Story by Sheila Sarhangi
Photo by Jyoti Mau
Hector Wong’s Honolulu living room doesn’t have the usual television, couch or coffee table. He keeps the space for items of far more use to him: four ceiling-high metal shelves filled with neatly stacked pots and pans; three mixers and two countertop ovens; and an extra refrigerator that is dialed in at forty-six degrees Fahrenheit to preserve the flavor of local chocolates and macadamia nuts.
Wong is an eclectic baker, with no interest in making commercial, sold-in-thestore goods. He produces just three large cakes a year, mostly for public events. His most recent opus took half a year to plan and was featured—and eaten—at a mango festival on the Big Island. The finished product was a macadamia nut shortbread cake topped with twenty pounds of fresh mangoes thinly sliced and delicately placed to form large orange roses.
Wong’s meticulous nature can be traced back to his upbringing in Peru, a country where even the smallest town, with or without sidewalks, boasts a bread shop. “In terms of baking, things are done in the artisan way,” he says, “meaning everything is made from scratch.” Wong made his first cake when he was 8, under the supervision of his mother, the family’s original baker. “I liked baking because it was technical, like a science experiment,” he recalls. “You have to take measurements and mix things like flour, sugar and water. Then you put it all together in the oven, check the temperature and this new thing comes out.”
Wong begins making his cakes long before he actually reaches for the spatula. He starts by establishing a relationship with an Island farmer, then gets ingredients shipped to him, tests various combinations and draws sketches. His cakes each focus on one Hawai‘igrown ingredient, such as cacao, macadamia nuts, vanilla and tropical fruits like rambutan from the Big Island or coffee from Moloka‘i. “Working with farmers lets me keep that connection of seeing things from the beginning to end,” he says. “It gives me personal satisfaction.”
Today, Wong teaches baking classes out of his kitchen on the weekends; his day job is fixing computers—and challenging the diets of his co-workers. Showing up with a cake, he says, “is a great way to make friends at meetings.”