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The executive chef of the newly-opened Shanghai restaurant wins the title for her creative take on Chinese culinary traditions.

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DeAille Tam was named as Asia’s Best Female Chef 2021, sponsored by Cinco Jotas. The executive chef and co-founder of Obscura, which opened in Shanghai late last year, succeeds 2020 winner Cho Hee-sook of Seoul-based Hansikgonggan. In 2016, the Philippines’ own Margarita Forés was honored with the same recognition.

The award is voted for by over 300 industry experts from across the region who also create the annual list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, which will be revealed on March 25. Sponsored by S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, the award continues the organization’s mission to recognize positive role models and support inclusivity in Asia’s restaurant scene.

Culinary creativity

“De Aille Tam is an enterprising cook whose creative flair, progressive approach and deep understanding of China’s culinary traditions is inspiring the next generation,” says William Drew, Director of Content at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.  

Tam and Chef Simon Wong, her husband and co-founder of Obscura, embarked on a year-long journey to research China’s diverse cuisines and regions before opening their restaurant. Inspired by their travels, the pair crafted a menu that celebrates Chinese culinary heritage in a contemporary context. The restaurant is located set within the three-storey Tang Xiang Cultural Space, a villa that houses a private collection of ancient Chinese treasures .

From left: Some Obscura highlights include its Dragon Well Shrimp; Hunan Pepper and Beef.

Embracing age-old traditions of food, wine, tea and incense, Obscura presents elegant interpretations of classic Chinese flavors. Tam’s refined techniques and immaculate presentation betray a background studying engineering. Innately curious about structural possibilities, the chef reveals her analytical style, disciplined precision and attention to detail in each dish.

Born in Hong Kong, Tam relocated with her family to Canada when she was 10. After graduating high school, she pursued a degree in engineering. While at university, she discovered a passion for cooking that placed her on a new gastronomic journey. Tam enrolled in the culinary program at George Brown College in Toronto and eventually earned a post-graduate degree in Italian cuisine.

Honoring traditions

It was while studying that Tam met Wong, a fellow student and Hong Kong native who had similarly left his medical degree to study the culinary arts. The couple’s professional and personal relationship flourished and they remained in Toronto for several years working in a variety of restaurants before returning to Hong Kong in 2014 to embark on a new chapter of their respective careers.

In 2014, Tam began working at the much-lauded Bo Innovation under the tutelage of acclaimed Alvin Leung, an iconic figure known for his bold interpretations of modern Chinese cuisine. Two years later, Leung appointed Tam and Wong as co-executive chefs to launch Bo Shanghai at Five on the Bund, a sister restaurant to the Hong Kong outlet.

Obscura is located set within the three-storey Tang Xiang Cultural Space in Shanghai.

Time Out Shang hai described Bo Shanghai’s 10-course tasting menu as “an all- out, no-regrets meal of some of the most interesting food in the city,” incorporating elements from the eight regional cuisines in China. Tam distinguished herself as the first female chef in Mainland China to earn a Michelin star when Bo Shanghai achieved that status in 2018.

“This award marks a major milestone in my career,” Tam says. “I am humbled that many industry leaders who I admire have followed my evolution in this industry. I hope to be able to inspire others to pursue their passion.”

For more on Asia’s 50, visit their website.

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