Michael Caines MBE: no reason, just passion

We uncover what life is really like for one of the most successful chefs in the UK, as Michael Caines MBE, talks the world of fine dining, his upcoming Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink and plans to transform a grade II listed building into an award winning restaurant...

Say the words “Michael Caines MBE” and you’ll be thinking of fine-dining cuisine, Gidleigh Park, the numerous glimmering Michelin stars will probably come to mind and his hashtag: #noreasonjustpassion!

Caines is one of the stalwart chefs of the British dining scene. He can proudly take his place alongside the likes of Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White as inspirational Michelin-starred chefs who have really made a difference to the way we dine, the way our chefs are trained and nurtured and is someone we can look to to pave the way for the future generation of chefs. Caines originally heralds from the West Country and has always had a connection to the food and drink of this rural part of the UK. That’s why he started the Exeter Food Festival of the South West and why his new venture is firmly rooted here on English soil. We caught up with this highly acclaimed chef to pick his brains about the food festival, but also discover what really makes this chef tick...

Home is where the heart is

Caines co-founded the Exeter Food Festival of South West Food & Drink, a festival that nearly didn’t make it off the ground. “Kit Chapman, who owns The Castle Hotel in Taunton, came up with idea,” Caines informs us, “with the hope of hosting it on the Cathedral Green.” When the idea didn’t make it to fruition, Anthony Gibson of the NFU took up the challenge and together they worked with Taste of the West to breathe life into the festival we see now today. It took two years and a lot of hard work to make Exeter Festival a reality but Caines’ dedication came from a deeper love than that of just food. Exeter is this great chef’s home town and a place he associates with friends and family. So not only does he rave that the South West is home to some of the best food in the world but Devon is a county which he holds dear to his heart, a place that Caines garners inspiration and drive from. While he looks worldwide for new and exciting opportunities, one eye is always on the West Country, and you’ll find Caines looking as far afield as Abu Dhabi while simultaneously exploring foodie options like Courtlands House on the Exe Estaury. Perhaps it is just this kind of unique quality that makes this chef so special; his ability to be exceptional and grounded at the same time. You’ll have to keep your ear to the ground – or keep reading – to discover what is happening at Courtlands. “I’ll be revealing more about this project shortly – this year is a big year for me.”

It certainly is in terms of awards already. You’d think he’d have enough awards on his belt to sink a ship, but there’s always more. Michael Caines at Kentisbury Grange has just scooped two awards at the Devon Tourism Awards while Pearls by Michael Caines in Abu Dhabi has just won an award at the World Travel Awards and the there’s a new opening at Pale Hall Hotel later on in the year – there is certainly no sign of Caines slowing down any time soon.

No reason, just passion

For all you little birdies tweeting away, you may know Michael Caines through his recently coined hashtag #noreasonjustpassion. For someone who originally wanted to go into the Royal Marines, it’s unsurprising the drive and dedication that form a distinct part of this chef’s character and has fuelled his culinary career. Caines also had a life changing experience when he was 25 years old. In the early days of his cheffing at Gidleigh Park he was involved in a car accident, which resulted in the loss of one arm. Caines has spoken previously about how the incident changed his attitude to life and to work. He is not one to shirk from hard work or a challenge, and this is one of his defining qualities.

 “I have plenty of passion and drive, which comes from my ability to be good at what I do. I am driven by my interests and business and am lucky enough to have lots of energy, creativity and ambition. There has to be substance behind passion and a purpose.”

That’s not to say that he is without humour. When asked about #noreasonjustpassion Caines’ cheeky response is that it is “a funny story.” Caines and his old manager at Gidleigh Park, Andrew Folkes, and Damien Basitat were disputing about the suitability of his choice plates for the evening. “Their response to me was, ‘no reason just passion’ and it’s stuck ever since. We all do things for passion and this phrase was spontaneous and has managed to stick with me.”

Where do Michelin chefs eat?

One of the things that everyone wants to know about great chefs is what they eat and where they go to eat. Claude Bosi, chef patron of Hibiscus in Mayfair, famously told the world that that he liked to eat curry flavoured noodles with frazzles sprinkled on top. So, what meal would you find Michael Caines MBE sitting down to?

“I have so many favourite restaurants to choose from, however, at the moment it’s Nathan Outlaw’s, Chris Eden’s The Driftwood, as well as the Treby Arms in Sparkwell run by 2012 Masterchef winner Anton Piotrowski."

Fine Michelin-starred choices. Which begs the question, what would Michael Caines whip up for his nearest and dearest in the privacy of his own home? “A Sunday roast,” he says.

“I enjoy cooking chicken or beef for the children. Pasta is always a failsafe – it’s so quick and easy.” Like any good chef though, he swayed by the seasons, “I enjoy making salads in the spring and summer. Stir fry is always a favourite.”

The next big thing

That brings us to Caines’ newest venture at Courtlands House. Caines has a wealth of experience opening hotels thanks to his time as director of food and beverage for Andrew Brownsword and he notes that opening Pearls was easier as it was already a built and established restaurant in Jumeriah At Etihad Towers. He notes that all this experience has helped him immensely with the Courtlands House project. “It’s personal for me” says Caines,

“Courtlands has never been open to the public before and this is part of my dream for the place. It’s also the first time since Raymond Blanc, that a two-Michelin-starred chef has opened their own restaurant.”

You can tell that this new opening is meaningful. Caines cites Raymond Blanc as one of his key inspirational chefs and it seems only fitting he should follow in his footsteps and serve as a shining example to the “many young, great talents coming through”. For Michael, it will be nothing short of “a pleasure to watch them grow” at Courtlands. Set in what is a sentimental location for the Michelin- starred chef, there are many hopes riding on the transformation of this Georgian-era grade II country house and its 28 acres of beautiful Devonshire countryside. Caines’ says “it is a massive step” towards achieving his ultimate dream “to have a hotel of my own and a third Michelin star to my name” and, if we’ve learned anything from Caines it’s that this will only a matter of time. Courtlands House will be an eagerly awaited destination for lovers of fine dishes and fresh seasonal ingredients with stunning views across the Exe estuary - it will be the very best that Michael Caines MBE and his home county can offer.

Get your food festival forks at the ready...

So, if that’s whet your appetite for some live-action Caines-cooking, you need to get down to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink this April where his culinary prowess will be on show for all to see and be inspired. Not only will Michael flaunt his Michelin-starred skills on stage but mentor and collaborate with budding cooks from the South West Junior Chef of the Year competition, hosted last year by the Michael Caines Academy at Exeter College. The regions head chefs will also be in attendance from a long list of famous restaurants. The impressive line-up is a diverse one, and what really sets it apart from other festivals’ is the art each chef has of creating the best dishes from South West sourced ingredients. Caines observes that since he started the festival in 2003

“These days people are more interested in flavour not just technique”

His live cooking demonstrations strive to emphasise both of these elements when it comes to creating dishes of different cuisines. Set around the historic Northernay Gardens and beautiful Exeter Castle grounds there will be hundreds of passionate producers ready and eager to share their knowledge and wares with all who visit. Every night sees a fantastic After Dark Party complete with some incredible live music and street food, so the fun continues way into the evening. Caines is more than grateful to the food-loving public and the people who create real food who without a doubt, make this a very special event indeed. It’s no surprise that he’s seen the festival grow “over the past decade” as it has established itself as a vital part of life in Exeter and the South West”.

With Michael Caines MBE at the helm, it will be a fantastic weekend for any foodie. That's why we are over the moon to be able to offer you free tickets and a two night stay at a Devon Hotel, all you have to do is, enter our competition here.



Our Friends

A Food and Drink Guides website
Food and Drink - Eventfull Food and Drink - Food and Drink Guides Food and Drink - Food Festival Finder Food and Drink - Christmas Party Venue Food and Drink - Fed up and Drunk