Interview with Debbie Wong from Debbie Wong’s Wok and Gong

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Interview with Debbie Wong from Debbie Wong’s Wok and Gong
Wednesday, April 30 2014

The Backstory

I met Debbie Wong a long, long time ago. Back when eatvancouver was still a thing and “phodown” a word that had crossed nary a set of lips.

This was back in Vancouver, where Debbie was an actress and culinary professional. Now she’s living in Montreal (but makes frequent trips to mainland China), and has combined her passions into a hit online cooking show. Rare it is that one finds an outlet for all of one’s passions and so I’m absolutely over the moon that Deb’s doing this.

The Interview

Toronto Phodown (TPD): Hi Debbie, thanks for doing this interview.
Debbie Wong’s Wok and Gong(DWWaG): My pleasure!

TPD: I love your Wok and Gong, and I watch every episode. What caused you to conceive of such an idea?
DWWaG: Thanks so much! I appreciate the support. Food and entertainment are both a huge part of my life and who I am. I’ve always felt like they go hand in hand. I am a professional actor and a former professional cook, and for me, it was a natural thing to combine my passions.

TPD: Why a wok and a gong? Isn’t one or another good enough for you?
DWWaG: Debbie Wong’s Wok and Gong was a name that an old friend spouted out while we were cooking together about 10 years ago; and it stuck with me this whole time. For me, the Wok refers to the food, and the Gong is the entertainment; the gong show, if you will. (TPD: I will)

TPD: What’s the biggest challenge in producing an episode?
DWWaG: The intro. We always have to do several takes to get the right tone and energy. It’s the first take, so it’s the warm-up in a way. The rest of the filming is pretty smooth. Also, coming up with recipes that are true to my style, and the Wok and Gong brand.

TPD: You’ve recently introduced a new feature where you infiltrate your friends’ pantries and cook them a dinner with their own food. Are you worried you’ll draw a blank one day and just have to order pizza?
DWWaG: Not really. I truly enjoy the challenge. The idea is that they have a full fridge and pantry, and I’m just offering a new pair of eyes, using their ingredients in a way that they may not have thought of.

TPD: I recently finished a feature on my dining adventures in Hong Kong. What are you favorite tastes from that city?
DWWaG: I love Hong Kong. I’ve only visited a few times, but it’s the place I was born, and has become really close to my heart. It’s truly a crossroads of the world. You can get any kind of food, but my FAV is Cantonese BBQ. HK does it the best. The perfect Char Siu Fan (BBQ pork and rice). I love all food, but simple food done well is my go-to.

TPD: What’s the best pho you’ve ever had?
DWWaG: It’s not exactly a Pho. It’s sort of like a deconstructed Bun. It’s effing amazing and like nothing I’ve had before. It’s the Number 38 at Montreal’s Pho Tay Ho.
Grilled lemongrass pork in that fish sauce/vinegar broth, a pile of rice noodles and a mountain (I kid you not) of Vietnamese herbs—some I’ve only seen at this restaurant. –I’m talking 3 kinds of cilantro, mint, basil, green and purple shiso… I like dipping the noodles in the broth and eating it like a Zaru Soba.

Deconstructed Bun

TPD: What’s next for the Wok and Gong?
DWWaG: World domination. Lol. I would love to film a traveling food series. Debbie Wong’s Travel-along…?

TPD: What’s next for Debbie Wong, in general?
DWWaG: Exciting things. I can feel it. 😉

TPD: Rob Ford is coming home for dinner. What do you cook for him?!
DWWaG: Oh god, I’m thinking he’s not that adventurous… Spaghetti and meatballs?—That’s actually my favorite dish, believe it or not!

TPD: Thanks again Debbie!


Campagnolo (Little Italy South)

Campagnolo @ 832 Dundas Street in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 364-4785

Visited: Thursday April 24th, 2014

The unfortunate thing about Toronto’s Little Italy is that there really aren’t many good Italian restaurants there. There are a lot of cheesy touristy ones. Sure, there are some quality family-run cheap slice and veal sandwich places (e.g., Bitondo’s) and an outpost of the venerable California Sandwiches chain. But the more upscale ones along College strike me more as cash-grabs aimed at the unsuspecting, tourists, or diners more interested in going to the nearby bars afterwards and don’t mind subpar food at a high price (ahem, Vivoli).

The outlier (but you have to walk several blocks south) is thought to be Campagnolo. And having recently moved to the area, I decided to treat myself and a friend to a night out here for having finished law school. I’m also here to tell you that what you’ve heard is right – this is an excellent restaurant.

One thing you might want to judge a restaurant on is how well they deal with tough situations. The night we visited they were clearly understaffed. Still, despite a few hitches (we waited about ten minutes for our drink order to be taken, and a rather long time between appetizers and entrees), the staff dealt with it with aplomb. Our sever, an effusive young gentleman was quick to ascertain what type of diners we were and soon figured out he could joke around with us. This is something I notice. One quibble is when asking about drink recommendations, he couldn’t help us until he found his glasses, indicating he didn’t know the menu. These are minor complaints.

It was hard to find a flaw with the food. We ordered the salumi plate, papperdelle with rabbit ragu, and a deconstructed chicken parm. The salumi plate was excellent across the board (pun intended), with a fatty venison salami as a standout. They do sort of coerce you you into getting the bread ($4) as a plate of salumi is really a rather silly endeavor without bread. While I quite enjoyed the perfectly cooked plate of pasta (the papperdelle was a revelation – someone in the kitchen knows exactly how long to cook fresh pasta), my friend’s deconstructed chicken parm was probably the standout. It consisted of a couple of ravioli, marinara, and a two perfectly cooked pieces of chicken. This was more-or-less everything you like about chicken parm without the heaviness. The “breading” in the classic Italian-American dish was even reflected in just an expertly crisped chicken skin (giving way to a still-juicy chicken breast – not an easy feat if you’ve ever tried to cook chicken breast through without drying it out).

I’d be happy to come back to Campagnolo, but it’d probably also have to be a special occasion type of night. While the food here is quite reasonably priced (around $20 for entrees), the wine mark up is a bit steep. I was drinking a Sangiovese by the glass that really shouldn’t have been out of the $10 range (it was $3-4 more).

I hate to end a review of a good restaurant on a negative note, so I’ll end it on a non-sequitur. Can someone explain this song to me? I can’t stop listening to it, but I can’t figure it out for the life of me.