Chef Name: Michael Caines MBE
Title: Chef Patron of Lympstone Manor.
Awards: One Michelin Star.
Hotel Restaurant of the Year – Devon Life.
Trencherman’s ‘Creativity and Innovation’ award.
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I started college at the age of 16 and became full-time in the kitchen at the age of 18. I was working professionally during my time at college, starting off with a Saturday job, so part-time whilst at college for two years and then my full-time work started as soon as I finished college.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
My earliest and fondest memory was growing up as a child and enjoying family meal times, having the whole family around the table. Also, cultivating food in the fields and the garden with my father, family Christmas dinners – things at the time which you think are just normal but when you look back later on in life you realise just how wonderful and valued these experiences are.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
Of course, Raymond Blanc has been one of my biggest inspirations, along with Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon, and each of them is very different. Blanc is a visionary, he is very open-minded and at the same time he has an amazing palate and uses seasonal ingredients accordingly. I went to France and worked in a Three Michelin Starred restaurant for Loiseau, who is famous for not using any butter or cream in his sauces, and he cooked with regional ingredients, and then Robuchon for being very disciplined and technical for his time. Of course, going out and eating and having your own experiences helps to keep inspiring you, but these three chefs are the ones who inspired me and contributed the most.
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
Raymond Blanc’s ‘Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons’ was a very early inspiration, which led me to work at Quat’Saisons. Thereafter it is hard to say, but I remember Charlie Trotter from Chicago brought out a book and it really was quite amazing. I think at that point people were taking a lot of interest in American chefs and Charlie’s books were visually amazing as well as very creative, so I would give it to those two.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
Salt and garlic.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
When I am at home I like to reduce the cooking time, so dishes such as stir-fries and pasta are great. I do try to eat healthily where I can and so I like to make simple salads with salmon, avocado, boiled eggs or chicken, to get some good nutrition and tasty simple food. Something simple like an omelette is also nutritionally good and very simple and versatile, as you can use different fillings.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
There are so many choices so it is difficult to pick out just one or two, but I would love to go over to Japan and absorb the whole experience, visit some Three Star restaurants and try the best Japanese food, which I think is a great contrast to European food and palate. I would also really enjoy learning about the culture and lifestyle as well as the food. I’d also like to go over to America and try Thomas Keller’s food at his restaurant, The French Laundry, where it all started for him. Also over in France, Italy and Spain there are just so many amazing places to try, it is difficult to list them all! Having said all that, I have been lucky enough to visit many fantastic Michelin Star restaurants already, so it has been great to have those experiences.
And who would you take as your guest?
Well of course I would take my partner as my first choice but with the obvious choice aside, I think it is really important to share the experiences with your Head Chef and young and aspiring chefs to inspire them. It also gives them a context of what you are trying to achieve in your own kitchen. I have benefitted hugely from eating out but sometimes you need to show other people what it is that you are trying to achieve.
What do you look for in a good chef?
Commitment, hard work, eagerness to learn and also someone who can take ideas on board. But also if you are the Head Chef, what you want to do is make sure that you have someone around you that you can trust and rely on, someone who can understand what your style of cooking is but at the same time bring a few new ideas and experiences to the party. Being able to lead and to be a part of a team, which is befitting to the establishment you are in, can take a bit of time and practise but it is a great benefit to the role of being a good chef.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
My biggest advice is that this career path is a marathon and not a sprint. So many young people are in such a hurry to get up there, and fast, but what I would say is that it is a long old journey and many people don’t realise just how long it is. If you rush to get there too quickly, then you have to spend longer at the top trying to work it all out. I just think that it is important for young people to start their career with an open mind, with an eagerness and attitude to learn and to not be watching the clock and seeing how much money they are being paid. However, at the same time these people do need to be valued and looked after. Above all, to have the patience and the understanding that there is a lot to learn and that there are different ways of doing things, as well as knowing how to invest their time wisely.
Chef Michael Caines MBE is Chef Patron at Lympstone Manor
Telephone: +44 1395 202040
Address: Lympstone Manor, Courtlands Lane, Exmouth, Devon, United Kingdom