Have a seat with...

Michael Caines of Lympstone Manor

Celebrity chef Michael Caines was born in Exeter and has worked in kitchens in London and France to earn his stripes, before returning to Devon. He was kind enough to have a chat with us (whilst social distancing) during the start of the pandemic and tell us all about what helps him relax outside of his busy career in the kitchen. 

Above: Martin Young pictured with Michael Caines at an event at Lympstone Manor in 2019

Thanks for taking a moment to chat with us. Could you tell us a bit about your work in hospitality, a little about Lympstone Manor and your new venture in Cornwall?

It’s a pleasure.

I’ve been working in hospitality for a while now. I’m an Exeter born guy and started my career here in the South West at Exeter College.

After a while, I went to London and spent about a year and a half working at the Grosvenor House Hotel Michelin-starred restaurant. From there, I went on to the Quat’Saisons with Raymond Blanc for three years. I then worked in France for two and a half years for two chefs with three Michelin stars - Bernard Loiseau and Joél Robuchon - which was fantastic.

Then at the age of 25, I came back to the UK and was head chef at Gidleigh Park. I was there for 21 and a half years! It was really good times, 18 of those years I held two Michelin stars.

I gave all that up to start up Lympstone Manor which is the realisation of my dream. After 16 months of hard work with the refurbishment, in 2017 we opened our doors. Within 6 months we achieved a Michelin star, we got 5 AA* stars for the hotel and 5 rosettes last year for the cooking. We’re really proud of that.

So, that’s a short journey to where I am now with my career and Lympstone Manor.

Whilst at Gidleigh Park I opened the first Michael Caines Restaurant at the Royal Clarence Exeter. It was here that a chance meeting  with Andrew Brownsword, lead to buying the hotel together and launching the Abode Hotels chain, which had my restaurants within, he also purchased Gidleigh Park Hotel where I continued to works  under his ownership for 11 years and whilst developing my restaurant within the expanding Abode Hotel portfolio across the UK.

This year we bought, refurbished and opened the Cove Restaurant. It opened at the beginning of March … and now it’s closed due to Coronavirus, which as you can imagine is not ideal! Later this year, we’ll be opening on the seafront of Exmouth a new restaurant, bar and café which we’re really excited about. The opening date is being reviewed now but is still being built so hopefully, we’ll get that open in good time.

It’s all systems go and an exciting year (potentially) for us! Three years on at Lympstone, a few new projects there and our venture in Cornwall and Exmouth [as yet the name has not been revealed – but it’s going to be part of the Side shore].

Unfortunately, it’s all a bit overshadowed by the circumstances that are unfolding with Coronavirus.

I’m very lucky, when I’m at work I can literally go for walks around the grounds. I’ll take about half an hour and it gives you a moment to reflect and sit in amongst the parkland on our amazing swing seats. 

How did you get in to cooking?

Well I grew up in a large family, everyone had a job to do. Instead of having chores around the house I enjoyed helping Mum in the kitchen. Quite simply, that developed into a passion for cooking which then became a desire to turn it into a career.

When I grew up there were no heroes on TV, so it wasn’t really known as a career choice. There was no Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay! So I grew up not really seeing it as a career, then when I realised I could, I thought “yeah I’ll try that as a career, that’ll be fantastic.”

That’s lovely that it came about as a genuine love of cooking as opposed to a way to earn money.

Definitely. I mean, I don’t think anyone really starts hospitality thinking they’re going to make a load of money, and it’s a hard industry to make money from. You work a lot of hours and to be honest with you, money isn’t really the motivation for a lot of chefs, it’s a passion for their work and what they do. 

Above: One of the swing seats at the Lympstone Manor

What’s your process? Tell us about a typical day.

It’s changed over the years, but I typically go into work around 9am every day and finish between 12 and 1am.

The best way I could describe my day is that I have two working days. Part of it is working in the office and doing the business bits, and the other part is the service. It tends to be working on the service between 12 and 3pm when we deal with our lunches and then again at 6:30/7pm to 10:30/11pm. Then in between that, it is meetings and various different challenges with running the business.

But, to be honest with you, I always try to make time for cooking because that’s where my passion is.

That’s the bit that’s almost relaxing in a way, but also it feels more instinctive. Whereas doing all the business stuff takes a bit more time, especially in my world. It’s also more stressful dealing with those elements.

We can imagine. OK, you've got a short break at work during a busy day or evening. Where do you go? How do you take a calm moment?

Well, I’ve got 28 acres here at Lympstone Manor where I work, I’m going to actually go for a walk in a minute!

We have a lovely walk called The Ladies Walk with beautiful sculptures throughout the parkland. I’m going to take a moment to sit on one of our beautiful Sitting Spiritually benches which is down by the pond. I generally take a moment just sat on one of the swings and look up at the property, at the vineyard and take a moment to reflect and take some time to be in the nature and just to sit and relax and admire the progress of what we have created and the season that we’re in. It’s almost meditation. You can pause, relax and take time out which is actually really what I do when I go down there and sit on these wonderful benches.

So I’m very lucky, when I’m at work I can literally go for walks around the grounds. I’ll take about half an hour and it gives you a moment to reflect and sit in amongst the parkland on our amazing swing seats. 

I live in the countryside so I’m very lucky, I’m in an isolated environment and can just go for a run or a walk on the trails on Dartmoor and meet nobody. It’s a blessing in the current environment!

We’re jealous! Now that we’re on lockdown what are you doing to stay relaxed?

During lockdown I’ve still  been working, so I’m self-isolated within my office and keeping good distance from my colleagues.  

I’ll go for a run in the morning or a walk in the afternoon, or where possible both. I’m just using the opportunity to keep active, stay focused and catch up on work I’ve been meaning to do for a while. It’s important to be doing it in a safe environment, but for us we need to have someone at the property for security too.

My day has changed as obviously there’s no cooking, so I can go home a little bit earlier – but there’s still plenty to do! I’ll definitely try and take more time to enjoy fresh air, get out, stay active and also mentally keep myself sharp.

I live in the countryside so I’m very lucky, I’m in an isolated environment and can just go for a run or a walk on the trails on Dartmoor and meet nobody. It’s a blessing in the current environment!

So I get up early, go for a run, then I come to work. Then I’ll take a moment in the afternoon to go for a stroll if it’s a nice day.

I think a lot of people are spending more time outside now we are thinking about our health a lot more.

Yeah for sure. We need to remember that safeguarding people around you and having a safe distance is really important too though.

Definitely. Do you have a favourite place you like to go to relax? A quiet sanctuary?

At work, it’s the gardens at Lympstone and that’s where I’m based at the moment.

I live on the edge of Dartmoor so for my choice of place to relax at home, I’ve got a lovely garden and I sit outside and just watch the world go by.

I’m very lucky… I’m near a lovely place called Fingle Bridge just down the road. It’s just a beautiful walk that you can do in the valley then going for a drink at the pub (which would usually be open!).

Living in a rural area suits me. I’m quite a private person, so I really enjoy staying pretty low key on my day off and having a relaxing time in the beautiful countryside. 

That is very lucky… it sounds Idyllic. The next question is tell us about a book or film that changed you.

The book that changed me in terms of cooking is Raymond Blanc, recipes from Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saison.

I remember seeing that at the time it was very modern and different. It was about beautiful food and more importantly amazing food in context of the place, so it was all about food of the Manoir. I fell in love with the book and the idea of working there was really inspirational for me when I was 19/18.

A film? There’s been many…I wouldn’t say any have changed me as such. I enjoy going to the cinema from the first Star Wars when I was a kid to the last one! The Matrix was ground-breaking, I loved that. I enjoy action films, we’ve been doing a lot more watching films as we’ve got more time lately. Many a film has moved me like The Green Mile.

Cooking’s quite a stressful job so films are an opportunity to remove yourself from that cocoon.

Yes it’s a lovely bit of escapism isn’t it?

Yeah, definitely.

What's your favourite garden?

The Lost Gardens of Heligan are always really lovely, I love that. The Eden project is beautiful – it’s not really a garden but it’s a stunning place to go. Cornwall is one of those places where you just go there and think wow.

Another really nice place if you love sculpture, Simon Gudgeon's ‘Sculpture by the Lakes’ in Dorchester is a beautiful landscape and garden with lakes and sculptures.

Describe your life in 7 words

Hectic, creative lifestyle, constant search for perfection.

Thanks for talking to us Michael, take care and good luck with all your ventures!

The Sitting Spiritually 'Have a Seat With' series takes a look behind the scenes at how we switch off from the bustling modern-day lifestyle. We speak to people of all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles around the country as we seek to explore the different ways of relaxing and just taking a moment.

Posted on June 18th 2020


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