Despite not having any formal culinary training, the 20-year-old student from San Luis Obispo, California was able to successfully run his pop-up after spending his high school summer vacations studying with pastry chefs at Michelin star restaurants.
Wong now says he will be showcasing all of the recipes and stories from the pop-up in a cookbook he is currently finishing for his senior project.
In an interview with NextShark, Wong revealed that he did not expect his pop-up to be as successful as it is today:
“When I first started doing it, I was fully prepared to have to beg my friends each week to come to eat in my studio. Doing a seven-course tasting menu for four people once a week already seemed crazy to half my friends. But once things started to get going, people got to be really interested and resonate with what I was doing.”
He added that media exposure allowed him to connect with people from all over the world.
“I definitely had no problems filling up reservations anymore. I’ve even been able to cook for my university’s President, where he sat just a couple feet away from my bed (that’s where the dining table is) and have my classic 90’s hip hop and R&B playlist blasting away in the background (shoutouts to A Tribe Called Quest).”
Wong shared that as an owner of a “pretty big collection of different cookbooks” it was always on his bucket list to write his own.
“I figured a cookbook would be a cool way to document all of the recipes and stories from DENCH. Over the course of this past school year, I’ve been working with a fellow classmate (Carly Lamera), photographing, designing, and writing the whole thing.”
According to Wong, the cookbook is 112 pages and features “all the different dishes and stories to come out of the pop-up.”
“It includes 27 different dishes with over 80 individual component recipes!” he noted. “The dishes I put out at DENCH are all influenced by the foods I grew up eating as well as the cultures that surrounded me.”
He pointed out that while most of his dishes aren’t from Asia, they are still representative of his experiences growing up as an Asian American.
“An example of this is my 62° tea egg. Growing up, I’d always loved cracking into my aunt’s tea eggs whenever she brought them over but the thing that always irked me was that while the flavor of the egg was unbeatable, the whites in the tea eggs were always a bit rubbery and the yolks chalky and hard. So during the pop-up, I figured I wanted to create a dish around a runny-yolked tea egg. What I settled on is an egg that I have to cook in a couple of different stages. The dish is a 62° tea egg which has been steeped in a lapsang souchong marinade, Chinese red vinegar, scallions, butter fried oyster mushrooms, and a stick of toasted brioche. Other dishes that are in the cookbook include tempura fried shishitos, milk bread rolls, my take on beef n’ broccoli, a Thai basil ice cream dish, and earl grey fortune cookies.”
Despite the success of DENCH, he is still unsure if he can continue his project after college as he intends to focus on continuing “to grow as a cook, working in the best places I can.”
“Right now, DENCH is probably just going to be something that is a part of my college journey. I’m hoping after college I’m able to open up my own restaurant one day but that most likely won’t be for a while.”
He then added that Hong Kong is currently at the top of his list to visit as it is “like an awesome place for me to work for a bit.”
Wong is currently in the stage of taking preorders and supporters for his cookbook through a Kickstarter campaign. The page, which has set a goal of $7,500, has so far received over $6,000 in pledges from 90 backers as of this writing.
“Just like the pop-up, I think people will recognize the hustle and resonate with the story of the cookbook too,” he shared.