Michael Caines MBE is one of the UK’s most celebrated and acclaimed chefs, a successful and imaginative hotelier, a respected spokesperson for the hospitality industry, and a patron and fundraiser for a number of national and local charities and community organisations. Having studied catering from a young age, Michael began working under Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire. His iconic work at Gidleigh Park began in 1994, which was awarded its second Michelin star in 1999. Michael has a plethora of successes under his belt, including the popularity of the Royal Clarence Hotel, the opening of Lympstone Manor, his relaunch of The Cove in Maenporth and The Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven, and most recently, the opening of MIckeys Beach Bar and Restaurant and Cafe Patisserie Glacerie in Exmouth.
With an extensive career under his belt, Michael has answered some burning questions about his career and life as one of the country’s leading chefs.
When/why did you decide to become a chef?
I grew up helping my mum in the kitchen. All of us kids were given jobs to do and mine was to maintain the garden and cook with my mum to earn pocket money. From there, my intrigue and passion for cooking grew.
What’s your signature dish and why?
There are lots of dishes that have become signature over time, whether it be beef in red wine with shallots and horseradish confit or lobster salad with mango and cardamom spice. So many dishes evolve with the seasons as well, so I wouldn’t say I have one signature dish because there are so many wonderful dishes I have developed over time.
How do you describe your overall cooking philosophy?
I always say my cooking philosophy is all about taking great ingredients and amalgamating them to produce fantastic, well-presented food. Nowadays a modern chef takes into consideration technical attributes as well as cultural attributes. With cooking, you never stop learning and it never stops evolving.
Name the top three kitchen tools you couldn’t live without?
A hand blender is very important in my opinion. This is possibly a cliché item but you wouldn’t get far without a decent chopping knife and a garlic crusher is another great one to have.
Are there any chefs you admire and feel inspired by?
Any chef that gets up in the morning is to be respected. My mentor Raymond Blanc is also incredibly inspirational. There are so many wonderful chefs out there cooking amazing food and we are spoilt for choice. One chef in particular who creates some incredible food is Gav Ward. He’s a great example of the new generation of talent who produces incredibly interesting food.
Name the proudest moment in your chef career.
I’m obviously very proud of my MBE and the 2 Michelin stars I have achieved. But a standout moment is opening Lympstone Manor. Nothing symbolises the efforts in my career more than the arrival of Lympstone Manor.
Which dishes do you find the most challenging?
Understanding the art of Japanese fermentation is something that I find extremely interesting. It’s fascinating to learn about new techniques from different cultures and Japanese fermentation leads very nicely into other techniques which are found in Scandinavia. It’s culturally different to what we do here in the U.K and yet it still produces such wonderful flavours.
What’s your favourite dish to make at home?
I would say my go-to dish is some sort of pasta dish. It’s an easy one, great for the kids and it’s very versatile.
Tell us about your childhood experiences with cooking and food. Were there any standout moments for you that made you want to pursue a career as a chef?
It was a combination of growing our own vegetables at home, cooking with them and enjoying them around the table with my family. Baking and cooking with my mum really did inspire me to become a chef. I felt confident and when I was growing up, there weren’t many high profile chefs around to look up to.
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Bold, technical, and with a regional focus.
If you could prepare a meal for anyone, who would it be?
I would love to entertain some of the great leaders of the world and get them all around a table to discuss how they’d put the world to rights. I really like the fact that food brings people together, and I’d love to host some of the great minds from the past and present, such as Gandhi and Barack Obama.
If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That is a tough question. I’d say stir fry and have it in various different ways.
Name 5 ingredients that are essential in any kitchen.
I would have to say salt, garlic, olive oil, butter, flour. They’re pretty essential.
Do you have a favourite style of cuisine? (i.e Japanese food, Chinese Food, Vietnamese etc)
If I was eating out I would choose Thai. I really love Thai dishes and their flavours.
What is your most memorable meal?
There are so many to choose from. One of them has to be the first Michelin star experience I had ever had at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons before I got a job there. I was 19 at the time and that was amazing.