Michael Caines Interview
Meeting Michelin starred chefs is always an interesting event – they are a group quite singular in their intense focus, desire to strive and push forward and in their inexhaustible pursuit of excellence. Michael Caines MBE is no such exception, but alongside this steely determination is a personality shaped so completely by the many obstacles he has overcome. Sally Thomson caught up with Michael at Kentisbury Grange, home of The Coach House by Michael Caines, to discuss his quest for perfection, his passion for cooking and his desire to give back…
You have achieved a great deal to date, but what makes you the most proud?
Lympstone Manor has to be my best personal achievement – and being a father, of course! From a career perspective opening Lympstone Manor is the result of years of hard work. It is the realisation of my dreams. It encapsulates all that is emblematic of luxury lifestyle – a wonderful hotel in a beautiful setting. I came to a point where I thought, if I was given a blank piece of paper and I could put down what I wanted, then I think that it manifests itself in Lympstone Manor – for me it is a great achievement. Alongside that I have my MBE, chef of the year; I have a whole list of highlights of my career, which have been documented by achievements, of which I wouldn’t necessarily have had without the work ethic and desire to do the best possible job instilled in me by my early Head Chefs.
When you move away from the comfort of someone else’s kitchen and start from scratch on your own, anything you do after that is a big achievement because the risks are so much higher. I stand here with the backing of a collective group of people who bought into the hard work and the effort that it takes. It makes me immensely proud.
You have worked with some amazing chefs in your time, in particular Bernard Loiseau and Joel Robuchon – those were the two men who in uenced you in France. So was that how you developed your love of French cuisine whilst working out there?
I think it started when I went to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, which is very much a French affair. I was working with Raymond (Blanc) and worked there for three years. When I re ect upon my career it was Raymond who suggested that I go to France. When I look at those three names, and they all have different characteristics. Raymond Blanc is very creative, hugely passionate and driven. He was the forerunner of the lighter and more modern style of cooking, which has now become mainstream. He created a beautiful country house which in uenced and inspired me and my decisions as to where I wanted to work. I never forget going to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons as a 19 year-old and falling love with the idea of the place, that being a beautiful hotel and restaurant in wonderful surroundings. It gave me the vision of what hospitality could be, which is very much a French affair. It was very pioneering when you talk to individuals who wanted to make it happen. It was Raymond who fused together cuisine and the quality of the house with the charm and service and it was all of those elements that culminated in a wonderful experience for the guests. When I look upon my time at Quat’Saisons I learnt so much. Moving away from him to go to Bernard Loiseau who was a 3 star chef, the food was simpler. Bernard always said: ‘it’s the flavours’. The techniques he used in the kitchen were without heavy cream or butter – it was always about fresh ingredients and minimal fuss for maximum effect. He was also a charismatic man.
He was the first chef in France to float his business on the stock market. I was the first English guy in his kitchen and the first black person.
Did you have to learn French pretty quickly then?
Well, at Quat’Saisons we did service in French, so I knew a lot to begin with! After Loiseau I went to Paris to work for Robuchon, in what was a hardcore SAS kitchen – it was really tough, but enjoyable! It was a very disciplined kitchen where you were fighting to be recognised. I was given responsibility and I took it well. I used the experience to teach me about the person I wanted to be.
What made you decide to come back to the UK?
Two things – first of all I decided that my time in Paris was coming to an end. Gordon Ramsey, who I had met in Paris and Marco Pierre White were calling me to get me to join them. I was younger than Gordon and I decided that I had stuff to do. However, at that time I had a call from Raymond saying that he was recommending me for the job at Gidleigh Park. I ended up being there for 21 and a half years!
You are obviously talented – do you think you have any more to learn?
That talent can become pigeon-holed. My talent has grown from a desire to learn French cuisine, with in uences from other cuisines from all over the world. There is a trend for up and coming chefs to want to do something different. The new generation of chefs don’t go to where we went – they go to Japan and Asia and come back and want to do the fusion thing.
Does it give you satisfaction to see younger chefs rise through the ranks?
Absolutely. I have had chefs that worked with me who are now going on and doing their own things. They are finding their own style and nding their own way. Some will be in uenced by Noma in Demark and the food style in Scandanavia, but then you get like me and think ‘what goes around comes around’ in terms of style. Music changes and food is no different.
I love to see the young people who have worked for me at events. When I stood up for the Relais Chateaux competition half of the chefs around me were people
I had worked for and the other half were people that had worked for me. People in the industry say that they do look for people who have worked for me as they have a balanced understanding of running a business alongside their own talent. A chef is extremely egotistical and I am to a degree, and that is not in a negative way. It is a vision of what I want. If the ego didn’t exist we would never achieve.
At Lympstone we have just achieved a Michelin star within 3 months. The consistency of your craft will single you out. Being a chef is matching that hard work ethic. What we are talking about is people having principles and standards. The sad thing is as you get older you realise that your two days off a week and your holidays, as beautiful as they are, they are not going to be the things that make you happy. It is all about job satisfaction.
Are you still involved with the Williams Motoring racing team? And do you see a parallel between racing and the kitchen?
Yes, very much so. When I go into Formula One and I go into my kitchen, we too are aiming to be at the top of our profession. First of all it is very transient – just like our kitchen is. People move through the ranks and move on. The intellectual property right of those teams bringing intellect and know-how is something that they can only sell and utilise in other elds and that is the difference in winning and losing. The level of the detail and integrity of the spirit of the team is always about winning. It’s about detail and the intensity with which you pursue the details on a day to day basis.
I have a very good and very strong relationship with Williams, it’s been seven years now since I started working with them. My role there to is help the team provide a good experience for their VIPs. The thing that gets racing drivers to the top is the same as good chefs – working hard and consistently to become successful.
You are obviously a very caring person and you are involved with various charities can you tell me about them?
I work with several charities. One is Families for Children the other one is the Calvert Trust which I have just become involved with. They work to provide outdoor experiences for disabled people. Families for Children is an adoption agency – it is close to my heart as I was adopted myself. Then Exeter Cheese foundation does a lot for good causes in the area. I do care and try and put something back. I’ve had my setbacks in life, but that is all a part of shaping the person you become, who you want to be. Whatever in uence I have now, or help I can offer, I would like to use as best I can.
You were on TV recently with James Martin, do you want to do more TV?
I did 8 weeks of lming with My Kitchen Rules and they wanted me to do more, and I explained that I was busy so they gave it to someone else. My passion, and my greatest love is being in the kitchen, and I’m not prepared to surrender that to be on TV. I would love it if someone wanted to do a show on Lympstone Manor – mostly because it’s enterprises like this that are such a bene t to the UK economy. We’ve got to celebrate the things we are good at, and unfortunately that’s not always what TV is about. My future is here, in the place I have built, it’s a dream fully realised and I don’t want to be anywhere else.
Lympstone Manor, Courtlands Lane, Exmouth EX8 3NZ lympstonemanor.co.uk
The Coach House at Kentisbury Grange, Kentisbury, EX31 4NL kentisburygrange.com