Michael Caines

Watching Michael Caines cook is a little bit like watching the pit crew change tires on a F1 racing car during a Grand Prix, which is ironic, as he runs the catering for the Williams Formula 1 racing team. Incredibly fast and precise, he is like a force of nature and the end result is always something extraordinary. He keeps what seems like hundreds of plates spinning at once – with something simmering in this pan, and something frying over there and something else in the oven crisping off, whilst he’s busy with something else altogether. I had the pleasure of shooting Michael’s first book a little while back now and it was quite an experience.

We shot the book at Gidleigh Park, where Michael’s flagship Michelin Starred restaurant is located. For the first shoot I drove through the snow and ice to get there – definitely not the sort of weather we are used to in the South West. Gidleigh is located in the middle of Dartmoor, an incredibly beautiful part of the world. It’s a little remote, but that’s what people seem to really appreciate about it – it’s completely surrounded by the moor, you really get to feel like you’re away from it all.

We styled and shot all of the food in one of the private dining rooms. When it wasn’t snowing, the light coming into the room was stunning; the window had the most beautiful view over the river that cuts through the grounds of Gidleigh. It really was quite a spectacular place to be working, and absolutely perfect for photography. The first shoot was for the images for the blad (book layout and design), which were used by Random House, the publisher. The shoot was a cornerstone to sell the idea of the book and to mock up advance copies and sell advanced orders.

When we began the shoot proper, the first stage was to sit down with Michael and go through all of the food he wanted to include in the book and all of the props that I had brought in. I brought in crates and crates and crates of props for all different aspects of the shoot – backgrounds, fabrics, pottery, all sorts of bits and pieces that we used to style the food. It was great for just Michael and I to sit down and work on the style of the book – to really iron out what his vision was and how we could recreate it.

The location for the shoot was pretty perfect, but even better, the food that kept coming in for me to photograph was just something else. Michael’s book certainly isn’t a home cooking book for nervous beginners.

The food in the book is undeniably complex, but Michael said throughout the whole shoot that he really wanted to push people to challenge themselves in the kitchen. He wanted to encourage people to use the book as a basis, and take certain aspects of each recipe, even if they didn’t choose to cook the whole thing every time. Everything in the book is achievable at home; even if some of it might seem a bit daunting the first time you do it. I think that often when you’re trying a new recipe it’s very satisfying to do something a bit challenging: if it succeeds you get a real sense of achievement and if it doesn’t quite work you still learn something from it.

Having only recently opened The Townhouse in Oswestry, Michael has an incredible amount planned for 2015: He’s recently purchased a country hotel in Lympstone that he’s got big plans for, he’s involved in Kentisbury Grange on the edge of Exmoor National Park and he’s also opening a pop-up restaurant in Scott’s Restaurant in Abu Dhabi in February. We contacted Michael, who was at the Padstow Food Festival this month, to get the lowdown about what he’s up to at the moment, and also his unique insight into the South West food scene.

What’s it like to work with a formula 1 team?

It’s fantastic! I have a huge passion for motorsport and I relate to Sir Frank’s story. In the past 4 years there has been a lot progress made and the feedback has been brilliant!

What are some of the ingredients that you’re into right now? Are you using anything unusual, whether it’s a meat or vegetable or seasoning?

My style is about seasonality – I am currently using a lot of game.

Are You using any processes like smoking or curing or preserving ?

I make smoked salmon, and confit is great technique for preserving, as is syrup – for example pears in syrup.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home for family and friends?

Roast dinner – either a chicken or a sirloin, served family style on the table. For quick family meal I like to make pasta or stir fry.

What are your daughters’ favourite things that you cook?

Hope and India enjoy baking with Zoe – they love to make all sorts of fairy cakes and India helps by licking the spoon – which always reminds me of how I started out baking with my mum.

Your food is incredibly delicate and precise: has having a prosthetic arm impacted on what you do in the kitchen?

Precision is all about technique, having a prosthetic arm has no impact on how or what I cook. It is a mind-set based on technical knowledge and ability. The intellect and training were achieved before I lost my arm.

You grew up in the South West, and you’ve lived for a very long time in the region; what do you think makes South West such a special place for food and foodies?

We have the best larder in Europe – we’re are surrounded by sea and pastures and the moors. There is also a huge farming and fishing heritage here as well as great dairy, pork, poultry and seafood – we are blessed in the SW and creating these wonderful food memories is what keeps people coming back.

Are there any particular challenges that arise from living and working in the South West?

Not so much now but when I started 20 years ago it was more difficult. Now we appreciate the larder on our doorstep, and there are more successful restaurants here so we can draw on that pool of talent. People come to live here as a lifestyle choice and are keen to support local businesses.

Who are your three favourites producers from the South West?

This is a very difficult question! Stuart BakerPipers Farm and Flying Fish are a few of my favourites.

What’s your favourite foodie destination? It could be a city or a country and why?

Paris is a great gastronomic centre and Singapore is incredible for fusion cuisine but I am also keen to go to Thailand and Japan to sample the cuisine.

Last supper, if you were allowed one last meal what would it be?

Another tough question – I would start with a seafood dish – lobster or scallops followed by a roast, chicken or sirloin and finish with a fruit based dessert and a selection of cheese. It’s important to have a great meal, but it’s more important to share it with the people you care about and that mean the most to you, it should celebrate all good things in life but needs to be a very long tasting menu and no rushing!

You’re starting a new chapter with your move away from Brownsword, can you tell us about what you’ve got planned?

I am very excited about my venture in Lympstone: this is the earliest phase in the realisation of a long-standing dream. My passion for food and wine is at the heart of everything we will be working to achieve. I will be aiming to bring my two Michelin stars – with the aspiration to gain a third.

I am also hugely excited about my new partnership with Kentisbury Grange – they already offer a wonderful hospitality experience, with a stunning location in such a beautiful part of Devon. Building on the solid foundation already established, our involvement can help in all aspects of the hotel operations. I am particularly excited about helping to take the cuisine and restaurant service to a higher level, adding a touch of Michael Caines magic. Under our guidance, I am certain that the Coach House will soon be among Devon’s finest dining experiences.

Michael is also launching a new menu at Gidleigh Park and is involved in the Exeter Festival of SW Food and Drink which takes place in April.