Jimmy Wong Part II: Masstige in Sydney's Dining Scene
2 July, 2020
In Part 1 (read here) of our two part feature on Sydney food personality Jimmy Wong we discussed what kindled his passion for food, a passion which spurred his transition from work as the Director of Design on a multitude of internationally recognised projects, to a food photographer, chef and content creator. In Part 2, Jimmy provides insights into the thing he is most intimately acquainted with, the Sydney dining scene.
“My day is surprisingly varied. It could be filled with either photography gigs, creating food content, cooking up a storm for a collaboration or working with brands on strategies to promote their
offerings”. His day may be varied, but the activity which has become his focus is firmly anchored on the Sydney dining scene. When the question of ‘what makes a good food experience in Sydney’ is posed to Jimmy, much of his answer revolves around the non-culinary aspects of eating out. There is an acknowledgement that a meal can only be as good as the people it is shared with. The ever increasing sophistication of Sydney’s culinary offerings often brings the nasty side-effect of pretentiousness, a tragic irony given that the power of food rests in its ability to draw people together, not provide a demarcation based on snobbery. For Jimmy, food is for the senses, all five, and the visual aspects ranks high “I eat with my eyes. The restaurant or café interior design is very important to me, and so is the plating”.
"This does not mean that the dish needs to be complicated, just beautifully executed"
For Jimmy, Sydney has it all, and diversity is its blessing, “from fine dining to budget ‘hole in the walls’, to authentic Japanese cuisine to the best burgers out there, I enjoy it all. My favourite venue is the one that serves me the food that I am craving at that moment.” However, being an accomplished home cook, Jimmy has a deep appreciation for the artistry of a chef, “my test is that it has flavour, textures and a uniqueness. Something that I cannot get at home. This does not mean that the dish needs to be complicated, just beautifully executed.” Many of Sydney’s most successful hospitality venues attribute their success to authenticity, or the ‘uniqueness’ Jimmy references. The depth of Sydney’s dining scene, often comes with an unfortunate by-product; namely a pursuit of uniqueness that can often be detrimental and lead to synthetic complexity. Sydney’s best have the ability to pair simplicity and authenticity, in a way which seems natural and effortless.
Jimmy ties his appreciation of ‘beautifully-executed simplicity’ to a term commissioned by the marketing industry. “I live by the term ‘masstige’, which is prestige for the masses. When the term is unpacked, the essence is quality without exclusivity. “These are gorgeous plates of food, flavour- packed, affordable but with finesse in plating. I have noticed a trend of late that many higher-end Sydney restaurants are turning towards the ‘masstige’ approach, giving them a better bottom line whilst still being able to show some incredible food.” Much of this trend can be attributed to the proliferation of the weekend brunch. Brunching has become a mainstay Sydneysider hobby, and underpins weekend socialising. The demand for this has attracted many talented chefs and experienced operators with foundations in night-dining, who have raised the standard of breakfast dining in this city well above the bacon and eggs which was commonplace, not too long ago.
Jimmy gives his take on his city's hospitality industry; “The culinary offerings around Australia have really come ahead in leaps and bounds within the last ten to fifteen years. In Sydney it has matured to an exciting time, from hatted restaurants to the best ‘holes in the wall’. They are some of the best in the world. The food scene in Sydney is built by passionate individuals who strive to bring the very best to customers with fresh produce that is readily available. By and large, mediocrity is not commonplace. The consumer’s palette has become more sophisticated, with help from shows like MasterChef. Our weakness is a non-tolerance of food that is inconsistent, over-priced or accompanied by mediocre service.
I understand consumer frustration, but I feel that those that take it on themselves to condemn without giving a second chance to rectify are doing the whole industry a disservice. We as customers should help businesses grow by giving constructive feedback and opportunities to rectify. After all, that is how we all grow. We need to encourage them to take it to the next level so that they may succeed.”