Born in Exeter in 1969, Michael Caines grew up as part of a large family and has fond memories of helping his mother cook in the kitchen with the fruits and vegetables from his father’s garden. After attending Exeter Catering College (and being named Student of the Year in the process) he spent one and a half years at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. But it was the following three years at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons under chef Raymond Blanc that Michael really began to hone his skills.
‘Raymond is a visionary and a free spirit who knows no boundaries,’ he says. ‘He taught me above all to be completely open to new ideas. He has one of the best palates of any chef I’ve worked with.’
With a love for French cuisine fully instilled in him, Michael travelled to France for his final training. Here, he worked with chefs Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon, who both helped shape and influence the cooking style Michael is famous for today. ‘Bernard Loiseau, like Raymond, was very charismatic, larger than life,’ he says. ‘His greatest gift was the ability to extract intensity and purity of flavours from the simplest cooking, always utilising the finest local ingredients from his native Burgundy. Joël Robuchon’s technical ability was unsurpassed. A strict disciplinarian and a stern taskmaster, he sought – and demanded – precision and perfection in every way, the Swiss watchmaker of world cuisine.’
In 1994, Michael left France to return to Britain and assume the role of head chef at Gidleigh Park, which at the time was regarded as one of the best restaurants in the country with a Michelin star. At just twenty-five years old this was a huge opportunity for Michael, although it almost ended abruptly for the chef just two months into the job, when he was involved in a serious car accident which required his right arm to be amputated.
However, rather than letting this hold him back, Michael was back at Gidleigh Park working full-time in the kitchen after just four weeks. Overcoming an immense obstacle, he went on to take Gidleigh Park to new culinary heights, earning a second Michelin star for the country house hotel in 1999.