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"I grew up appreciating the flavours of the freshest foods, picked that day and simply prepared "
Michael Caines is one of Britain's most acclaimed chefs. AA Chef's Chef of the Year in 2007, and awarded an MBE in 2006 for services to the hospitality industry, Michael is the Executive Chef at Gidleigh Park, the acclaimed and prestigious country house hotel which was voted the number one restaurant by Sunday Times Food List in 2013. Gidleigh Park is located on the edge of Dartmoor at Chagford, Devon, where Michael has earned his reputation - as well as two Michelin stars - serving distinctive modern European cuisine utilising the finest local and regional produce and ingredients. Amongst numerous other accolades, Michael has cooked in 10 Downing Street for the Prime Minister.
Michael was born in Exeter in 1969 and adopted into a large and loving family. He gained his passion for food from his mother who he used to enjoy helping in the kitchen.
Says Michael, "I grew up in a large family, and my love of food and cooking came from the big family meals we always shared together, prepared by my mother, who was a wonderful cook. My father loved to grow vegetables and fruit in our garden, and so I grew up appreciating the flavours of the freshest foods, picked that day and simply prepared.”
Michael attended Exeter Catering College where his precocious talent was already evident, earning him the accolade ‘Student of the Year’in 1987. He subsequently spent a year and a half at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane in London, before embarking on three influential years under his mentor Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire. From here he moved to France for a further formative period of training, honing his profession under the guidance of such superstars chefs as the late Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu and Joël Robuchon in Paris.
As for every chef, these stages working under the guidance of the masters were formative and important years for Michael, and he fully acknowledges the lasting influences that they had on his personal and professional development.
"Raymond is a visionary and a free spirit who knows no boundaries. He taught me above all to be completely open to new ideas. He has one of the best palates of any chef I've worked with. Bernard Loiseau, like Raymond, was very charismatic, larger than life. His greatest gift was the ability to extract intensity and purity of flavours from the simplest cooking, always utilising the finest local ingredients from his native Burgundy," says Michael.
"From Loiseau, I learned the importance of regionality, something I have continued to develop here in the West Country. Joël Robuchon's technical ability was unsurpassed. A strict disciplinarian and a stern taskmaster, he sought — and demanded — precision and perfection in every way, the Swiss watchmaker of world cuisine."
Michael returned to Britain in 1994 to take up the position of Head Chef at Gidleigh Park. Gidleigh's restaurant was already rated amongst the most prestigious in the country so the position represented a massive challenge and opportunity for a young and ambitious chef. Yet, only two months into the job, Michael suffered a terrible car accident in which he lost his right arm.
Remarkably, he was back in the kitchen part time within two weeks, and full-time after just four. With the support of then owners Paul and Kay Henderson and an unwavering belief in his own ability to overcome obstacles, he returned to the kitchens of Gidleigh Park more focused and determined than ever to pursue his dream of reaching the top of his profession.
Michael's cuisine is truly original and brilliant, a fact recognised not just by visitors to Gideigh Park but by industry peers and food critics. With his classical French training in some of the finest restaurants in the world; and utilising the best local and regional produce from the West Country, Michael has created a style that is uniquely his own. At once classic yet also highly innovative. Michael was awarded his second Michelin star in 1999. In 2006 Michael was awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry.
While Michael’s commitment to Gidleigh Park has never wavered over the past two decades, his ambitions have led him to pursue other projects. In 2000, he came back to his home town of Exeter to open take over all the food and beverage operations at the city’s iconic Royal Clarence Hotel (Britain’s first ‘hotel’), launching the signature Michael Caines Restaurant. In 2003, he opened and successfully ran a Michael Caines Restaurant at the Marriott Royal Hotel in Bristol. A chance encounter with Andrew Brownsword led a dynamic working partnership, the creation of ABode Hotels, and Michael Caines Restaurants in Exeter, Glasgow, Canterbury, Chester and Manchester.
The working partnership with Andrew Brownsword continues on a consultancy basis, enabling Michael to pursue new projects. While his commitment to Gidleigh Park remains absolute, he now oversees the ABode food and beverage operations on a consultancy basis, allowing him to consider and develop exciting future projects and interests with many opportunities and challenges in the pipeline. He has recently entered into consultancy agreements with Kentisbury Grange in North Devon and with The Townhouse in Oswestry. Michael has partnered the Williams F1 Team since 2011, bringing his Michelin-starred food and hospitality to the team’s motorhome facility over race weekends, a relationship that is set to continue. Michael has considerable media commitments, appearing regularly on television programs such as Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef and his first book was published in 2014. And other exciting major projects are under consideration, so watch this space!
Michael continues to cook regularly at Gidleigh Park and alongside his Executive Chefs at Michael Caines at ABode Exeter, Chester and Manchester.
Says Michael, "Cooking is my passion. I love it and I can never see not being in the kitchens."
He is an inspirational leader and loves to share his passion, vision and skills with the teams of talented, enthusiastic chefs that are now working in the kitchens of the restaurants that bear his name.
"I love working with my chefs," he says. "We'll develop one of my dishes jointly, and it's fascinating to see how they will take it in their own directions. Just as I learned from the masters, so I hope my chefs will learn from me and continue to develop to the very best of their abilities to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions. We can give them this opportunity.”