At home with chef Michael Caines

Double Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines has been the executive chef at Gidleigh Park in Devon for 21 years this year and also founded the Abode boutique hotel group. He has written books and regularly appears on TV. He lives in Devon with his wife Zoe and has three children, Joseph, 12, Hope, 9, and India, 3

Describe your kitchen…

It’s an amazing kitchen and it’s designed around the idea of integrated cooking and dining so it’s perfect for entertaining: it’s open-plan with a central island to cook on. I didn’t want it to feel like an industrial kitchen but it’s got clean lines and Miele stoves in both induction and gas and a wok burner. I’ve got a steamer and coffee machine built-in and two ovens so that I can cook things at different temperatures. It’s a great space for entertaining but also for relaxing and watching TV – I put a lot of thought into the design and I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out.


What’s your most used kitchen gadget?

I couldn’t do without my KitchenAid and blender, but I also rely on more low-tech gadgets like my pestle and mortar so that I can make my own spice mixes. My garlic press is probably one of the most-used gadgets in my kitchen – it’s just so easy.


What do you eat at home?

I cook lots of curries, stir-fries, roasts and pasta – things that the kids will eat too. And I bake a lot, it’s a great way to involve children in cooking. If they get involved with cooking it then they’re more inclined to eat it.


What’s your favourite cookbook?

I don’t buy cookbooks but I do get given a lot – I use them for ideas and inspiration. But the one that I do use at home is a really old book from the Seventies that used to be my mum’s called How to be a Good Housewife – it’s full of really patronising things like how to lay a table, but it’s got some really great cake recipes in it, including a Christmas pudding recipe that I love.

I use Asian cookbooks as I don’t cook Asian food in my work so I’ve learnt a lot from them


What are your store-cupboard staples?

Salt, garlic, Chinese five spices, olive oil and fresh herbs from the garden.


Do you have a favourite fast and easy meal that you could share with us?

I make a really easy seafood pasta dish – although I do also like to make my own pasta as I have a pasta maker at home. But I finish my pasta slightly differently, when it’s almost cooked I put some olive oil in a pan, sweat some garlic, and add some chilli, parsley and a little bit of the pasta cooking water and then I toss the pasta in the pan and finish the pasta in the pan to seal in the flavours. And then I serve the seafood separately, rather than mixing it all together.


What three things would you save from your kitchen in a fire?

Mum’s cookbook, my set of Robert Welch knives and my pestle & mortar.


Your favourite restaurant?

The Ledbury in London.


Last supper?

It would be seafood platter followed by roast chicken with all the trimmings, and then cheese and wonderful fruit to finish.


Your food hero?

I’m all about looking forward not back, so I don’t really spend time thinking about heroes or mentors. I’ve worked with some amazing chefs including Raymond Blanc and Joel Robuchon but my focus is on the future. 

Guilty food pleasure?
It’s go to be takeaways – I love a good Indian or Thai takeaway.

How did you get into cooking?
It started at home – I’d help mum baking cakes to start with and then we had a large kitchen garden so I’d help Dad grow things to cook and it just became a hobby and then a passion that turned into a career. There were no celebrity chefs back then so I never thought about it as a job, it was something I did for fun.

Is that why you focus on seasonal and local produce?
I focussed on regional food because 20-odd years ago you couldn’t get more exotic or unusual ingredients in rural Devon, so it made sense to concentrate on what was around me and available – especially as the natural larder in the south west is incredible. There was just one delivery a week coming from London at that time. And at the time, local and seasonal food wasn’t a big thing so it was something quite different to be doing. My food has evolved and I’ve grown more confident in my own style as I’ve progressed.


You overcame a personal tragedy when you joined Gidleigh Park and went on to win two Michelin stars there – how did losing your arm change your outlook?

It had a massive impact on me physically and psychologically but I was determined to overcome it as I had too much to lose. The first year was the hardest but when I got past it I could see how much I had achieved.

And what advice would you give to others in a similar situation or with obstacles to overcome?
My advice would be to take it one step at a time. The best way to persevere is to surround yourself with friends and family and create an atmosphere that gives you a positive mindset.

You’ve been at Gidleigh for 21 years this year – how has cooking and the food scene changed in that time?
So much has changed, fine dining has become less formal but there is still as huge place for it. I’m all about championing local and seasonal food and people are much more aware of that today. Food has become much more of a lifestyle choice – people are much more discerning about what and where they eat. I’m pleased that some of the gimmickry that has been around in recent years has passed – I don’t believe in de-constructing anything, ever.

Is fine-dining dead?
No. It’s still the highest form of cuisine and people want to go out and feel special and dress up. But people don’t want the pomp any more or to be made to feel uncomfortable. The premise is the same but the application is different, and that’s a good thing – fine dining is more accessible than ever. Food isn’t an elite sport, everyone deserves to eat good food.

And where do you get the best Devon scones?
I make them!

Michael Caines will be cooking in the On5 restaurant at Royal Ascot this June (0844 346 0346, www.ascot.co.uk).


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This article first appeared in Metro on 14 April 2015.

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