You’ll hear it in her voice. Melbourne-born Michelle Garnaut is not only a legendary restauranteur with a string of awards over a career that spans continents, she’s a high spirited enthusiastic adventurer who has made China the canvas on which she’s created a truly unique life. She came to Hong Kong from Australia knowing no one and now overseas a trio of restaurants and bars in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing that are icons of their cities—not just because of great food; it’s that Michelle feels conversations that take place over meals are the very heart of a well-lived life.
You’ll hear how she got her start in the restaurant business and what she’s learned along the way. She’ll share her strongly held opinions on the role of good restaurants in society, what the West can learn from China, and why even though it’s gotten tougher to do business profitably in China these days, there are plenty of opportunities for the adventurous.
Michelle Garnaut Biography
Michelle Garnaut was a caterer and cook who'd roamed across three continents when
she arrived in Hong Kong in 1984. She loved the excitement of the road and meeting
new people, and had worked in restaurants—starting out as a dishwasher and
waitress—since she'd been a teenager. But it was time to go into business for herself.
In a small space at the Fringe Club, in 1989, she opened M at the Fringe. It was a place
where Western-style fine dining with heart welcomed diners again and again, and it
swiftly grew into a city institution. It was also the beginning of a long and celebrated
career as a restaurateur for Michelle, described by Time magazine as “an industry
celebrity” as well as “the pioneer of China’s fashionable-dining scene," and one of her
most groundbreaking accomplishments was opening one of the first fine-dining
establishments in China to stand apart from a hotel. M on the Bund, when it opened in
1999, was the first independent restaurant on the historic Shanghai waterfront. And like
its predecessor, it soon became a beloved oasis for locals, visitors and lovers of good
food and warm service.
Today, Michelle’s M Restaurant Group includes M on the Bund, Capital M in Beijing and
Glam, a chic Shanghai dining lounge. In the past lie the original restaurant, M at the
Fringe—ending its run when the club underwent reconstruction in 2009—and the
Glamour Bar, for many years a mainstay of Shanghai nightlife. But as the Hong Kong
restaurant closed its doors, Capital M—a long planned-for addition on the edge of the
Forbidden City—opened, taking the elegance, comfort and delicious food of the M
experience to a new northern audience.
Over the years, in tandem with the restaurants' exuberant growth, an empire of cultural
events has grown up. From the very beginning Michelle saw her venues as places
where music, literature and the arts would have a home, and she has founded the
Shanghai and Capital Literary Festivals, the Shanghai Chamber Music Festival and
Competition and the M Literary Residency, as well as welcoming hundreds of talks and
other events every year. She's also the co-founder of the Village People Project, which
aims to improve the lives and health of villagers in rural China through the creation of
solar-powered bathhouses, and a supporter of Educating Girls in Rural China, which
helps girls in rural Gansu Province obtain an education. In Beijing and Shanghai, she
spearheads Mentor Walks, where up-and-coming professional women can seek advice
from experienced mentors on monthly morning walks.
Michelle is the recipient of many international honours, including Entrepreneur of the
Year at the International Woman of Influence Awards and the Business Entrepreneurial
Award at the ANZ Australian Business Awards. In September 2015, she received the
inaugural award in Food at the Advance Global Australian Awards. She was a founding
judge for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and served as Asia Jury President two
years running, and serves on the boards of numerous non-profits.