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Growing up in Harlingen, Cheryl Clark cooked for family friends, but only for fun. Then, at fifteen, she lied about her age to get a real job in a restaurant, and ever since, like a soufflé with extra egg whites, her star has risen to extraordinary heights. After attending New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Clark signed on as an intern at Dallas’ Mansion on Turtle Creek in 1992. Three years later she attended a food festival in Hong Kong and was offered a job at a Mexican restaurant there. “They were looking for someone who could do Tex-Mex, and I’m from the Valley,” she says. “I know Tex-Mex.” Today the 27-year-old is the executive chef at two Hong Kong restaurants, Zona Rosa and California. Her biggest challenge is making the food palatable for Cantonese customers, whose idea of Western fare is bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes). “I’ve toned down the peppers—when I first started working here, I was burning people up,” Clark says. “And I changed the menu so that there are no weird names on it” (tomatillo sauce is now “Mexican green tomato sauce”). Clark also cohosts a cooking segment on a local TV show, spotlighting personal favorites like lobster burritos. Translation: yum.