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The ground roots of a successful alumni’s restaurant

Alumni Johnson Wong - Asia’s Top 100: The ‘Ground Roots’ of a Successful Alumni’s Restaurant

Gēn 根 was placed in the Top 100 of Asia’s Best Restaurants 2021 and is owned by Le Cordon Bleu Sydney alumni, Johnson Wong. Discover how Chef Johnson has incorporated elements of local ingredients in his cooking to develop a successful award-winning restaurant.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I actually had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated from high school, but I knew I had to study. I always loved cooking and realised it was a good option for me. I never thought that cooking could be my career until I studied at Le Cordon Bleu Sydney and got my Diplôme de Cuisine.

Why did you choose to study at Le Cordon Bleu Sydney?

There are many Le Cordon Bleu campuses all over the world, but Australia has a lot of Asian influence in their cuisine. I wanted to gain that experience in the culinary field. For me, studying is not just about what school you can get into. I think knowing what you want to get out of your studies afterwards is very important. So that’s why I chose to study with Le Cordon Bleu Sydney, I knew it would help me to develop the culinary skills I was interested in. I loved it there and one day I will go back.

What is the most memorable thing you learned from your studies?

The study life and the environment is very different to the other Le Cordon Bleu campuses that I have seen, as I used to live in Europe. The culture and the environment taught me a lot. I remember the diverse cultural backgrounds of the lecturers the most. During my studies, I was taught by lecturers from Italy, Switzerland and many different countries. You can see them put some of their culture into their cooking. So, I found that really interesting.

Please tell us about your culinary journey so far.

After I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Sydney, I lived in Sydney for some time before I moved to Dubai. After two years in Dubai, I moved back to Asia and lived in Hong Kong and China, working in restaurants there. I stayed in Asia for a couple of years and then I travelled to Copenhagen for an internship. After that, I worked in Paris for a year and then came back to my home country, Malaysia. I was a chef at Macalister Mansion for two years and during that time, I decided to start something which was iconic for my signature cooking. I started my own restaurant a few years ago, called Gēn 根.

Alumni Johnson Wong - Gen, Malaysia

Can you please give us an overview of Gēn 根?

In a nutshell, Gēn 根 is a modern, fine dining Malaysian restaurant using my inspiration, love and ideas to cook up local ingredients. The name of the restaurant, ‘gen’, means ‘ground roots’, as we specialise in cooking with local Malaysian ingredients.

What have you learned about the transition of being a business owner, as well as a chef?

I think it’s developing that perspective between being the business owner, the chef and the consumer. As a chef or business owner, you have things that you want to do and concepts that you want to follow. But it may not be what the consumer is looking for. So as a business owner and a chef, you have to find balance between what you want to do, what you like and understanding what the guest likes. At the end of the day, we just want to cook delicious food.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love cooking and I just enjoy the time in the kitchen with my team. During their holidays, a lot of chefs don’t like to get involved in the kitchen. But I love to plan my personal life and family around cooking as well. I believe its not just about cooking, I like the whole experience and the life of being a chef.

What is your favourite thing to cook?

I love to cook vegetables. Not just Malaysian vegetables, but wherever I go, I love to cook the vegetable from that land. Local produce or native ingredients. I think you should use what is available around you.

I loved Australian ingredients and seafood. Very few countries in the world have the opportunity to grow produce like Australia as it has many different climates. Some states are tropical, some have four seasons. The sea is different from north to south, so there are different conditions for different types of seafood because some of the water is warm and some is cold. It is a dream of many chefs to have a restaurant in Australia because there is fresh produce grown all around you.

In Malaysia, I like to use a lot of ginger flower in my cooking. This is the flower of the ginger. I use it a lot in cooking or curries and on the restaurant’s menu. It is my favourite ingredient to cook with.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

It would have to be opening my restaurant, Gēn 根. It is a big accomplishment to do something so close to my heart. I can call this ‘my cuisine’. When you work as a chef at other restaurants, you have a concept of things that you need to follow because it’s not your own business. When I decided to open my restaurant, it was a big step for me to follow my heart and be able to share my personal cuisine with others.

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