The Future of Chinese Cuisine According to DeAille Tam, 2021 Recipient of Asia’s Best Female Chef Award


The Future of Chinese Cuisine According to DeAille Tam, 2021 Recipient of Asia’s Best Female Chef Award


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Making waves in China and across the region, DeAille Tam, executive chef and co-founder of Obscura in Shanghai, has been awarded Asia’s Best Female Chef 2021, sponsored by Cinco Jotas. The award is voted by over 300 industry experts from across the region who also create the annual list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Obscura is located within Tang Xiang Cultural Space, a three-storey villa that also houses a private collection of ancient Chinese treasures. Perfectly complementing this showcase of culture is Tam’s restaurant, co-founded with partner Simon Wong, which embraces age-old Chinese traditions of food, wine, and tea. Prior to opening the restaurant, Tam and Wong had embarked on a year-long journey to survey the country’s rich culinary heritage and diverse regional cuisines, inspiring a menu that celebrates China’s rich culinary heritage in a modern context through refined technique and immaculate presentation.

Here, we speak with DeAille Tam on her restaurant, post-coronavirus dining trends, and the future of Chinese cuisine.

Tell us about some of the challenges you experienced at the beginning of your journey.

There are many challenges that I encountered even before I began down my gastronomic path. I grew up in a fairly traditional Chinese household and there are expectations for what kinds of jobs a female should aspire to hold, even today. I would identify this as my greatest obstacle that I had to overcome in the beginning, convincing my family that I had made the correct choice to follow my passion, knowing that the road ahead was full of uncertainty.

What motivated you to open Obscura?

Upon first arriving in Shanghai back in 2016, [Simon and I] had to make many adjustments even though we had just arrived from Hong Kong. Each and every time that we visit a new city, we always ask ourselves if we can envision ourselves living there. Both of us felt that there were immeasurable learning opportunities in China, both work related and personal growth alike. This culture, plentiful new ingredients, and boundless history. As a chef, I could not see an end to the inspiration, so the choice was simple. I wanted a platform to create the food that I can call my own because that is of paramount importance to me.

What rising food trends do you see in 2021?

Fortunately or unfortunately, the travel situation has still been adversely effected by the pandemic but I believe that this will cause chefs to search for more local ingredients to replace the imported items that they were used to. I believe that localization will re-emerge as a trend, and I am very much excited for this prospect as China has so many natural resources that have yet to be discovered and shared with the world.

What is the future of Chinese cuisine?

The future of Chinese cuisine is something that is mired in conflict between purists who abide by the rules that have been set through millennia and those who seek to make change. There is always a difficulty in trying to break from tradition and the first ones to try will encounter intense pushback. China as a whole is modernizing, so with its emergence as a global player, the food and culture must also develop to reflect a synergistic evolution.

What’s next for you? What is the next challenge you’ve set for yourself?

A restaurant is a dynamic, living entity that requires constant care and nurturing. We opened in November of 2020 and this baby needs time to grow and mature into even more than what it is now. I wish to be able explore opportunities to learn about the different cultural aspects in Chinese culinary history so that I can fine-tune a more immersive dining experience for our guests at the restaurant. Ultimately, we will be striving for Obscura to be able to make it onto the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in the coming year. I must continue to develop and invest in my team, but I would also like to have the opportunity to showcase more of Chinese cuisine in the modern world.

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