Q&A: Alumnus Jimmy Wong

Jimmy Wong (Food Science, ’19) first made a name for himself as a chef his junior year at Cal Poly, while serving a weekly seven-course dinner from his studio apartment for four people once a week. Even Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong paid him a visit to sample the cuisine. Wong is back at it, reopening DENCH. in Oakland, California, at the historic Oakland Tribune building where he serves a five-course dessert tasting for up to 18 people each Saturday night.



How do food and culture intersect, and how does that present in your dishes?

I would say that food is culture. And that my food, specifically, is a blend of my two cultures. When coming up with new ideas for dishes, I tend to revert to my memories of what I would eat growing up as an Asian kid in America. Often times what I'd eat would be a mix of these two identities; it wouldn't have been too out of place to go to school strapped with the pepperoni pizza Lunchables and some Hello Panda cookies or come home to a dinner of steamed fish and rice, only to finish the meal off with some frozen Go-Gurts. Not saying I'll be putting a pizza Lunchable steamed fish dessert on the menu anytime soon, but I try to put out food that I connect with personally and hope the guests do too, or at the very least, find delicious.

How have you grown as a chef since you graduated and in what ways, if any, has your approach to food changed?

I'd like to think that I've gotten a little better at cooking since my days preparing tasting menus on an electric coil stove in my studio apartment. Since graduation, I've been lucky enough to work for and alongside some really talented people here in the Bay Area that have helped me grow my creativity and operations skills. My approach to food hasn't changed a ton since my Cal Poly DENCH. days but that my style and techniques have definitely been honed in a bit more. I want to say my food now is a bit more me, if that makes sense.

What’s the meaning behind the name DENCH.?

DENCH. is named after the one and only: Dame Judi Dench. Back in high school, there was this one soccer player in England that used to say her last name as slang for something "cool.” My friends and I kind of adopted it into our vernacular and subsequently tried to sneak it into our essays as much as possible to see if any of our teachers would notice. (None of them did.) When it came time to name my pop-up, there seemed to only be one name that fit so I ran with it.

How did the food science program at Cal Poly prepare you for your future culinary adventures?

The food science program at Cal Poly has been helpful in dealing with problems on the nerdier side of food and cooking. Even though I haven't yet worked in an actual packaged food company since graduation, I've still had to solve issues in kitchens with things learned at Cal Poly like food safety, packaging, product development, and making sure college-aged kids do their work.

What makes you nervous?

I feel like now that I'm back in the swing of things doing pop-ups again, I haven't really felt too nervous about anything cooking-wise. I did just finish Black Bird on Apple TV though, so maybe I'd say a serial killer

How do you feel at the end of the night after a pop-up event?

Pretty beat and sweaty but more so, very grateful. I'm just honored people are willing to come out and taste desserts from this random guy who started a pop-up out of his bedroom. I'm also very thankful to the people that give up their Saturday evenings to help me. Thank you, Kyle, Nate, Sophia, Sam, and Ryan! (Most of these guys are all Cal Poly grads too!)

Any future plans?

Currently, it's just to continue to get better at doing DENCH. for as long as I can! It's still my goal one day to open up my own space, but still figuring out the timeline on that one. I’ve also been exploring ideas


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