of Versailles” high tea menu. On the occasion of the 25 September launch of the documentary film Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, expect to find a spread of sumptuous splendour worthy of the Sun King’s court.
A collaborative effort, the menu comprises items by Wong and by other patissiers. Leading the pack is Wong’s chestnut quince cake with lemon curd and Chantilly chocolate chestnut mousse, a delicate work of art that tastes as good as it looks. Then there are her madeleines and financiers, savoury snacks including foie gras eclairs and ham and cheese sandwiches, and the signature painted chocolate bonbons, filled with luscious salted caramel and tart lemon thyme studded with poprocks.
The fresh pastries — canele that combines sweet custard and intoxicating smokiness, plum galette with a deep intensity, light and fragrant pistachio and rose escargot, and rich laminated chocolate brioche with sticky date punctuated by crushed walnut — are all from local bakery Le Matin Patisserie, created by Singaporean chef Mohamed Al-Matin, an alumnus of Noma in Copenhagen and the now-defunct Restaurant Andre.
Bompas & Parr conceptualised the prosecco raspberry jelly, a boozy M18 version of an innocent childhood treat, and Dinara Kasko designed the strawberry champagne cake, an objet d’art made of jam, champagne mousse, strawberry mousse and pistachio cake encased in Chantilly cream. And to complete the experience, the establishment piped in a playlist dominated by gypsy jazz, and even switched out the table tops for marbled ones that look as if they’d been plucked from cosy Parisian bistros — elements brought together to showcase Baroque excess but presented with artful balance.
The film Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles follows Chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he puts together the ”Feast of Versailles with Yotam Ottolenghi” event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in June 2018, a celebration of Louis-period-style decadence through cakes and other treats. To bring the brief to life, he assembled an international team of pastry superheroes: Bompas & Parr, jelly artists nicknamed London’s Real-Life Willy Wonkas by Vogue; Dominique Ansel, the French creator of the cookie shot and the cronut; Ukranian patissier Dinara Kasko, with her advanced 3D modelling skills; Ghaya F. Oliveira, the Tunisian-born executive pastry chef at Restaurant Daniel, and Singapore’s own Janice Wong, who turns chocolate into sculptures of edible art.
Though a high tea menu might be expected of a pastry chef, “Cakes of Versailles” represents many firsts for Wong. Here’s how she put everything together.
How did you feel about the entire process of creating such a menu?
It was very crazy. Bompas & Barr and Dinara all thought I was crazy to recreate and take inspiration from [the documentary film]. It’s very intricate, as you can see in the details — even making the fondant sheets, painting the chocolates and arranging the cutlery — but we wanted people to have the full experience, especially the flavours of what was created [for the Met Museum event in June 2018]. For Dinara, it was a classic cake focused on nice French flavors. French patisserie is so haute and amazing, in everything from lamination to the Chantilly cream and tea cakes, and to me it’s one of the most sophisticated pastry cultures, so launching our high tea menu based on that was a lot of work. Jellies are not part of that culture, but that was what was created for the movie, hence the theme “Cakes of Versailles”. And I think no one has really done it, so we thought, Why not? I thoroughly enjoyed the process of it.
What was different about this collaboration, compared to collaborations you’ve done in the past?
I do a lot of collaborations overseas, and I rarely do collaborations in Singapore. I’ve been around for a long time — 13 years now — and we have a lot of four-hands and such, or it’s a collaboration with an overseas chef coming here. It’s very rare that we curate our own [collaboration], so it’s been great to be able to curate something on your own. And the theme is just to have fun, and it’s fun for the team. It’s just different. so we wanted to showcase that.
Any logistical or conceptual challenges in realising this menu?
Timing — we had to wait for everybody. To me, the biggest challenge was Le Matin’s pastries, because they are made fresh every day and in limited quantities, so we could only do those sets based on what’s available and how we could manage it. Also the customised items — the cakes and jellies — that was a logistical challenge, to get input from everybody.
What inspiration and motifs did you employ in your creations for the Met Museum event?
I took inspiration from the Gardens of Versailles and its layout, and the palace’s architecture, patterns and colours. This fan design (of the fondant sheet underneath the chocolate bonbons and madeleine, and also stamped on the chocolate medallion that tops the chestnut quince cake) is very Versailles. From the top view of the gardens, you can see fan-shaped sections at the ends, and it’s one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, just in terms of sheer magnitude and all its greenery. For Bompas & Parr [their inspiration] was more sculptural, so they created all these jelly sculptures and they sent us the moulds. Dinara took the motifs from decorative items in the palace and she 3D-printed them (onto the cake mould), so she spent two weeks on her computer just making all the details.
Since people can’t travel now, we bring inspiration to people. It’s very different, but I think it’s still worth a try. So for subsequent editions of the high tea menu, I definitely want to do a Japanese one, only because we know the flavours in Japan well, since we spent so much time there. Japan has a lot of nice pastries and confectioneries — dango and mochi and more — so it’s super thematic and I think it can be really fun.
What can we expect from future high tea menus?
My take on the second one will have a Christmas theme. Think figs, chestnuts and fruitcakes. After Christmas, then maybe it’ll be the Japan theme, and then Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year, so there’ll always be these seasonal touches. And we will only launch it on the website, so it’s online-driven, which is perfect for us. I think that’s great for creative people. When we create, now we can [do something on a limited scale for a shorter duration] and that’s it, and I can change to the next one. And for customers it’s fantastic, because they have one platform to look at, to see whether they want to try it.
And because the menu changes so quickly, they can come back more frequently to try new things.
Yeah, and I think this should be the way it is for dining, and for the relationship between the customer and the chef. It’s always been that I create something, I send the info to my public relations team, the PR team works on it, and then the writeup comes along. For a long time I’ve told PR people, This has to change, because from the time I create something to the time it reaches the consumer, it’s way too long.
Will subsequent editions of the high tea menu be launched until in-person dining restrictions are lifted, or will they be part of 2am:dessertbar’s offering indefinitely?
The thing is, I’ve always wanted to do high tea in Singapore, and it took me 13 years to launch a high tea menu in Singapore. I don’t know why. But for a pastry chef, I think it’s very exciting, high tea is something where you can have a lot of play. And we wanted to stay away from scones, I think that’s something that we [agreed on], unless I do an English [high tea] theme, which in my mind would be the last [theme I’d do], just because it’s been so done, and you don’t want to do that. If you want to find a scone high tea set, you can go anywhere to get that. Even the Peranakan [high tea menus] I see out there, they do put some scones in there too.
For us, high tea is about innovation, and we wanted to express that, so to me the sculptural jellies are something that are so fun to include, and even bringing [Dinara’s] cake to people’s tables and cutting it on the spot. Unfortunately we can’t push the trolleys here, but that’s the essence of high tea, instead of having the stigma of “I need to have sandwiches and macarons.” And you can see we stayed away from macarons this time, even though it’s a French theme.
So you stayed away from items that would be expected of the menu.
Exactly — macarons would be easy, but we already have a classic French spread here.
“Cakes of Versailles” is available on weekends until 1 November, with limited sets available each day. Visit the website to make reservations.