Home-cooked food from top chef Michael Caines
Su Carroll talks to chef Michael Caines about his first venture into writing a cookbook.
It's almost the stuff of a Hollywood movie. A young boy adopted into a large and loving family grew up with a love of food and cooking, fuelled by the vegetables and fruit his father grew in the garden and the wholesome, homely meals his mother prepared in the kitchen.
Not terribly academic at school, and dangerously close to trouble, he found his passion for food and went on to work with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons before moving to France to work with legendary chefs Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon.
He is appointed head chef at Devon's Gidleigh Park in 1994 and not long after loses his right arm in an accident. Not only was he back at work within a month, but he took Gidleigh Park on to further Michelin glory, earning a second star in 1999.
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In his 20-year tenure at Gidleigh he has also developed a partnership with hotelier Andrew Brownsword with ABode Hotels and Michael Caines restaurants in Exeter, Canterbury, Manchester, Chester and Bath.
He's appeared on TV and cooked for the great and the good.
His career may be stellar, but there's something very down to earth about the boy from Exeter. Michael Caines is not your average celebrity chef.
For a start, his new cookbook is not only new, it's also the first time he has published a collection of recipes. And it's not full of foams, jus, and carefully constructed towers of delicate food.
This is Michael Caines At Home.
It reflects his ordinary upbringing and shows us how he became the chef he is today.
"That's part of the story," says Michael. "Ultimately where you're from gives a context. It seemed like a good place to start."
So why has it taken so long for Michael to write his first cookbook? He must be the only top chef who hasn't ventured into publishing.
"I've been very, very busy," is his honest answer. "I've been opening hotels and helping Andrew Brownsword and you can't do everything. There's only so much time in the day. But I felt my first cookbook was well overdue."
It has certainly been worth waiting for with nearly 100 delicious recipes reflecting Michael's own foodie passions. He talks about ingredients, flavours, the role of alcohol and shares favourite recipes – the things he cooks at home, like simple braised red cabbage, or carrot soup, or a pumpkin risotto.
Game, meat and poultry win recipe space, but his favourite fish dishes abound here.
It's a real triumph for a first-timer, and a very personal book.
"Food is personal," says Michael. "I'm not writing recipes inspired by other people; they are inspired by my experience and knowledge.
"You're getting a story about my feelings about food. The secret's in the title – Michael Caines at Home. I want to give people aspirations to try something. It's about building confidence and ability. You can start with something easy and then build up to something more difficult.
"It's the things I cook and bake at home with the family," says father-of-three Michael.
"Things like tagliatelle with wild mushrooms. Simple things."
Having found the time to write his book, Michael got heavily involved in the whole process.
"I styled the food myself – cooked it all. And David took all the shots. The shoot took ten days with a day of planning all through March. I really enjoyed doing the photography and choosing all the different dishes and plates to use.
"I was very specific. I spent one day just going through every single shot, how it would be presented, what plate I wanted to use. I had an agenda of how we were going to shoot it. It was keeping it focused."
Does he like to keep control?
"It's not about keeping control, so much, it's about the budget more than anything else," laughs Michael. "And I don't need anyone to style my food any more than I needed a ghost writer.
"I want people to recognise it as a project I've created.
"I didn't want to write a cookbook for meals in under 20 minutes or food for under a fiver.
"What I wanted to write about was the ingredients I like. I wanted it to be different in that way.
"Like the use of alcohol, or herbs, veg, pulses, pasta, seafood, shellfish, poultry and game. I think there's a nice balance to the book and I've included side dishes.
"I have plenty of recipes I could have included, so hopefully there'll be another book. I feel that I have a very strong future ahead of me. You only get to do the second book if the first book is any good."
He shouldn't worry. The book is lovely – clear recipes, interesting bits of information and lots of ideas of delicious things to cook.
He's pleased. "It has given me a bit of confidence to believe in my ability to write. But I can wait a while, I'm not in a rush. I want to enjoy this book for what it is."
Michael Caines at Home, with photography by David Griffen, is published by Random House at £25.