Meet the chef: Michael Caines

The chef tells Zoë Perrett how he’s indulging his passions for fine wine and local produce at Lympstone Manor’s exciting new restaurant

Following a 21-year stint at Gidleigh Park, Michael Caines is now commanding the kitchen at Lympstone Manor, a Georgian mansion-turned-hotel and restaurant in Devon. With stunning scenery, an abundance of local produce and plans to plant a vineyard on site, it seems the chef has made his smartest career move yet.

You’ve worked under legendary chefs including Raymond Blanc, Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon, but who’s been your greatest mentor? They all played a part, and continue to influence me, but I think it’s fair to say that Raymond is my greatest mentor – and a dear friend. He remains a strong, important influence and our friendship has grown.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a fellow chef? In my second year of college, a lecturer told me to take criticism constructively and see it as a way of bettering myself.

You were named Food Magazine’s ‘Local Food Hero’ in 2016 – who are your favourite producers?I have a long list of food heroes, including Pipers Farm; lamb farmer and producer, Stuart Baker; Matthew Stevens; Flying Fish; Cornish Duck Company; Wiltshire Game, and Westcountry Cheese. At Lympstone Manor, we’re excited about working with Darts Farm butchers just down the road, the Carters at Greendale Farm for fish, Dart Fresh, Salcombe Gin, and Dappa, who make a fantastic Devon Grappa. And then there are the fantastic local wineries like Lyme Bay, Totnes Sharpham Estate, Camel Valley, and Somerset Cider Brandy.

You lost your arm in a car accident after just two months at Gidleigh Park.How did you overcome the challenge it posed to your career? Just by getting stuck back into work so I didn’t hang around feeling sorry for myself – that would have got me nowhere. I had an amazing opportunity that I was not going to give up for anything. At times like that, you simply have to chuck yourself back in at the deep end, so that’s what I did.

You remained at Gidleigh Park for an impressive 21 years, so what tempted you to move to Lympstone Manor? Gidleigh is a family business, and I knew I wasn’t going to take over one day. I realised that, at my age, I have to be in control of my own destiny. There’s always a point in your career where you know that you need to move on and do something for yourself.

At Gidleigh, you held on to two Michelin stars for an impressive 18 years. Will you continue to strive to build upon that accolade? Absolutely; our intention is to achieve two Michelin stars as a starting point! The push to achieve our third star is the heart of everything we’re doing. The success of any business lies in ensuring you’re looking after your clients and giving them what they want. People have enjoyed my cuisine for many years, so it would be silly for me to do something different!

What should people expect from your food at Lympstone Manor? As always, my food is focused on eliciting the best expression from the produce itself. I’ve developed some great signature recipes over the years, and a great starting point is to evolve these into what we’re doing here, whilst creating new dishes inspired by our landscape. We will run an additional estuary and sea tasting menu alongside our signature and à la carte menus, which will be inspired by produce from the bay at Lyme and the estuary of the Exe.

Lympstone offers a vast global wine selection – what are a few of your favourite items on the list? I share my passion for wine with my co-Director Steve Edwards. Some of my favourites come from classic regions, and I particularly enjoy Albariño grapes from the North East of Spain and the amazing reds from Ribera del Duero. I love northern Italian valpolicellas and Tuscan barberas, and Steve and I can’t wait to showcase some great pinot noirs and chardonnays from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula. From South Africa, we love cabernet sauvignons and merlots from the Stellenbosch Estate. And you can’t beat a South American Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina.

What about the English wine scene? We’re really excited about it. Estates like Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Camel Valley, Furleigh Estate and Lyme Bay, Totnes Sharpham Vineyard, and Pebblebed are all producing some great English wines. This has inspired us to plant our own vineyard at Lympstone on our south-facing slope. More investment in the sector means even better results – there are even French properties looking at investing in English wine now!

Any more television appearances in the pipeline? Yes, I’ll be filming My Kitchen Rules and MasterChef this year, and have recently been on Pointless Celebrities and Countryfile. I recognise the value of television and the impact that these kind of appearances have on my career and business, and am grateful that the opportunities allow me to connect with people through my passion.

You’re both a supporter and patron of adoption charity Families For Children. Why is this particular cause one that’s so close to your heart? I am adopted myself and am hugely proud to be involved. Being the recipient of a family’s love has been a very positive experience, and I can only thank them for helping me to get to where I am. Acting as a charity patron is a credit to the values that the family gave me and a good endorsement for the cause. I want to ensure as many children and families as possible are supported. The love of a family is the best way to start one’s journey in life.

These are a few of my favourite things
  • Restaurants Belmond Le Manoir Quat’ Saisons, The Ledbury, Zuma and Ynyshir.
  • Chefs Gareth Ward, Simon Rogan, Raymond Blanc, Tom Kerridge, Gordon Ramsay, and all the Roux generations.
  • Spring ingredients Watercress, asparagus, wild mushrooms and spinach.
  • Tipple St. George Gin, blanc de blanc Champagne and a nice sipping rum.
  • Domestic kitchen gadget Chef’s knives, garlic crusher and my Vita-Prep.
  • Cooking soundtrack At the moment, Dusky and Drake.
  • Springtime lunch menu It would have to be Jacob roast leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and thyme, served with minted Cornish new potatoes, the last of the winter root vegetables and, hopefully some sweet, new-season peas.