What looked like a regular studio apartment on the outside held no resemblance to an average college student’s living quarters inside.
Walking into the apartment, soft music played, boiling water bubbled in the background and the aromatic smell of spices and fried delicacies wafted through the room. Behind the stainless steel prep table, just three feet away from his single bed, stood food science junior Jimmy Wong, the creator of DENCH.
DENCH. is Wong’s newly established pop-up style restaurant, solely based out of his studio apartment on Murray Street. The eatery’s cuisine has the quality of a high-class restaurant, while maintaining the ambiance of a best friend’s house.
“I always knew coming into college that one of my bucket-list goals was to do pop-up dinners. I had heard of other college campuses of students who were doing pop-up dinners in their dorm rooms,” Wong said. “When moving into my studio this year, I realized that this idea could be tangible. This past summer I spent time buying plates, cutlery and glassware and figuring out what food I wanted to create.”
Wong serves food that highlights his skills as a chef, while pulling from his Asian roots. He characterizes his meals as having an Asian profile executed through European technique.
“My menus are pretty much just an amalgamation of all my experiences in kitchens and my experiences, culturally, growing up. I try to cook seasonally and incorporate my experiences into my food, with my menu following a more Western style with Asian nuances,” Wong said. “I get a lot of my ingredients as locally, organically and sustainably as possible, so I do a lot of shopping at the [San Luis Obispo] Farmers’ Market.”
Through his mother’s influence, Wong began cooking and baking at a young age. It wasn’t until high school that Wong started to gain experience in the
“Right when I turned 16, I got my first bussing job at a Japanese restaurant,” Wong said. “I worked my way up in the front of house – bussing tables to hosting then to waiting on tables.”
Wong became curious about the true essence of a restaurant: the food. He began scoping out Yelp and emailing various restaurants, seeking out employment opportunities in their back-of-house production. The restaurants that responded happened to be prestigious Michelin star dining venues looking for young talent.
“I always liked doing pastries so I staged, also known as apprenticing, at these restaurants,” Wong said. “I was a pastry stage for the whole summer and would work eight to 10 hours a day, which included prepping the pastries and making all the dessert options. I did that for the whole summer and this is when I realized I really wanted to go into the culinary field.”
When applying to colleges, Wong was stumped choosing between the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and Cal Poly. He ended up choosing Cal Poly to study food science.
“Many chefs haven’t gone to technical schools, so they lack the scientific background that allows them to know why things happen when they cook,” Wong said. “Because of my course studies, I know that when I put specific ingredients together, I can understand the chemical background on a microscopic level to know why the food tastes the way it does.”
Prior to launching DENCH., Wong joined Cal Poly Chocolates, the on-campus group tasked with creating the various chocolates sold at Campus Market.
“Jimmy’s background in culinary was an asset for Cal Poly Chocolates as he is comfortable in a fast-paced environment and was able to see the need and fill it,” Food Science and Nutrition Operations Manager Molly Lear said.
Wong continued to grow his culinary skills on campus, serving banquet style meals for his Asian-American fellowship events. Gathering experience from his involvement in both of these organizations, he had the foundation to create his restaurant.
Wong opens up reservations through his website, posting both on Facebook and Instagram when the rounds are open. The dining experience is set for four individuals, with about five to seven courses and starting at $35 per person.
“I saw [Wong] post on Facebook and immediately asked my boyfriend which date worked for him,” biological sciences junior Laura Lodolo said. “Within the hour when we went back to claim the reservation, someone had already taken it, and the rest were almost all out too. We ended up getting the last reservation in the round.”
Wong currently serves once per week because his preparation time is anywhere from 15 to 20 hours.
“At the end he made extra little madeleines for us to take home and while we were chatting with him before leaving, I ended up eating all of them,” Lodolo said.
Wong’s goal is to continue to grow DENCH. for the remainder of his time at Cal Poly.
“When I graduate, hopefully I can travel and work overseas. Eventually, I want to open up my own restaurant,” Wong said.
DENCH. seats guests at 7 p.m. on Saturday nights, but is currently booked for the remainder of the quarter. Follow Wong’s Instagram page @jwongdynasty for updates on his next reservation rounds and