During the pandemic, TikTok has been a way for people to entertain themselves. While some people have mastered the art of dance challenges and song covers, Toronto chef Wallace Wong found a niche for himself on the social media platform. These days, his TikTok videos of him chopping ingredients into super-thin slices are making him go viral.
Wong, who calls himself the “Six Pack Chef” because of his love of food and fitness, has appeared on reality food competition shows such as Fridge Wars, Chopped Canadaand Top Chef Canada. However, those stints didn’t always transfer to social media fame until TikTok came along.
In October 2019, Wong came across a man cutting vegetables to music on TikTok and felt he could do something similar. So naturally, Wong took his shirt off him to show his six-pack, pressed record on his phone and got to slicing. The next morning, he woke up to millions of views.
Three years later, the 31-year-old has garnered more than 1.3 million followers on TikTok for his satisfying chopping videos, slicing everything from vegetables to a grain of rice to sprinkles to a strawberry seed.
Earlier this month, Wong sat down with Complex Canada over Zoom to chat about his viral success on TikTok, how his family inspired his love of preparing food, and the responsibility he feels towards his community as an Asian-Canadian content creator.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Where does the name Six Pack Chef come from?
Six Pack Chef is the branded version of me. So there’s three things to it: eat good, look good, live great. The first is all things food, drink and hospitality. “Look good” is all about health and fitness. “Live great” is all things lifestyle, motivation, entrepreneurship. It’s just the branded, nicer package of myself.
There is a lot of satisfaction watching you cut things. But for someone who is behind the knife, what kind of feeling do you get when you’re cutting?
When I’m doing them, I love when I edit the videos myself. What I like is that I’m very OCD, just from working in fine dining restaurants. I need to make sure it’s precise. People might see one cucumber cutting video, but I might have gone through 16 of those before I got the shot I liked. For me, the satisfaction is knowing that if I enjoy it, someone else will enjoy it. The comments, the engagement. That to me is something that’s cool. That gives me great joy.
What would you say is the hardest thing you’ve attempted to slice?
I definitely think the rice grain is a hard one. Just because they’re so small to grip. I did a sesame seed, that was hard. The strawberry seed was another one. The M&M was actually not too hard. It’s fairly easy. The difficulty is making sure that it cuts perfectly all the way.
Who taught you how to master the art of using a knife?
This goes back to literally my family. Not just the knife skills, but cooking in general. I’m Chinese-Canadian, so food is the center of my family and my childhood. We always did lunch and dinner and everybody helped out together. I got to live with my grandparents, and they would always prepare things whether it’s making soup, roasting chestnuts or cracking gingko nuts to make congee.
I never used a big knife. To start off, I used a really small fruit knife to cut small things and eventually got into bigger and sharper knives. Then as I got into cooking school and cooking competitions, I got my knives to where you see me right now.
“If I am able to chat with somebody, and change their mindset when they are saying something [negative] about the culture, the Asian community, I have the potential to educate them or change the way they see us.”
How did your Chinese roots instill your love of cooking and preparing food?
Funny thing is I never wanted to be a chef. The whole thing about it is if I think back to some of my happiest memories, they were always around food and my family. Whether it’s like making dumplings on the weekend, getting flour all over myself, or getting the whole family together during hot pot or barbecues. For me, food was just a part of my life. That’s where the inspiration comes from. Whether it’s recipes that I do, or some of the videos that I do that show Asian dishes, or even Asian ingredients. That’s where it comes from.
You ended up working in some of the best restaurants in the world, from NOMA in Denmark and Alinea in Chicago. Did you have an aha moment that made you change your mind about being a chef?
It was during university and in culinary school. I did some cooking competitions during that time and I did really well. Because I wanted to be so good, I started looking at the best restaurants in the world. When I graduated, I got the chance to open up Momofuku in Toronto, because I met David Chang when he was in Denmark filming The Mind of a Chef. So while the rest of my business friends went to the Big Four to do accounting and other business jobs, I ended up opening a restaurant. Then, I quickly decided not to.
When we opened up Momofuku Shoto, we were the best in Toronto, number two in Canada. I’ve worked with some of the best chefs in the world. But there are certain things about the lifestyle that chefs joke about like, “Oh, it must be nice to have a Friday night off. It’s a holiday? We’re definitely not going home!” As a cancer survivor, those kinds of viewpoints in life didn’t mesh with what I wanted to do with my life. So I quickly left.
I try to tell people, a chef is someone who uses food to communicate. Obviously, I still have respect for those who run a restaurant. I think that nowadays with social media, a chef is someone who cooks great food and you learn from them. I always say food is like the alphabet. It’s a way to communicate and interact with people.
Your cancer diagnosis was a big part of your trajectory. Are you able to talk about that?
In the last year of high school, I got diagnosed with cancer. It was Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in my eye. Right now, it’s been 15 or 16 years in remission, so it’s been really crazy. After I got diagnosed, it was six months of intense chemotherapy and radiation. That really was the turning point for me. I remember I sat there and said, “Hey I haven’t done anything in my life yet. I promise I have more to give and want to do way more.” That was a promise to myself.
It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my life. It’s made me see things in a different light. It’s made me take a chance on TikTok, because I don’t want to regret whether or not this might be the thing that pops.
In all honesty, I always say the only thing I hated about it was the fact that knowing my existence was negatively impacting or influencing the people around me. It’s very hard to look at loved ones, family, friends, and see pain in their eyes and sadness because of you. For me, I needed to get better.
Part of your journey also includes stints in reality TV like Top Chef Canada and Chopped. What was that experience like for you?
That I thought was incredible. Like for myself, I love seeing production. But from a chef standpoint, being on the shows was actually something that I think was a little like a chip on my shoulder. For instance on Chopped, I went on right after I left working in restaurants. I wanted to still prove that I’m a chef. There was a little part of me that asked if I was still going to be good enough, and I ended up winning that. It was amazing, because you don’t have to be in a restaurant to be a great chef.
Fridge Wars was unbelievable. That was just showing my versatility, being able to cook whatever’s in the fridge and make something out of it. And then finally, top-chef was the one that took me some time to get on. I pulled the plug a couple times in applying and eventually did. I was worried because these are the best chefs in Canada. These are guys who worked in the best restaurants as I did. Becoming a finalist on that show was something that I thought was extremely humbling. What I mean by humbling is being able to show everybody you really don’t have to be a chef in a restaurant to cook good food.
Is there a particular dish that really means a lot to you?
When it comes to dishes specifically, I think of sweet and sour pork. I think of my grandmother, that was her favorite dish of hers. My grandfather made something called 1-2-3-4-5 Ribs which was just something simple and he would make it all the time. My other grandfather made these stir-fried vermicelli noodles that were there every single meal. So these things represent and make me think of my family.
What do your grandparents mean to you?
They all actually passed last year within a span of seven months due to the pandemic. I’ve shared the highs and lows on my socials. My community, the people who follow me, are extremely supportive. I’ve made tribute recipe videos for [my grandparents], and it was a way for me to mourn and grieve. When I think of what food is, it’s communication but also a superpower. You can connect with people and evoke emotions, make people cry and make people laugh.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Do you see your content as a way to pay tribute to them?
Yeah, I’ve learned to take a lot of negatives. Going back to negative comments, going back to my cancer diagnosis. Food and socials are the best way for me to express and share myself. The best word you said is tribute. It’s to show people these are my grandparents.
As an Asian Canadian with a platform, do you see yourself having responsibility to represent your community?
Moreso as I keep going forward, I always thought of myself as a direct representation of my family, my grandparents and what they’ve taught me. Now going onto social media, I have this platform that I am able to connect with people and to be able to bring positivity, make an impact and influence.
I think I enjoy the fact that I can easily share a recipe with soy sauce or anything like that. I have no problem coming back and chatting with people on TikTok. If I am able to chat with somebody, and change their mindset when they are saying something [negative] about the culture, the Asian community, I have the potential to educate them or change the way they see us.
Do you get messages from fellow Asians who say you’ve pushed them to try a new path?
With Six Pack Chef, I don’t have one niche community of people. I’ve got chefs who follow me for food, I have fitness people. And then I have people who are business entrepreneurs who don’t even cook or work out. But every now and then, I get different messages. There are people who will say, “Hey, you are my motivation.” This was an Asian single. He was like, “You’re kind of like me! You’re not a white dude, you’re not a Black dude. You’re kind of like me and you look jacked. I think I can attain what you’re attaining.” That’s really cool.
Recently with the success I’ve achieved, I have a lot of people thanking me and saying congratulations. I think it means even more when people come back to say they’ve seen my journey throughout the years. They say, “You’ve been working so damn hard and it’s inspirational because I see where you came from.”
Before I let you go, what are your tips for slicing ingredients in the kitchen?
The quick tip is simply a technique. You’ll want to have a claw. The second one is the knife. The best one is the knife that you can handle and feels comfortable. Grab that one. Then there is a proper technique and using a cutting board. You’ll often see a lot of people cutting on a cutting board but it is not stable. I always put some sort of mat or towel underneath the cutting board, then you have a foundation. Just practise. Slow and steady until you get to where I can be.