In this interview with chef Johnson Wong, The Yum List learns about his motivations, dreams and favourite ingredients.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
Currently, I am the executive chef of Macalister Mansion in Penang. Nine years ago when I graduated from high school I was looking for something to continue for my life and by coincidence, I saw an advertisement about the culinary school from a magazine. Then my friend Samantha introduced me to Le Cordon Bleu Sydney, where she was a former graduate. I realised this was going to be my life work because I love what I do.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
None of my staff has had similar working experience to what have now in the Dining Room. Some of them came from Chinese cuisine, Indian cuisine or started as a dishwasher. It is very interesting to watch how they grow and adapt in the Dining Room, and combine the knowledge from different backgrounds to a team.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is always the time I spend in the kitchen and the worst part of my job definitely goes to the office and paperwork.
What’s your favourite dish and ingredients in the Dining Room?
There’s a dessert I call “My Childhood Memory” made from a layer of vanilla panna cotta, white chocolate mousse, guava sorbet, pickled guava and sour plum. When I was a child, my mother always gave me pieces of guava with sour plum powder for my dessert after dinner and that’s how this dessert came about. I also love egg. It is my favourite ingredient and always on my menus in different forms. I also love mushroom and potato a lot, that’s why you can always find these ingredients in my dishes.
What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
The time I was in Denmark working along with all those crazy people from around the world. From the kitchen to the forest it was an unforgettable experience.
The perfect day off would be…
Relaxing and spending time with my dogs.
A day in the life of a chef is…
Wake up in the early morning to have a cup of coffee and check the emails, social media, reviews. That’s very important when you are running a restaurant like Dining Room and to work closely with all those panels. Then walking into the kitchen, firstly check the chillers and freezers to make sure things are good on spot, also look through the sections see whether the staff need my help and try a new recipe every day is a must! After that discussion with my sous chefs about what dishes to put on the dinner menu. Before the service, the whole team have a service briefing together to go over who is in for dinner and specifics. Lastly, after a family meal, the most exciting time of the day is ahead – service time!
What do you do for fun?
Eat good food and travel around. I get a lot of inspiration from my travels.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Dining Room?
Dining Room is a modern contemporary restaurant with local produce. More than 90% of our ingredients are locally sourced.
What’s your favourite meal and pairing?
A meal I had in Geranium Copenhagen with the juice pairing on 2014.
What’s your view on the food scene in Penang?
Penang has superb local foods and that’s always the reason why people visit Penang. However, I still think there’s big potential for the contemporary and upper scale dining scene to develop as there’s a strong food culture here. I am happy to see an inverse growth here for Malaysia restaurant scene.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
A few more chef collaboration events will be held, and Macalister Mansion’s five year anniversary is coming up this April when I will choose some of my favourite dishes from over the past year to showcase in a tasting menu for the Anniversary Dinner Night.