As owner and chef behind the Miyo’s, M Grille and M Fresh restaurants in the Greater Columbia area, Michelle Wang takes her role as a prominent food provider very seriously. She thinks of herself as a health influencer when it comes to food, and wants to pass on her love of healthful, delicious food and healthy eating to her customers. We sat down with Michelle recently, and asked her to share her philosophy about food and how she puts those ideas into her cooking, recipes and restaurants.
Were you influenced by the people around you growing up to live a healthy lifestyle?
I grew up in Shanghai, China and my grandparents raised me. We had no refrigerator, so we would go to the supermarket to get fresh food. I was accustomed to fresh food because we had no chemicals in our food, no processed food at all. My grandparents were very sophisticated eaters and believed in getting a diversity of everything. For instance, in summertime, it was very hot so we ate a lot of mung beans, cucumbers, and other vegetables with light fish and chicken. In the winter time when it was cold we would have lamb and potatoes more than vegetables. They would cook a lot of soups, like tomato based soups, and a lot of cabbage. My grandfather studied abroad in England so he was also had a habit of having an afternoon tea and that’s what is behind the M Fresh concept.
Since your ingredients always need to be fresh, how do you decide where to get your ingredients from? We work with local producers and local farmers. I’ve been working with Senn Bros since I’ve been in business. They are a wonderful company and I visit their warehouse and understand where everything is from. They are very conscious of picking the best things for our restaurants. They know that we want to use local and natural grown ingredients. I work with City Roots in Rosewood as well. We buy their micro-greens to put in the smoothies and in our dishes.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve been faced with when cooking with fresh ingredients?
It’s really not difficult, you just have to put your heart into it. You have to monitor how much is being used, so you make an order every day. We have a certain routine. In the evening or late afternoon we count what’s been sold. It take effort in counting what’s been sold and what’s good. We place our order daily – most important, you have to put your heart into cooking fresh.
See the M Grille lunch menu by clicking here.
When I was reading up on M Grille, I saw that you use fresh, wild ingredients. Can you tell me a little about what using “wild ingredients” means?
For M Grille we try to buy wild cod, shrimp, and salmon. A lot of seafood now is farm raised and that seafood contains hormones. People are now more conscious of how chicken is raised, how the duck is grown, how the fish is being harvested. We try to get wild because it means the animals are not fed any chemicals while they grow. The majority of producers are trying to raise more pounds of meat, but we are trying to get a natural grown food.
See the M Grille dinner menu by clicking here.
What is a popular food dish at M Grille?
Some of our most popular dishes are the Crispy Flounder with Sweet and Sour Sauce and our Sweet and Sour Chicken. I use different vinegar, different sugar, and we caramelize fresh pineapples to make the sauce. I love pineapples. I think the flavor is really amazing. You have a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. When you put it in your cooking, it’s amazing.
See the M Grille Sunday Brunch menu by clicking here.
At M Fresh, you offer a wide variety of healthy drinks, including different types of smoothies, teas, and juices. Where do you come up with ideas for these healthy drinks?
Healthy ingredients in my diet are indispensable. Fresh berries, good fresh squeezed juice, pomegranate juice, avocado, mung bean and adzuki bean. I want to promote healthy living. These ingredients are costly. When you go to M Fresh, you get your money’s worth. If you are paying $8, you are getting a $6-$7 in food cost. It’s almost like a nonprofit business, but I do it because I want people to be aware of what they eat and what they drink and to incorporate good into their daily lives. I think people think that M Fresh is expensive, but you’ve got to think about the berries and the fresh ingredients. These ingredients are expensive. You get your money’s worth.
See more at the M Fresh website by clicking here.
You cook your dishes in grape seed oil and olive oil, right? What made you decide to use these two oils as your base for cooking?
When we sautee food, we use grape seed and olive oil. We do a very good Asian slaw where we use olive oil and sesame oil. The oil is essential. We use butter too, because I think that butter is a good oil for cooking and it adds a lot of flavor. Every cell in our body needs fat, and taking in the right fats is very important to achieving good health. Our brains, our immune system, our skin, our hair, hormones, digestive system – they all rely on fat to function. And fats in foods give us the feeling of satisfaction after a meal. With modern technology and agriculture, we try to be creative, but it goes against God’s law, the natural law. In trying to control everything ourselves, we often create more cancers and problems. I have seen a lot of my customers deal with cancer. Some of them I think it’s the stress, but many of them – I think it’s the diet.
How do you keep your food healthy while not skimping on the delicious taste?
I think healthy food actually tastes better because you can really taste the natural flavor because it’s the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t know where people get the idea that healthy food tastes bad. To make food tasty, I use
natural herbs and spices to flavor it. You need to use the correct cooking method to bring the flavor. Seasoning is very important.
During your recent trip to China, did you notice any changes in the way people eat there?
China’s changed a lot and the food scene has changed a lot. There are a lot of fancy restaurants and there are a lot of fast food restaurants. I stayed there for four months and I believe that our (M Gourmet Group) menu items could be very successful over there because people now are eating in fast food restaurants that use processed food. People are supporting KFC and McDonalds because they want to experience America. Most Chinese admire the American dream and the American free spirit. When they go into these fast food places, they are buying a piece of culture rather than a food. I would like to open an M Kitchen there and bring the menu items from M Fresh and M Grille over there.
So you want to open an M Kitchen in China? Where did you get the name?
M means Magic in China. I think what a lot of Chinese people have is dedication and discipline. What they lack is the boldness. They don’t believe that they can achieve something. A lot of people think that they can’t do anything in their generation, but feel maybe their children can. They don’t think they can make a difference, you know? I want to use the business as a platform to share the Gospel message, to have a Biblical center to bring people together.
Do you cook with fresh ingredients at home? What’s your favorite healthy dish to prepare at home? I love cooking rice cakes at home. I saute the rice cakes with cabbage and mushrooms and put some sea salt on it. It’s such a great meal and the kids love it.
If you could only eat one healthy food for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
It’s very hard to say because I love so many things. I love avocado, strawberries, figs. I love figs. I love so many things. I’m not a one type of food kind of person. I love fresh fruits and salads the best.
Where do you see M Fresh and M Grille in 5-10 years?
I hope to see M Fresh and M Grille everywhere in the United States. That’s my biggest dream. People often ask me, “Michelle, why do you name your restaurants different names – what is M Fresh and M Grille?” I feel like building a new restaurant is like when you have a new child in your family – you don’t know its personality and how its going to embrace and interact the world until it grows up. I hope we can see it mature and grow in its popularity.