Michelle Gar­naut’s fa­mous M restau­rants set the bar for up­scale din­ing in Asia. Well ahead of her time, the trail­blazer was in town re­cently for the Cartier Women’s Ini­tia­tive Awards. She spoke to Keng Yang Shuen on her favourite food trends, and why we’l

Female (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Famed restau­ra­teur Michelle Gar­naut of M restau­rants on food trends, and why we’ll all be eat­ing fo­nio soon.

Fol­low­ing a trend is easy; cre­at­ing one, though, is hard work.

Well be­fore restau­rants in Asia be­came the cultish In­sta­gram tem­ples they are to­day – hello Gag­gan – en­tre­pre­neur, chef and restau­ra­teur Michelle Gar­naut was hard at work in the late ’80s and ’90s, build­ing the scene with her restau­rants M at the Fringe (Hong Kong), M on the Bund and Glam­our Bar (Shang­hai), and Cap­i­tal M (Bei­jing).

A favourite of the city’s scen­esters and celebrity set, each was a des­ti­na­tion in it­self: think plates of el­e­gant global cui­sine, as pretty as the (al­ways) choice location, a so­phis­ti­cated wine menu, and an en­vi­able client list of in-the­know food­ies – this was be­fore “foodie” be­came an ac­tual job description.

While the multi-tasker has taken a step back from Hong Kong and China’s highly com­pet­i­tive din­ing scene, her ex­pe­ri­ence has never been more rel­e­vant. As the jury pres­i­dent (Asia Pa­cific re­gion) of the Cartier Women’s Ini­tia­tive Awards, a plat­form to drive change by em­pow­er­ing women to set up their own busi­nesses, Gar­naut is chan­nelling her years of know-how to­wards groom­ing Asia’s next wave of fe­male en­trepreneurs.

With her fin­ger still on the pulse of what’s hot (and not) in the global din­ing scene, the savvy busi­ness­woman is mak­ing a bold call on what we’ll all be eat­ing next, and why.

On global food trends

“I think there’s more and more of a lean to­wards (con­sum­ing) or­ganic and su­per­foods, but the more in­ter­est­ing as­pect of this is how quickly it has taken root... I love that a lot of it is de­rived from tra­di­tional knowl­edge. For ex­am­ple, one of the prod­ucts from Africa is called fo­nio, which is a grain that is gluten-free, so you can just imag­ine the Amer­i­cans’ re­ac­tions. It’s highly nu­tri­tious and grows in in­fer­tile soil, which is a pretty fan­tas­tic thing, and you can see more and more of such foods gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity.”

On how the food in­dus­try needs to change

“I would like a big move­ment to­wards (curb­ing) food wastage. The fact of the mat­ter is that, in the food chain, about 35 per cent of the food is lost be­fore it even hits the su­per­mar­kets, just dur­ing the trans­porta­tion process. In the Western world, an­other 20 per cent com­prises of food be­ing thrown out of say, su­per­mar­kets, due to those “best be­fore” dates. I mean, it’s just such a waste – one bil­lion peo­ple do not have enough to eat!”

Why less is more

“We ate at Cor­ner House at the Sin­ga­pore Botanic Gar­dens. It was nice, but it was quite fussy in terms of food. I don’t like food that has been han­dled too much, I like food that doesn’t have too many clash­ing flavours. I feel that many young chefs are putting too many things into one dish... I was like, bloody hell, what’s on this plate, you know?”

The evo­lu­tion of the mod­ern din­ing scene

“What’s hap­pen­ing is two move­ments. One is, some food is be­com­ing too fussy and, in my hon­est opin­ion, for peo­ple who don’t re­ally care about eat­ing; it’s about fri­vol­ity and nov­elty. That’s okay ev­ery now and then, but I think there’s too much em­pha­sis on it. The other move­ment is where younger peo­ple are more con­cerned about upcycling and re­cy­cling – as with fash­ion. I think the same sus­tain­abil­ity-minded move­ment is hap­pen­ing with food. I hope it con­tin­ues to grow fur­ther, mixed in with a lit­tle bit of fri­vol­ity, be­cause a lit­tle bit of fri­vol­ity is im­por­tant as well.”

The new food cap­i­tals

“I think Peru has re­ally been up there. Also, one of the cuisines that has al­ways been largely un­der­rated is the food of coun­tries such as Bul­garia and Ar­me­nia. Bul­gar­ian food has this Eastern Euro­pean in­flu­ence, but also has traces of Turk­ish an­ces­try, so that’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing. Food is af­fected by pol­i­tics as well. For ex­am­ple, Peru­vian food be­came pop­u­lar when the coun­try was more sta­ble, and peo­ple started to go there and ex­plore what was avail­able. I think the dom­i­nance of Western food is fad­ing as peo­ple dive deeper into their own cul­ture. Peo­ple are of­ten fond of their na­tive cui­sine, but they’re not as proud of it as they should be.”

A restau­rant is...

“For me, a restau­rant is more of a com­mu­nal place. The essence of restau­rants is about peo­ple eat­ing and hav­ing a good time.”

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