Hong Kong-born chef DeAille Tam only opened her first restaurant in November 2020 – Shanghai’s Obscura – and has been working in fine dining restaurants in Asia since just 2014. So it came as a complete surprise when she was named as Asia’s Best Female Chef 2021, voted by industry experts from across the region, at the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants listings. “I was completely shell-shocked when I first received the news as I had just finished a busy service and was coming down with a serious fever,” says Tam. “After hearing the announcement, I had to do a double take and ask the representatives to repeat themselves for fear that I was delusional. “I am ultimately very grateful for receiving the accolade as it is a form of validation for putting in all of the hard work and making all of the sacrifices up until this point. This will only motivate me to continue improving every day.” Are these Hong Kong chefs the new kings of Cantonese cuisine? Tam opened Obscura with husband Simon Wong, who works as a chef in the kitchen alongside her. “Simon is the other executive chef and co-founder of Obscura so it is something we have been used to since arriving in Asia back in 2014,” Tam says. “We have yet to cause one another serious bodily harm or psychological trauma so I suppose we get along like peas in a pod, fortunately!” Tam was born and brought up in Hong Kong before moving to Canada with her family when she was 10. After graduating from high school she pursued a degree in engineering. It was while at university that Tam’s career path took an unexpected turn. In having to make her own meals, she realised her passion for cooking and boldly left university to start her gastronomic journey. Opening your own restaurant is the equivalent of raising your own child. Do not underestimate the commitment that you must be willing to make to make it work – most restaurants do not have a fairy-tale ending DeAille Tam, winner of Asia’s Best Female Chef 2021 Her parents tried to open her eyes to the decision she had made. “They said, ‘Are you sure? This industry is not so glamorous, the hours are long, the work is hard and the sacrifice is immeasurable,’” recalls Tam. Undeterred, she enrolled in a culinary programme at George Brown College in Toronto and graduated with a degree in Italian cuisine. “Italian cuisine was the most appealing programme offered by George Brown at the time and I always had a sense of adventure so it was a no-brainer for me especially since I love making as well as eating pasta,” says Tam. In 2014, Tam started working under the tutelage of celebrity chef Alvin Leung at his flagship Hong Kong fine dining restaurant Bo Innovation, known for its modern interpretation of Chinese cuisine . Two years later, Leung appointed Tam and Wong as co-executive chefs at his new Bo Shanghai at Five on the Bund. “Alvin is wildly creative and that is something that I respect very much about him. Eccentric individuals always have unique personalities and his is larger than life. He will always be one of my greatest influences but I view him more as an uncle than anything else,” says Tam. “This portion of my career development was quintessential in arriving at my current destination, Obscura.” Hong Kong dining hotspots: the best of May’s openings and new menus During her time at Bo Shanghai, Tam distinguished herself as the first female chef in China to earn a Michelin star, in 2018. After leaving Bo Shanghai, Tam and Wong took a culinary trip around China to research the country’s diverse cuisines and regions. “It is hard to say exactly how long the journeys were because there were a lot of breaks. Travelling requires money and we were fitting in freelance jobs intermittently. Many of our travels coincided with work so we managed to discover many new interesting ingredients and cultural elements during our explorations,” says Tam. “Watching people eat and dining with them is the one true way to understand what makes something remind them of their hometown. One cannot guess what a feeling would be like if you have never experienced it. Each and every cuisine reveals different inspirations for me.” And which of the country’s great cuisines impressed her the most? “Sichuan and Fujian cuisines have left me with the deepest impressions, which have appeared the most in our recent creations. I can only say that I have yet to learn enough about all of the other regional cuisines of China so that answer is liable to change with each visit.” Her restaurant Obscura has undoubtedly been influenced by her journeys but also bears the marks of Leung’s modern influences. “‘Modern innovative Chinese’ is how we would describe our concept. We seek out classic dishes and flavours from all over China and then reinterpret the components through our own lens. We always visit the region and get individuals from each respective dish’s hometown to give us their feedback on our rendition,” she says. “You may believe that you have sacrificed a lot as a cook or even as a chef, but opening your own restaurant is the equivalent of raising your own child. Do not underestimate the commitment that you must be willing to make to make it work – most restaurants do not have a fairy-tale ending.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .