Into Their Kitchens: The stories behind China’s fine-dining superstars

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Here at WildChina, we’re not just a travel company. We go beyond just showing people a destination by fostering a deeper understanding and perception of a place and the people we find there. In the time of COVID-19, we’re doing that through an online series, WildChina On-Air. These talks and discussions are a forum for us to share with you a different side of China.

We’re going to take you beyond the headlines to discover the food, culture, history, language, and reality of life in China. We’re going to encourage you to ask questions, to read something new, and to hear a different perspective on what may seem like a well-known topic.

So far, we’ve talked to Patrick CranleyAmy Chua, and Fuchsia Dunlop. Coming up next, we’ll be In Conversation With Michelle Garnaut from M Restaurant Group and Ignace Lecleir from TRB Group. 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to open a fine-dining restaurant? What if that was in a world-class city away from your home country? What if you were introducing Western cuisine to a Chinese audience? And what if you did it so well, you won awards around the world and your restaurants became household names both within China and beyond?

Well, Michelle Garnaut and Ignace Lecleir both did all of the above. Join us on Thursday, July 2nd as we sit down in conversation with these two culinary heroes and find out how they’ve beaten the odds to create authentic, fabulous dining experiences in Shanghai and Beijing. But before we talk to these two foodie legends, we had a look into their stories to find out a little bit more about what makes them so remarkable. 

WildChina On-Air: In Conversation With Michelle Garnaut & Ignace Lecleir

When: July 2nd, 2020. 5pm PDT | 8pm EST | 8am China Time (July 3rd)

Watch the event replay here.

Michelle Garnaut & M on the Bund

In 2018, Michelle Garnaut, originally from Melbourne, Australia, was awarded the esteemed Order of Australia (AO) – an order of chivalry granted in deference to someone’s “achievement and merit in service to Australia or humanity.” Garnaut joined the likes of John Farnham, Kylie Minogue, Mel Gibson, and Peter Carey in their service to Australia. Why? Because not only did she start four different restaurants throughout the Middle Kingdom, she also founded the Shanghai Literary Festival, the M Literary Residency, and the Village People Project.

Her work has brought Australian food and culture to China, but she’s also grown and nourished those both near and far through her dedication to education and mentorship. She supports the Gansu-based Educating Girls in Rural China foundation and began Mentor Walks in Beijing and Shanghai. She uses her venues as meeting places for those that love the arts, and regularly welcomes authors, artists, musicians, and more to host talks and events. 

But, let’s focus on what she’s best known for: being a “pioneer of China’s fashionable-dining scene” (Time magazine). 

Into Their Kitchens: The stories behind China’s fine-dining superstars

M on the Bund. Photo courtesy of M Restaurant Group

In 1989, Michelle Garnaut started M at the Fringe in Hong Kong. It was a small space, offering Western fine-dining in a city better-known for its Cantonese fare. But her pluck and Australian spirit saw the restaurant take off. M at the Fringe won multiple awards, saw celebrities such as Kass Moss, Pierce Brosnan, and Chow Yun-fat as patrons, and quickly became known as not only the first fine-dining restaurant in Hong Kong outside of a hotel, but also as a city-wide institution known for its culture, unique decor, and of course, delicious food. 

When she arrived in Hong Kong back in 1984, Michelle – like many travelers and expats at some point in their journeys – thought she wasn’t going to stay. 15 years later, she was still there. 

Michelle went on to open M on the Bund (1999), the Glamour Bar (2006) and M Glam (2015) in Shanghai, as well as Captial M (2009) in Beijing. While only M on the Bund and Glam are still open, Michelle’s story is one of intense hard work in a culture not her own, competing in a market where ‘Western’ fine-dining was not the most sought-after affair.

Into Their Kitchens: The stories behind China’s fine-dining superstars

Interior of M on the Bund. Photo courtesy of M Restaurant Group

M on the Bund has become a mainstay in Shanghai. It has been named one of the best restaurants in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, one of the top 20 restaurants in Asia by Miele Guide, and Shanghai Zagat readers voted it the most popular restaurant in the city. The prince of Netherlands has dined there, as has Daniel Radcliffe. But what we love most about this gem on the Bund is the heart that Michelle and her team have poured into every fiber of the place.

Join us on Thursday to hear more about her journey to culinary stardom. RSVP here and submit a question if you have something you must know from Michelle. 

Ignace Lecleir & TRB

In 2019, TRB Hutong in Beijing was voted by travelers to be TripAdvisor‘s best fine-dining restaurant in the world. This (literal) temple to fine-dining sees modern Europen cuisine served up with a modern French twist – think sea urchins served over a bed of dry ice, encased in a delicate sauce that leaves you wanting more, which is good because it’s surrounded by four other courses. And when we say temple, we really do mean that literally.

TRB Hutong finds its home in a 600-year-old temple that was lovingly restored by an Australian architectural firm. Discovered in 2007, and shrouded in dust and rubble among Beijing’s new developments, Zizhusi is a living piece of Qing Dynasty history. Today, the Zizhusi temple forms the centerpiece of the Temple Hotel and TRB Hutong, but for the restaurant, it’s just the beginning of a very special dining experience. Belgian proprietor Ignace Lecleir leads the gracious and attentive staff, creating an atmosphere of regal calm perfectly balanced with the inventive dishes. The food blends new and old, with creative reinterpretations of classic dishes and a wine list to die for. But who is the creative genius behind this homage to all things elegant and enticing?

Into Their Kitchens: The stories behind China’s fine-dining superstars

TRB Hutong. Photo courtesy of TRB Group

Lecleir first came to China in 2009 to open Daniel Bouloud’s Maison Boulud. After a few years of working in the capital, he decided to venture out on his own and began Temple Restaurant Beijing (later renamed to TRB).  

Like Garnaut’s story, Lecleir’s path to success wasn’t easy. When he was finally granted permission to use the former temple, he had to compete with Beijing’s other fine-dining spots – including Garnaut’s Capital M – as well as contend with the logistical difficulties of a restaurant situated down a long, narrow, and hard-to-find hutong. But succeed he did. Along with TRB Hutong, Lecleir now counts three other ventures as part of his TRB Group: TRB Forbidden CityHulu, and Merci.

Into Their Kitchens: The stories behind China’s fine-dining superstars

TRB Forbidden City. Photo courtesy of TRB Group

The accolades for Lecleir’s different dining spots are numerous. But what Ignace and his team most pride themselves on is their dedication to customer service. Whether it’s an attentive top-up of your wine, a personal recommendation from the chef, or the general ambiance of friendly, relaxed staff who love what they do, TRB’s service is above and beyond. 

Hear more about Ignace’s illustrious career and how TRB is faring amidst this global pandemic. RSVP here and submit any must-know questions. 

In Conversation with Michelle & Ignace 

When: July 2, 5pm PDT | 8pm EST | 8am China time (July 3)

How: Sign up here and get the Zoom link to attend. Alternatively, sign up and then follow along live on our YouTube channel

Other Upcoming Events

 More than anything, we love sharing different facets of China with the world. In our WildChina On-Air series, that’s all about sharing different parts of China from food to art to history. 

Coming up this month, we’re talking to UCCA Director Philip Tinari and New York Times‘ bestselling author Lisa See

Find out more here

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