Pearls of Wisdom: Michael Caines

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gidleigh park, Chef

Michael Caines is also executive chef for Andrew Brownsword's Abode Hotels
Michael Caines is also executive chef for Andrew Brownsword's Abode Hotels
Trained under Raymond Blanc and Joël Robuchon, Michael Caines is operational partner, director and executive chef at both Devon’s Gidleigh Park and The Bath Priory in Bath.

We’ve had a good start to the year here at Gidleigh Park​, despite the economic backdrop. We were in growth last year and bookings are very strong for the rest of this year, but we don’t take anything for granted.

My first big milestone was working with Raymond Blanc​ at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Then I headed to France to work for Bernard Loiseau at La Côte d’Or, and latterly for Joël Robuchon in Paris.

My advice to young people entering the industry?​ Focus, be eager to learn. Build your key skills in the early years and plan your career carefully – it’s a marathon not a sprint.

This industry can be tough but it’s like that in all occupations.​ People need to recognise that it’s no different to any other industry: hard work gets you places. It’s not about clock-watching, you have got to be dedicated.

Chefs sometimes criticise colleges for not understanding what the industry wants.​ I take a different view, if the industry doesn’t engage and become a part of the education system, how can we ever develop the employability of young people?

I’m optimistic about the future but my focus is looking after the business we have. ​Anything is possible with Andrew Brownsword, my business partner and owner of Gidleigh Park, in Devon, and The Bath Priory. He is a wealthy man and also has a lot of ambition.

ABode [the hotel group Caines also co-owns] is doing well, but the rooms side of the business remains challenging​ in certain markets. We have long-term plans to continue to expand the brand, and we’d like to be in London.

When I was in Paris I got offered the job at Gidleigh Park, I was only 25.​ I was going to do some travelling and be a private chef for a bit, but Raymond Blanc recommended me. It was a good move: it had a star under Shaun Hill, which we retained in 1995, and in 1999 we got a second star.

I did City & Guilds Level 1 and 2 at Exeter College.​ Afterwards, I remember getting on the bus to London and looking through the Evening Standard for a place to stay that night. It was proper Dick Whittington and his cat stuff.

There are lots of opportunities in education and there are also many changes to come.​ Colleges have a key role to play. I’m now on the board at Exeter College and I take that responsibility very seriously.

This industry relies ​on the energy of youth.

It’s not as important to have experience working abroad as it was when I was starting out.​ There are much higher standards in the UK now.

Pubs are very exciting places right now. ​Michel Roux said the pubs will become the brasseries of England, and he’s not wrong. We’re seeing a lot of creativity and increasing standards across the pub sector.

The tapestry of culinary endeavour in the UK ​is richer and thicker now than in at any other point in history and the industry’s image is getting better all the time. This is fantastic news for those entering the sector.

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